I Have a Confession

I have discovered the key to my quarantine contentment, and it’s not what you’d think.

A couple of weeks ago, I realized that the isolation and repetition of this quarantine were beginning to get to me. My nerves were frayed. The signs were subtle at first, like letting my sons eat fried rice in my bed while watching TV, but then became more obvious. I thought making a dog food catapult actually sounded like an okay idea. I ate a bag of my sons’ cookies, left the wrapper out and blamed the children. I told the boys to go find pictures in the clouds and told them not to come back until they found Boris Karloff.

I decided it was time for a change, a time for self-care, a time for green smoothies and long walks. About the time I had my fourth spinach-stuffed sweet potato, my body put its foot down. Feeling ill for days — and having tried every remedy under the sun — I dug back into the comforts of my childhood and ate a giant bowl of queso with a Coke. Eureka, I was cured! It’s probably because my body said, “ Whoa, boys … let’s lay off the stomach for awhile; the arteries need our attention now.” Nevertheless, I felt better, and I had a choice: I could either eat melted cheese every day, or I could delve into the nostalgia that gave that meal its healing properties. (Spoiler alert: I chose the path with less chins.)

And thus began my “Totally ‘90s Quarantine.” I have transformed my very existence into a Sunny D commercial. My children are eating Trix and Cocoa Puffs, while I bounce around my living room with purple hand weights to ‘90s aerobics videos. We’re watching the T.G. I. F. lineup, “DuckTales,” and “E.R.”. I’m drinking diet drinks and spraying air-popped popcorn with some sort of butter substitute spray, and it’s all glorious. At this rate, I should be rollerblading past your house soon.

I came of age in the early ‘90s when everything was sunny, neon, and fun! If it didn’t take place on a beach, it didn’t happen. It was the world of “California Dreams,” “Beverly Hills, 90210,” and “Saved By The Bell,” a world full of puffed paints and scrunched socks. My childhood soundtrack was Janet Jackson mixed with a healthy dose of smooth jazz. There wasn’t much that couldn’t be fixed by a saxophone and a steel drum. If that didn’t work, Enya could put you right in an instant.

I’ve discovered — or rediscovered — that ‘90s workout videos are my jam. I dare you to be sad while working out with Elle Macpherson in the rainforest. When a spandex-clad Denise Austin tells you to “Burn that butter,” you obey. These videos are so perfectly uncool, and that’s what makes them so fun! When did everything get so serious?

I tend to feel things deeply, overthink everything, philosophize and pontificate, but sometimes I just need to smile. That time is now, and my “Totally ‘90s Quarantine” is doing the trick. Who knows … if the world gets any scarier, I may just squeeze myself into my old ESPRIT jumper. I hope it doesn’t, but at least you’ll have that to look forward to if it does.

An Easter Note

I painted today for the first time in a long time. I don’t consider myself an artist by any means, but I really enjoy it. I find painting — and watercolor in particular — to be very therapeutic the way the water moves the color across the page. It’s a beautiful and hypnotizing dance, and I can’t resist it.

Something has been bugging me today, and I’ve tried very hard to identify it to no avail. It’s been a lovely day, one filled with good times with my boys that will make for cherished memories. I’m content. I’m fulfilled. I’m ever so grateful, but I’m having a hard time smiling. Today there is a fog.

So, I turned to paint to cheer myself up and release whatever had its chokehold on me. It’s spring, so what is more apropos than painting tulips … or cheerier than red and pink ones? But my hand kept reaching for the black, and even then was not satisfied. It wasn’t until I had completely abandoned the piece and blurred it with water that it felt finished. As I stood back and looked at it—joyful and vibrant tulips hidden beneath a fog—I knew that it was perfect. It was timely. It was exactly as I felt.

We are all living the best lives we can under the current circumstances, but no matter how hard we persevere—and persevere, we must—we cannot lift the fog. The sickness, the sadness, the anxiety … it’s with us through it all. We put on brave faces for our children, and we work tirelessly to make these days meaningful. We protect them from the news, from the fear, from the death, and we smile and play while the fog does its best to drown us.

This is Easter weekend, and as a Christian I take comfort in my Savior. He is my light through the haze and my courage through this pandemic. If you also find yourself with lips that are smiling but a heart that is hurting, please know that you are not alone in your feelings. We will look upon the tulips again, and the fog will be lifted. Until then … Happy Easter, my friends.



Let’s Go Over Some Rules

Dearest Sons,

Since it seems we are going to be contained in this house together for the foreseeable future—and because I think I may have actually roared today—I have decided it is time to, once again, review some rules of civility. By civility I simply mean if you would like to see more than the back of your bedroom doors, you will need to do this.

1. Don’t eat, lick, or mouth anything other than the food I serve you. I should not have to utter things like, “Quit eating my blanket,” “Don’t lick the dog,” and “We don’t eat out of the trash.”

2. Immediately following my hours-long cleaning, vacuuming, dusting, and floor-polishing is probably not the best time to attempt to eat popcorn using a chip clip. Why I still have hair chip clips is beside the point. I was a teenager of the ‘90s, and some things are harder to shake than others.

3. I understand that you may not always like what I cook, but that does not give you an excuse to eat chips all day and then tell me you aren’t full at meal times. Yes, my own cooking is making me physically ill, as well, and I believe my body is starting to reject it, however it is what we have. Do not make me tell you about starving children one more time. There are buzzards circling our house because my spirit is dying.

4. I should never walk into the room and see you drinking out of a wine glass. I don’t care if it’s just La Croix. It’s weird, wrong, dangerous, and just visually disturbing.

5. We, as humans, brush our teeth regardless of what we are doing that day. That is all.

6. I don’t care if you found a balloon in the closet; we do not play with balloons, EVER! They are the devil’s playthings. They lead to nothing but fighting, crying, loud noises, and potential choking. Years ago, y’all got a balloon with a string wrapped around the ceiling fan in our bedroom. Now, if we would like some extra air in our room, dad and I have to give the fan a running start like we’re hand-starting a prop plane.

7. Dragging your little brother around the house by his feet is not “playing train.” I don’t care if you call it the “Baby Express.”


9. When I’m in my room and you ask me if I would like my door shut, I will assume you need to talk to Jesus about what you are about to do.

10. When I’m working out in the living room, I don’t need your help. If I had wanted to do goat yoga, I would have signed up for it years ago.

Finally, know that dad and I love you with our whole hearts. When all of this is over, we will know each other even better, treasure these moments together, praise God for his grace and immediately order a deep cleaning.



A Pet’s Ode to Coronavirus

For years at the back of the door I did stare,

enduring the taunting glare of the sun while going nowhere.

Then you came along, and my people came home!

I stashed away my readers and closed my tome.

I am FREE, a wild beast of the outdoors once again;

We walk and eat all day, and then it begins again!

The humans say you’re frightening, but to me you’re quite alright;

Is it possible, after all these years, why they’ve finally seen the light?

The children leave full sandwiches out for me to enjoy,

as well as crayons, fruit snacks, stuffed animals and the occasional plastic toy.

I ponder my sudden luck as I savor each hors d’oeuvre;

It’s about time that I finally receive the treatment I deserve.

Now, excuse me, I must resume my morning cuddle in the warmth of the sun.

While you’re hoping this will be over, I’m hoping it has just begun.

Coronavirus Lessons: Who Really Needs Pants?

In this time of uncertainty and fear, one thing has become abundantly clear in the Riney household and that is the complete indispensability of pants. The comfort of being properly covered is seemingly lost on these three sons of mine, and the result is a lot of flesh. While I am appropriately suppressing my Carona-induced stress through a combination of baking, praying, and soft pants, my children have embraced their “new normal” as their “new nudist colony.” I’ve seen things … things I can’t unsee.

When you live with four boys—I’m including my husband in that count—your gauge of what is socially acceptable changes. Your judgment is clouded by your primal need to survive, and you begin to allow things that haunt your dreams. These three young boys who emerged from my womb are bound and determined to destroy everything in their sight. These are the loves of my life and also the reason I will never own a black light.

I’ve grown very accustomed to spills, unnamed fluids and mystery stains. Water has become like air to me. My youngest son can pour out an entire bottle of water onto the rug in front of me, and my pulse does not change. I confess that I have actually convinced myself that a sloshed-around La Croix is akin to deep cleaning with club soda.

Due to our Coronavirus quarantine, we’re living in the backyard these days. Our neighbors wake to the sweet sound of me shrieking, “Quit licking your brother!”, “Dog poop is NOT a toy!”, “Is it bleeding?” and “Cover up your bits!” If you’re lucky enough to be one of our neighbors, please don’t call CPS. I assure you they’re perfectly safe. I’m the one at risk.

Growing up an only child, I would dream about my certain future … a family of one—maybe two—girls. We would giggle while we baked in matching red gingham aprons while listening to classical music and musing about our favorite parts of “Anne of Green Gables”. Let’s just note that while I’m typing this, all three of my boys are making flatulent noises on my body. It’s a glamorous life, folks.

My oldest is seven now, and with time comes wisdom. I’ve learned how to handle even the most trying situations with threats and bribes grace. Though I still find myself fantasizing about the pioneer times when you could tie little Ezekiel to a tree while you finished the laundry, I am growing accustomed to this boy life. At this point I’m only a loud whistle, a poisonous dart, and an industrial-strength carpet cleaner away from having this whole parenting this figured out.

So, to all those moms who are in the same boat during this crazy time, just know you’re not alone. We’re going to make it, and we’re doing the best we can. Don’t forget to laugh … and lose the pants.