Quarantine, A Still Life
I have been waking like clockwork at 4 am. Almost to the minute, again and again. My eyes popping open, still to darkness. This is new. Last night it was the frog. Is that frog okay? An aching in my stomach. The bright green wonder had hopped into our screened porch yesterday from a hole. He turned to me and blinked his big hooded eyes when I knelt down and spoke gently to him. How did you get in little buddy? Do you want to come out? My kids watched. The toddler jumped up and down and ribbited with excitement. He was pretty. I could see his sides expanding and deflating with his breaths. He hopped around and scaled the wall while we marveled. The webs of his feet, the length of his tucked legs as he climbed. His shocking lime and yellow coloring. But the frog hopped back to where he had been—curled up into a fold on my kid’s car play mat. He laid down. We hovered, careful not to get too close. He didn’t so much as flinch. “Ok,” I said, “we should leave him alone.” And then he gently closed his eyes. “He’s sleepy,” I explained to the kids. “And I guess he feels safe there. He will be ok.”
We go inside. I have a diaper to change, dinner to make, dishes to do, school work I haven’t even begun with my son yet. I think of the little frogs head turning toward me while I spoke to him. That was weird, right? It was like he was just calmly listening to me. And then he went back and just laid down? He just gently closed his little beady frog eyes with us all watching him? Never had I seen a frog like that around here.
The evening waned on. The chaos of dinner and clean-up, bath and bedtime. From the window, we could peer out and check in on the frog. Intermittently, we did. He was still there, eyes closed. My kids leaned close just before bed. “Is he ok?” my son, asked, worry creased in his forehead. “What if he’s dead?” He hugged me around the waist, looking up at me, pleading with me to make the whole world hurt less. It was a begging I had become accustomed to since the virus, a whining, clinging, expectant exclamation. Eyes on me. Eyes saying Mom, fix this. And it left my stomach hollow with dread and helplessness, my chest fluttery. It was an ache that sometimes grew into anger, frustration. The mom who cannot fix the things. The mom who does not have the answers. The mom who can only do so much.
“Oh he’s not dead,” I reassured them. And myself. My son had been struggling since the onset of the virus. Well, we all had. But his moods and behaviors had thrown me for a loop. I had never seen my notably sensitive boy struggle to this degree. This frog would lead to a tailspin. He was a lover of animals, tender and gentle and constantly thirsty for creature knowledge and understanding. Please don’t be dead.
And then there I was, my eyes popped open at 4 am. The frog. Is he ok? I should have checked again. It had taken two hours to get my daughter to sleep. Also new. I had held my breath in the dark and crept my body across her floor, feeling the creaks in my bones, the crack of my knees. Pausing, again and again. The internal chant of please don’t wake her up, please don’t wake her up. I had collapsed in bed afterward, exhausted, freed. And quickly asleep.
From my bed, I grab my phone in the dark. Four o’clock of course, we meet again. I’m googling frogs, scrolling through types, behaviors, habitats. Going through pictures. Is that him? Oh no, he was far more beautiful and colorful. This one? No, he was bigger, definitely. I’m reading articles, scrolling through frog facts. Good thing we didn’t touch him, because our skin oils could hurt him. I picture him curled up on the nook of the kids mat, so human-like. The little green blobby webs of his fingers under his head. I get up, and in my underwear I go out to the porch, goosebumps prickling my skin. Its pitch black and I can hardly see. I am hoping he’s gone. I think. Right? That would mean he’s totally fine, that he got out and is happily hopping along now. I think.
I wait for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. At the corner nook of the mat, printed with flat trees, he is gone.
Ok. This is ok. This is good. I slink quietly back into bed, it is 5:00 now. I have been frog-obsessing for an hour. He’s gone and this is good, I think.
In the morning I tell my son the frog has left. At first he is relieved. He goes to check for himself, leaning over to look out the window. And I can see then that it is relief mixed in with something else. Sadness. “I am happy for him.” He says, not smiling. “I know it’s not ok to keep wild animals as pets.” He is matter of fact in this, though he’s still solemnly watching that little nook in the play mat.
I kind of miss the frog too.
My children crouch down and climb bare-footed into the bottom kitchen cupboard. This is also new. My son first, then he ushers his little sister in with a wave. It’s been empty since we moved in. Who’d have thought I’d have too much cabinet space in the kitchen.
Now they are tucked in there, little flashlights in their hands, a batman blanket and giraffe pillow. Occasionally I’ll open one side and peek in. Just saying hi, I’ll bend down and wave. Some days their faces pop up, covered in stickers, or inked in marker. Other times, they are just giggling in there, holding their flashlights in the dark, little legs intertwined.
There is an eerie silence in the house when my kids retreat to the cupboard. Silence I have been longing for, but that seems so misplaced, it’s almost hard to welcome. Things are weird. Notably just not quite right. I know even my 2 year old feels it. And so there they are, in the cupboard. I get it.
My son should be finishing his year of first grade, at school, playing with friends. Me and my daughter should be doing playdates and going to museums, looking into preschools. I should be working in the evenings. Instead its 11 on a Tuesday, my son has finished 2 online schooling assignments in his pajamas, my daughter has drawn all over the walls and bled blue marker up and down her arms. I am exhausted from…well, what am I exhausted from, even?
Silence is rare here. It has grown louder. This house seems to be growing claws and sprouting moles and rumbling from the dead. Feelings are bigger, longer, more stretchy. They hold their own shadows. Every space here is some element of chaos, the chaos of one day bleeding into the next. The house. Our whole bodies. The energies buzzing from us. The chaos of staying in. Of existing only here. I don’t know how long it’s been. I lost the days. They are buried in this cluttered house and on the horns of all these big billowing feelings. We talk about them a lot. Like a new family member. Like a new baby that takes all the attention and cries all day long. It’s hard to have such big feelings. We say again and again.They have never been so ever-present, seated next to us at dinner with their own little heartbeats. They have never ruled so arduously like this. And yet, here they are with us, they have most abruptly joined the family.
We are watching clouds for shapes now.
We are marveling at how easily we can see them sail across the sky, fluffy, bulbous. A dragon, you can see his eye, the curve of his mouth. They seem quick. Are they always this quick? “That one looks like a chicken,” my son says. I don’t see it. “How do you not see it? It’s obviously a chicken!” I crane my neck squinting my eyes. I still don’t see it.
My son points to a stain on my (sweat) pants (obviously I’m not wearing real pants a time like this). “Coffee,” I say. He traces his finger over smudges of teal paint. We painted on leaves outside. “Do you know you have two banana stickers stuck on you?” I didn’t.
“Wow, you’re a mess.” I am.
My daughter comes over with her page of stickers. She carefully peels them and adds them to my pants. “More stickers” she says. A Purple Heart. A panda. A lion. She is delighted.
My son stops. Mama, I love this time. Do you love this time? He sits next to me, leaning his whole body onto me, a simple little smile, his t-shirt and shorts both inside out. The pockets hanging, seams and tags flailing. It’s just how I do it now, he says.
I hadn’t articulated it before then. I had been consumed in the chaos, the overwhelm. The fear and anxiety and sanitizing and laundry. The meltdowns. The keeping it all together. But there was the other part. The slowness that snuck in sometimes that felt less paralyzing. Where we are watching clouds, or catching grasshoppers or swinging or consumed in the well-being of a frog. And the concept of time seems to be an irrelevant factor, our task at hand is our whole damn life. “Yes,” I tell him finally, “I do love this time.”
My daughter goes over to the back of the porch to the play mat. She is crouched down, inspecting. “Ribbit, ribbit” she says hopping up. My son and I look at one another, our eyes clearly asking each other the same question. Is the frog back? There is a glimpse of hope and excitement on his face as he rushes back to the mat that has since remained untouched.
The frog, yesterday. Just one thing—anything, that gives some light, some something to the day. The giggles in the cupboard. The other day it was the walk with the family at sunset. My daughter on my partner’s shoulders, racing my son. Me, racing my son. My now-shin splints. I felt it then too. When it’s slow enough that you can stop, that you can identify that the big feelings haunting are sometimes the achingly good ones. Still big, lingering, slow, stretchy. But you can sit with these ones too. Feel the splays of them through you, notice them, hold them just a beat longer. Like the frog, the moving clouds. Like loving something for its pureness and simplicity, while also watching it go. The very brief little blooms, that we have for just a second.
Jillayna Adamson (said Jill-anna) is a mother, psychotherapist and writer. She loves all things people and culture, and is particularly interested in individual identity development and the psychosocial implications of the modern western world. Jillayna primarily writes personal essays and narratives, and writes often about the motherhood role and identity. She is a Canadian transplant currently living in the US with her partner and kids, and is a firm believer in letting your freak flag fly. She can be found at www.Jillayna.com