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How's It Going In There? - Transcript

This is a transcript of a “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” episode entitled “How’s It Going In There?” The text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future for accuracy.

Listen to the episode here.

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Nora: No, it’s not going on the TV. It might go in the podcast. Do you know what the podcast is? 

Ralph: Yes.

Nora: What's it called?

Ralph: Still Kickin?

Nora: It's called “Terr…”

Ralph: Terrible, Thanks for Asking.

Nora: There we go.

Hello everyone. It’s Nora McInerny, and this is “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” — COVID19 edition, coming at you from my car. If you’ve been listening to the podcast, you know that we’ve been recording and interviewing from my noisy ass house, where I live with four children, a husband, and a shih tzu named Stacy.

Right now it’s quiet, because I’m in my car, in the garage, and I yelled at the kids not to stomp around in the house above me. But on an average day in the time of corona, our house sounds like this:

Sophie: Q, no! Just... will you guys… I’m gonna snap soon.

Nora: Okay, let's —

Sophie: I've said many times that, like, again...

Nora: Okay, boys. Could you leave the room and shut the door? You can come back if — one of you go find my coffee cup and bring me my coffee, okay? I have no idea where my coffee cup is. Oh my god, what the hell...

Truly, I never know where my coffee cup is. But I do know where my kids are — they’re RIGHT HERE. They’re always RIGHT HERE. And they’re blessings. I mean, what would I do without them? They’re wonderful, they’re wonderful, and also please leave me alone. I know where my kids are. And I know where you are. You’re at home. Unless you’re an essential worker, in which case you’re stocking our shelves, saving lives, dropping off the tampons we forgot to buy before this nightmare started. THANK YOU. Thank you. 

But the rest of us? We’re at home.

Nora: This better be recording. I'm Nora McInerny. I'm just wondering: How’s it going in there, everyone? How's it going in there, wherever you are? We are in the suburbs of Minneapolis, Minnesota. We’re in our house, where we've been for a while. We've left the house to take a couple of walks every day. But today it is gray. It is rainy. March is the most… 

Ralph: Mom, where did you first see it?

Nora: I think that it's in the kitchen, or it's on my desk, or it's in the bathroom. We've gone on a couple of walks. We send the little kids out on, like, trips... like I just described to them, which is that right now they're on a hunt for my coffee cup. Who knows where I set it? So we are in the pink canopy bed of our favorite daughter, Sophia, who earlier today, you know, was just enjoying a nice little sob at the kitchen table. I have to say it was a beautiful cry. 

Sophie: Thank you. Thank you. I'm very happy that you think that.

Nora: You’re a cute crier.

Sophie: Thank you.

Nora: So you were crying. Why were you crying? 

Sophie: Because this isolation is very hard. Especially for someone who is an extrovert and very social. 

Nora: What's hard about it? 

Sophie: Not being able to be around the people that I really enjoy and, like, seeing my friends and being able to, like, touch them? Which is, like, something that, like, you don't realize is really important until you can't have that. I don't get to, like, go to school and see my best friend and, like, just hang out and, like, have a good emotional talk. Not cry, but just talk about the stuff and, like, give each other a hug. Very important. You don't realize how, like... how important it is and how much you need it until you can’t have it from them. 

Nora: I think when you describe not being able to go to school for a couple weeks. Thank you, Baby. I think most kids are like, “Yeah, that'll be frickin rad.” But what's it like in real life? 

Sophie: It's horrible. And as a person that actually does enjoy school... like, when it's… most of the class, and not every single class, but like... I'm someone who does enjoy getting to learn and being able to, like, learn new things. It's hard not being able to be there. I just feel lazy, and I think that, like, people don't understand. When you're in school, you're like: Oh, this sucks. I just want to get out. But then you get out and you have nothing to do except for playing video games or try to, like, occupy your own time, where in school everything is calculated. 

As I record this, we’re going on I think a month of isolation. And it’s gotten harder in some ways. Can you imagine being in 8th grade and being stuck with your family all the time? Well, imagine it, because it’s the reality for teenagers now. And it’s easier in others. Like, okay, am I really homeschooling my children? Absolutely not. Not in the least. I mean, we are doing distance “learning,” but mostly their teacher, their best friend, their mentor is the internet, specifically Disney+. 

We are taking regular breaks to play Mario Kart — god bless the Nintendo Switch. We have ice cream every single night.  We have done a couple of puzzles. We have had several breakdowns. We love each other. And we’re also a normal family… where our 13-year-old sometimes wants to, in her words, strangle her older brother.

Sophie: He just gets on my nerves. [laughing] Like, I can't do it to the little boys... 

Nora: [laughing] You cannot attack your little brothers. But your older brother? I mean... 

Sophie: Yeah! I can do that! Like... I wouldn't kill him. I wouldn't hurt him. But like, would I just slap him? 

Nora: Maybe!

Sophie: Yes. Do I sometimes have the sudden urge to slap him? Yes. But then I'm like: Oh my god, I shouldn't do that. It's like when you have, like... when someone's drinking water and all you want to do is just hit the water bottle? 

Nora: [laughing]

The entire premise of this show is based on emotional honesty. On daring to tell the truth about how it feels to live in a world where life is really hard. Kids are pretty good at telling the truth. I interviewed my children because, look, I’m at home, they’re accessible to me in this pandemic. I need something to fill the time. If you’re looking for a free idea on how to entertain your children, turn on your phone, use voice memos, and interview them. But be warned: If you interview one, you must interview them all.

Ralph: I'm 7 years old, my favorite color's blue. My name is Ralph. 

Nora: How is… how's it going in here? 

Ralph: Um, good. Little frustrating because Mom keeps working, and it takes a while. My big brother is just doing stuff so I can't play with him. [sighs]

Nora: We had this conversation at night, do you remember it, and you were really, really sad when I got out of the shower and you said, “I'm just not used to this.” What are you not used to? 

Ralph: Staying home for a very long time, because I wanna go to school, see my friends and play outside. But I have to stay inside while I'm here. 

Nora: Do you know why we're staying inside?

Ralph: Because of the coronavirus and to protect other people from getting sick.

Nora: Yeah. Yeah. I felt bad the other night because you were very, very sad, and you said you were having a hard time controlling your emotions. Would you believe me if I told you a lot of grownups have trouble at that, too? 

Ralph: Yeah. 

Nora: What do you think grownups are worried about? 

Ralph: Them getting sick and their children getting sick. 

Nora: Are you worried about anything? 

Ralph: Um. I don't really know. 

Nora: That’s good.

Yeahhhh. I don’t really know either. Worried about everything. Worried about nothing. So… we’ll be right back.

We’re back. And I’m done talking to my kids — for this episode, and also in general! I just need to be alone. I’m sitting in a car, just trying to be alone.

Right now, life is hard for all of us. A bad thing is happening to all of us. And yeah, it’s harder for some than for others and yeah, we’re all in this together theoretically... but in practice? Some people are taking on a LOT more of the burden, some people are going to be much, MUCH more affected than other people. Some of us are experiencing tragedy and some of us, like me, are experiencing a light-to-mid inconvenience. 

All of us are stuck in this strange in-between, where the lives we had are no longer the lives we are living, where the things we counted on are no longer count-on-able. 

This episode, you’ll hear from fellow TTFA listeners around the world who are all going through it, right along with you. We put all the questions we asked them in the show notes, so you can do this exercise on your own, too. Because sometimes, the person we need to give a straight answer to is us.

A lot of us watching the news back in February and March, we saw what was happening in Italy, but we didn’t understand that we were staring at a crystal ball. And if you’re like, I DID, YOU DUMMY! Good for you. But a lot of us were watching the news oblivious that we were watching footage from our own terrible future.

We got this message from Nicole, in Bergamo Italy… one of the hardest hit cities.  

NICOLE: We've had a death in the family, and the funeral was really different from what we're used to because there are so many folks who have died. The funerals are quick and no-nonsense. One right after another, about 15 minutes in length. Nobody touches anybody. Everybody is six feet away from each other and it's just boom, boom, boom, one after the other. There's a limit as well as to how many people can attend the funeral. And it's four. So...yeah. Not everybody gets to grieve in the way that they want to. 

Soon, this wasn’t just happening in Italy. And it wasn’t just on the news. And it wasn’t just news stories. It was a part of our daily lives, interrupting and complicating how we live, how we interact, how we die… and how we grieve. And we have never been great at grief here in America. We typically give people maybe 3-5 business days of bereavement leave. Go ahead and check your policy right now. But you can usually count on having a funeral. On gathering all your loved ones close — real close, maybe too close, honestly — to say goodbye to the person who died. Just like you could count on having a goodbye. On being able to hold your person’s hand while they crossed to the other side.

JOYCE: Last week my mom passed away, and she had been in hospice. We were not allowed to visit her in hospice, so we had to stand at the window and talk to her on the phone. That was the only way to do it. And she just looked so small in her bed. And I wish I'd been able to go in and just give her a hug, but I couldn't because of this pandemic. On Friday morning at 5AM, we got a call that she was unresponsive, and we were rushing to hospice, hoping to be able to at least go and say goodbye. But by the time we got there, we had already gotten a call saying that she was gone. Then, we had to plan a funeral, and we planned the funeral, but we were only allowed to have six family members in the church. And unfortunately, the national cemeteries are closed to all visitors, so we weren't even allowed to have a graveside service. It was very, very hard to say goodbye. And we just had to kind of leave the church and the pallbearers placed her coffin in the hearse, and that was kind of it. So that's what's going on here. It’s been hard.

 

One of the illuminating parts of isolation is a new appreciation for gatherings you take for granted. When someone dies, you have a funeral. And when someone is born… we celebrate! Before that baby is even here! Or, we used to celebrate. 

KATE: I'm about six and a half months pregnant with our first and it's become very isolating. We had to cancel the baby shower. There are no more maternity classes or support groups. And I have to go to all the prenatal appointments alone, and especially with the sonograms it's really hard. My husband and I got legally married earlier than we planned because we wanted to start having children a bit earlier so that my grandparents would be here to meet them. My grandmother and my grandfather aren't in the best health, and so we thought that this would be a way to make sure that they can meet their great grandchildren. 

On Sunday, my grandfather suddenly passed away. Because of the pandemic, we couldn't take a red eye to the West Coast to be with them. We couldn’t go visit family and friends now for comfort. We can't hold a funeral and don't know when we will. To go through pregnancy and grief at the same time is already strange and painful. And I feel like I don't really know how to do it alone, especially. So it's… it's tough because... the isolation in New York is almost kind of like an old fashioned prescribed period of bereavement, you know, but it's indefinite. 

In the time I've kind of noticed a sort of protective quality to the solitude, kind of like a blanket in its aloneness. And in some ways it feels healing. But I always kind of thought of both pregnancy and grief as communal experiences. That you leaned on the people who shared that same joy, in one case, or the same sorrow in another. And I don't feel like I can really do either except for over the phone. 

And also time has a weird quality in isolation. Right now, you know, it doesn't seem to have much meaning. It goes forward but you don't really feel it. You forget what date it is really easily. And I feel like I don't want to take off the shirt that I've been wearing for the last three days. This thin, blue cotton t-shirt that I put on Sunday morning while my grandfather was still alive. And... now, I'm afraid to take it off, because it feels like a tear in the continuity of when he was here to now when he isn't. Especially in the isolation, I've been thinking a lot about how you have this urge to linger with grief, but also the necessity of inching forward. So I figure probably later today I'll… I'll take off the shirt, maybe in the afternoon around 2:00 or 2:30, because then that'll be three days since he died. 

And I guess the rest is waiting for a little while. You know, sitting with the feelings, sitting for the next three months of my pregnancy as the baby — she's a girl — you know, kicks and reminds me that she's still here. And sitting with the rest of the country as we kind of wait this all out. 

We’re waiting it out — waiting to cross some kind of finish line that separates this reality from a future where we can hang out and hug, and go sit in our cubicles and complain about the guy who cuts his nails at his desk, which has never happened in my time at APM but happened at every other place I ever worked. Why do we do that? When we come back from this pandemic, let us all bring our best selves to work and let us all leave our nail clippers at home. 

But while we’re waiting, we’re also struggling to figure out how we live and exist in this version of reality. 

STACY:  I'm unable to go visit Chad in the memory care facility. We actually have not been able to visit for about three weeks. The county that I live in — the Dallas-Fort Worth area — has only been on lockdown for about a week, but the community locked us out about three weeks ago. And I still remember the phone call where the nurse called me to tell me that they weren't going to allow us to come in. And I completely understand the reasons why. And my reaction, bless his heart, was so strong. And I was just so sad. Because I felt like time had been taken from us. We already lost so much of our future together because of dementia. And it just feels so unfair that at 42 years old, he was diagnosed with dementia. But then during that same time, a pandemic hits the world. And so the precious moments that I have left with him are even stolen. 

For some of us, this virus was a full interruption to a nicely lived life. The virus was THE bump in the road. And for some of us, this virus is an extra scoop of stress on top of a sundae of anxieties and stuff that has gone wrong. It’s extra guac on a plate of disaster nachos. All of my examples are about junk food, but it’s really an extra F in a series of WTFs.

JOSSE-LYNN: I have not worked now in about six months because I'm also a full-time caregiver to my husband. [He] was diagnosed with glioblastoma, which is, like Nora would put it, just a fancy word for Stage 4 brain cancer. We have had many ups and downs with this diagnosis, but COVID-19 is definitely bringing everything to a new low. Having our kids at home all the time is making it very hard to have some alone time that I need so much to stay sane. When the kids aren't pulling me on one side, my husband is pulling me on the other. 

I stay up at night thinking this is what's going to kill him, not the nasty cancer he's been battling for the last 15 months. I stay up at night wondering: What happens if I get sick? Who's going to take care of the kids? What happens if he gets sick? Will he get his treatments in two weeks? Is he still a priority? If he doesn't get his treatments, then the cancer will kill him. What if he gets a seizure? What if I need to call an ambulance? I'm scared for my husband's doctors that I've come to know so well. What if they get sick? And my ultimate worry is: What if one of the kids gets sick? 

One of the things I thought when Quebec started to slowly ask its residents to stay home and had daily press conferences was that everyone was kind of getting a taste of life with cancer or another deadly diagnostic. You have to be careful when you go out. You don't have answers about everything. You live with anxiety and stress like you've never felt before. The future is uncertain. My days are filled with worry while trying to raise good and balanced children amid the chaos. 

It’s all these things — not just worry about health and staying alive, not just worrying about funerals and diagnoses and ventilators. It’s worrying about holding together your jobs and your home and your families and all of the many, many things that make a life together work.

JESSICA: I was supposed to, after a year and half of being unemployed, I was supposed to be training for a new job today, and that is not happening now because of all the shutdowns. For the past about 14 months, I have been sponsoring a family that came with the caravan seeking asylum from Honduras. And so we all live together, and we formed our own little family, but they don't qualify for any help or assistance. And so we've been trying to live off of what I had in retirement, and we're really stretched, and I really could have used to start this new job. It's just really hard to keep stretching and trying. And it's really scary, because there's four people in my house and none of us have any health insurance. And that's a really scary thing going into a pandemic. 

So, there’s that level of terror… of not knowing who will survive, or what you’ll do. Of not having health care in a country where… honestly, do I need to go on another health care rant?

And then there is this other side of the spectrum. Where things aren’t totally falling apart, but they’re also… not great.

BRIANNA: I work in a non-essential field in a job that can be accomplished from home. So I've continued to work throughout this pandemic, and it feels really weird. Everything I do feels trivial. I'm so riddled with anxiety all of the time. And in the middle of it, I'm expected to stay productive and to continue doing my job. And it's just very strange. I realize there's quite a bit of privilege to even having a job right now, but it does just feel so exhausting to have to act like everything's fine and normal when it's not. 

I have a tip for this, actually: Don’t pretend it’s normal! Don’t do it. Resist the urge to try to dress up this pandemic like a staycation. Acknowledge how weird and awful this is. Say out loud, to yourself and to your children: I HATE THIS. THIS IS THE WORST. And then… keep going. Because it’s not normal, and it’s not okay. But it’s happening.

JEN: Before all this started, I actually struggled with some health anxiety and some obsessive compulsive tendencies. A lot of it is related around germs and illnesses. I couldn't take my children to the doctor, sometimes. I mean, I did, but I would have panic attacks because I was afraid of all the germs... and realizing that there's a lot of irrational thoughts around that, it was still very difficult to make those things happen. I struggled to go into hospitals before all this... just a lot of irrational and overwhelming fears.

And so now that all of this has come about, it's been very difficult for me to calm myself down at times, because I kind of feel like my fears and my… what was irrational seems rational and realistic right now.

So, it's been very difficult as a mental health therapist with this whole thing to try to be that rock for everyone right now while they're kind of falling apart. We've seen a huge incline and increase in people needing therapy, and almost all therapists have gone online now. So it's been even harder to not have that connection in a room with someone.

I think I've realized just how important it is for me to have community and to be able to talk to people about what I'm struggling with and not be embarrassed about that. I think during this time we really need to be brave and speak up when we're feeling lonely and feeling scared and isolated. We need to be able to be there for each other and ask for help. 

Some of us are experiencing these new levels of fear and terror and anxiety, and some of us feel like we’re revisiting these places again. It’s different, but it reminds us of something we’ve done before. Something we’ve felt before, and something we don’t want to do again.

Dan: Now what keeps me up at night are worries about contracting the virus, because I'm an asthmatic, and I have had some really bad asthma attacks in the last three years since my wife died. In 2017, my wife died of complications from a stroke brought on by a brain tumor, and I was there, and I held her in my arms as she died. And that capped off six months of being a caregiver spouse.

Now I'm doing that again for my girlfriend, whose life over the last three or four months has just completely imploded. She's lost her home due to flooding. Her job is up in the air because she works with kids with special needs for the school districts around here, but now she has to work from home, and almost on a daily basis, the districts can't decide whether or not they're going to have everybody online as available resources or put them on furlough. And I'm watching her whole life implode.

One of the things I'm learning is that as I'm getting older, I'm realizing I am a great caregiver, but I really don't want anyone to care give for me because I know exactly how hard it is to be a caregiver. I know how much effort and work it takes. And having gone through it several times now, I just find within myself this scream of NO, I will not trap or or bind somebody into caring for me when I get older. I've done this so many times now, I know what's involved. I don't want anyone I love to have to care for me. The bonds of love when it comes to caregiving are wondrous and also a terrible thing. And I am reaching this point where my soul just recoils from the thought of imagining somebody else having to care for me in the way that I've cared for others because I know what it takes. And I would... I would spare anyone that burden. 

I want to repeat something that one of our listeners just said… that the bonds of love are a wondrous and terrible thing. Ain’t that the truth. The bonds of our love are being tested in so many ways. We’re tired and we’re exhausted and we’re doing LOVE. We are staying away from each other physically and showing up however we can from a distance. We are — in this house, and in so many others — numb and anxious and tired. And that’s just since I started recording this narration.

None of us have done this before. None of us know how to be, or what to do. So make sure you’re honest about how it’s going in there, and know that like everything else, your feelings are subject to change without notice.

Sophie: I wouldn't go so far as depressed yet, but numb. I think it... depressed is a very strong word to use. And I, like... like I'm in the mood to just eat a bunch of chocolate chip cookies and ice cream and marshmallows but I know, like… it’s not good for your health.

SUE: So I'm surviving a day at a time in this strange reality, where it feels like time is standing still. And I am having faith that it will not always feel like this and gratitude for the things and the people that are still here. 

TORY: Here in New Zealand, there's a saying, which is “Keir Kahar.” It's Maadi for stay strong. And I really hope that you can take that message on board from us, and that you're going to be okay. 

DAN: So how's it going in here? Resigned, worried, but also looking forward. Cautiously courageous. 

JOSSE-LYNN: How's it going in there? Well, trying to hold on, trying to survive, like a lot of people are doing these days. The world is changing. You just don't know how or when. I just hope I'll be able to get back up again when it does. Stay safe, everyone. 

And don’t forget to check on your friends. Friends you’ve not seen in a while. Friends you’ve not heard from. Friends who... left your podcast to go work on The Daily, maybe.

HANS: Hi, this is Hans, long-time listener, first-time caller. That's not true. I am the former senior producer of “Terrible Things For Asking” and current fan and excited participant. I mean, excited might be a bit of a stretch in this moment. I mean, how excited are any of us? 

So, I'm trying to do things. I'm trying to learn the piano. I've tried many times in the past, but it's going to stick this time. Trying to spend a lot of time snuggling my dog. Trying to spend a lot of time appreciating small things. Watching things that allow me to laugh and allowing myself to feel that laughter. I'm trying to send messages to my family and friends who are working in care situations or testing situations and about whom I'm genuinely concerned.

And I'm trying not to predict anything. I'm trying not to assume what I'm going to be like or what the world's gonna be like, or what we're gonna think or feel or need, even though it’s kind of my job to do that. I'm trying not to be too predictive and let things just be what they're going to be when they're gonna be it. But you know, that's hard. 

All right. I love you all, you all are amazing. Keep up the amazing work. Be strong. Be safe. Talk soon. 

This has been “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.” I’m Nora McInerny. Our producer is Marcel Malekebu. Production help from Tracy Mumford, light of our lives. Additional help from Jeyca Maldonado-Medina and Hannah Meacock Ross. Our digital producer is Jordan Turgeon. Thanks to: Dan, Hans, Sophie, Ralph, Sue, Tory, Nicole, Kate, Joyce, Stacy, Jessica, Brianna, Jen and Josse-Lynn. Our theme music by Geoffrey Wilson. And we are a production of  American Public Media.

Ralph: Over and out, byeeeee!