On that fateful day in March when school closed, I moved back home and promptly discovered living there full time was not as easy as I thought. Probably because the world was ending. And no, that’s not an overstatement. My dad and I had been waiting for years. Sometimes we thought it would be because of the president, sometimes because of climate change. And now we had this, a global pandemic, on our hands, which further exposed all the inequalities our society was suffering from. Our predictions were finally coming true. So the simplest conclusion was that the end was near. It was hard to have hope.
Even my mom, the practical one, found it hard to be positive. In that first week I’d seen her cry more times than I had in my entire life. Suddenly I hated being taller than her because I had to let her cling to me like a small child. I wasn’t sure where my head was supposed to go. I wasn’t sure how to be a daughter anymore.
Everyone was so sad. Except maybe my brother, but he asked me to do so much for him it had the same effect on me of overwhelming exhaustion the others had by being sad. And I found my love was stretched too thin. I found that each person’s movement, each want and each sigh, tugged me all across like a tender string pulling on my sore heart. And that kind of love felt so, horribly wrong.
For a long time I’ve been afraid of anything that hurts. It’s an added layer from my overactive mind, that when I struggle, I don’t only experience the struggle, but also wonder about what it will do to me. If someday something inside me will break forever. So when the pandemic turned my life inside out, as it has for millions of others, I kept trying not to feel the pain. I was indignant. I couldn’t believe the world was doing this to me, that it was trying to break me. Everything was a burden, and I cursed it. The news. School. My family. My love.
We went on like this for several weeks, me with my own secret fears and denials, and my family members with their own fears and sadness. Finally, my dad decided we needed something good in our lives. That was when he found Bluey.
Bluey is a tv show for preschoolers that had gotten great reviews in The New York Times. We didn’t want to watch it. “So it’s a tv show about a blue blob?” my brother asked. “Are we gonna learn the colors? Even the name is stupid! Blue-ey!”
My mom, though skeptical, told us to give it a try. So one night after dinner, at exactly 8pm so we could all be in bed by our quarantine bed-time, 9, we settled begrudgingly in front of the big computer to give my dad’s newest experiment a try.
As soon as the intro came on, we were hooked.
Bluey, we discovered, was not about a blue blob, but about a family of dogs. There were four total, one for each of us. I was Bluey, the main character, of course, the imaginative, bold, and slightly controlling preschooler puppy. Dad was Dad, although he liked to remind us he would never have tolerated all the stuff that Dad tolerated in the show, Mom was Mom, and my younger brother Sam became Bluey’s baby sister, Bingo. Every episode Bluey and her family went on not one, but two new adventures in the span of twenty minutes. And the best part was that all the characters spoke with Australian accents.
We began watching Bluey religiously. Every night we gathered our snacks and squeezed onto the couch to watch a new episode. Watching Bluey reminded us of all the fun we used to have. When Bluey tricked Bingo into playing games with her, Sam and I remembered the time when I was four and shoved my brother, who could barely walk, into a cardboard box and tried to barricade the opening so I could “drop him off at school.” And even though my own dad claimed not to have indulged us as much as Bluey’s dad, we remembered the tag games we used to play with him where he would lie down in the middle of the carpet and we would run along the edge trying not to get caught. The show was simple and playful and sometimes it would be the only time we laughed all day.
Around the time we started watching Bluey, I went back to therapy. I talked about all the things I couldn’t get over--how I couldn’t see my friends and how I was stuck at home and how some days all I wanted to do, or really all I could do, was lie in bed watching Netflix. And how all of that scared me. I asked my therapist why. I was jealous, in a way, of the world, even though I didn’t know if there was anyone out there to be jealous of. I told her I was afraid of what would become of me if we went on like this. She told me about something called radical acceptance. If I accepted situations, outside of and within myself, I could feel a little lighter. Some of my anxiety would be lifted, and maybe I could start to move forward.
But I’ve been scared of the end of the world for a long time. I am not the kind of person who accepts, for better or for worse. So, I kept being afraid. And my family kept watching Bluey. It was the one thing in my life I could always count on--that at the end of every day, I would get to cuddle under a blanket with my parents and brother and watch a little blue dog be showered in adoration by her own parents and sister.
Eventually we stopped needing Bluey (either that or we all just got too freaked out by the episode with the flash-forward where we glimpsed Bluey as a long-legged, teenage dog). We transitioned to other sitcoms like Superstore. But the feelings Bluey had given us stayed. Summer vacation had come, and we decided to start taking advantage of the things being in Oneonta for the summer offered. We went hiking, kayaking, and, my favorite of our excursions, had beach days at a nearby lake with imported sand. Some of this stuff we would never have done if the pandemic hadn’t limited our options for leaving town. Together, we practiced finding joy in each other when we couldn’t find it anywhere else in the world.
And one day, a few weeks ago, it finally started to click. After nearly half a year of beach days and tv shows and video games and the more serious things we did to prevent the end of the world, like phone banking and attending protests, we received word that the woman, described in one of my other favorite tv shows, One Day at a Time, as “the tiny old lady clinging to life with one hand and to our frail democracy with the other,” passed away. And once again, something, someone, that I’d always depended on to keep the world going, disappeared.
I heard my dad shout, “No!” from the kitchen. My mom and I ran in in disbelief. It hadn’t even crossed my mind that, with everything else going on, Ruth Bader Ginsburg could die.
By that time it was 8:30 and time to watch our daily Brooklyn 99 and Superstore. We retired to the living room rattled and exhausted. I looked beside me, at my dad’s lean, tired form sprawled across a yogibo, and realized something was different. I didn’t feel indignant. I felt scared, but at the same time I felt grateful. My dad’s pain and my fear of the world ending didn’t hurt so much. I felt, strangely, lucky. Lucky to love my dad, to spend time with him even like this.
Perhaps I didn’t reach radical acceptance that day, but I was able to get a little closer to acceptance. I knew that my joy could always return, so I could be okay with what was going on in the present. I knew that some things, like love, like family, didn’t have to be a burden.
And I like to think, in the same gentle way Dora and Barney and Teletubbies taught me the colors and the ABC’s, Bluey, by reminding my family what it meant to be playful and trusting, helped me get there.