Two years ago when I walked into this house, I knew it would work for my family. Actually, the most important thing was that I knew it would work for me – because I knew the kitchen was big enough to host the annual Cookie Day in December. A tradition dating back since I graduated from college, it had moved to Pittsburgh and I was determined to host Cookie Day.
But this year is the year of COVID. The year when traditions have been upended. The year when we can’t figure out what’s happening from one day to the next and find it almost impossible to plan anything.
This year it’s the weekend before Thanksgiving and I walk around the house feeling sad and trying to come to grips with the fact that being responsible in the time of a viral case surge means making some hard changes. This includes coming to grips with the fact that my parents will have a quiet small Thanksgiving at their home, rather than my mom bustling around in my kitchen with pies in the oven and sweet potatoes on the stovetop. COVID means that the boys have switched to remote schooling and I’m struggling with how to be patient with their constant interruptions as I try to maintain enough stream of thought for my own work. It also means that it would not be a good year to host Cookie Day. Blah.
But it’s coming up on Christmas. A season of great joy. A season of gathering. A season of sharing love with others. As the emotions of Christmas season start to rise, it’s hard to think of being apart and not engaging in all usual gatherings. It’s hard to think about not having parties and meals together. To not have the extended family come visit. To possibly not sing out “Silent Night” with lit candles at the traditional Christmas Eve service at church.
Saturday morning, Mr. Ornery skipped into the kitchen and exclaimed, “I’m starting to get the vibe of Christmas.” Starting a batch of chocolate chip cookies, I said, “Okay….Alexa, play Christmas music.”
That’s all it took. Mr. Ornery began cleaning up the family room and before I knew it, we were dragging the tree from the garage and he was stringing lights everywhere. Tradition has it that we start decorating the day or weekend after Thanksgiving. Tradition has it that we don’t mix the holidays. Tradition has been there’s no tree before turkey.
But traditions have gone out the window this year of COVID. Easter was a live-streamed church service and spontaneously hiding eggs in other people’s yards. The Little Guy’s birthday was a drive-by parade of cars after the firetrucks squawked through the neighborhood. Independence Day was a small group of friends lighting fireworks in their cul-de-sac. And for the first time in so many years, Labor Day weekend was just another couple days at home rather than the sights and smells of the Great Geauga County Fair.
I opened the flue and Mr. Ornery carried up some logs for the season’s first fire. A strand of twinkling lights were hung in front of the orange pumpkins on the mantle. The younger boys put (obnoxious) blinking multi-colored lights on the Christmas tree and I just left it as they placed them rather than correcting the spacing or stringing my preferred white lights. This year, we let the Christmas “vibe” come early. We let “Silent Night” stream through the house. We let Super Tall Guy break into smile at the glow of lights around every window and doorway in the family room. And we invited my sister’s family (our extended COVID “household”) for a spontaneous mish-mash dinner of shrimp, crab legs and fondue (traditionally the New Year’s Eve feast).
Because why not?
This year, we find new traditions. We find new ways of being “together.” We find new ways of working and learning. We find new ways of self-care and coping. We find new ways of appreciating those working the frontlines of the stores and services and hospitals. We find new ways of connecting and growing and thriving. We find new ways to experience peace, comfort and love. (And, I might need to find a new way for the Cookie Day tradition – like Zoom!)
This year…..there’s a little spark of Christmas Hope and Joy mixed with the Gratitude of Thanksgiving.
We started with the usual remote learning chaos. “Mom, this program keeps kicking me off the live session with the teacher.” “Mom, this app doesn’t work that I’m supposed to do a quiz on.” “Mom, I can’t open this file.” “Mom…..mom…..mom…..
And that was the first hour, before the middle guy said, “I feel like I’m going to throw up” and rapidly barfed all over the couch before I could blink and run for a garbage can. In my very “supportive” (NOT) Mommy way, I suggested sternly that he could have run to a sink, bathroom, kitchen….anything!! “Oh, I’m sorry you’re feeling bad, honey,” I apologized profusely several times as I google how to get vomit out of a couch (no, I don’t have club soda; yes, I’ve used up all the baking soda on the couch now so I won’t be baking for you for awhile!!)
Back upstairs to try to get a work project done amid multiple interruptions when I hear, “Mom, Moka got a rat.” It was not a rat. It will be a long time before the image of the escaped hamster (and stains on the carpet) leave my brain. After hugging a sobbing pet-owner and sending him off to the living room, I scooped up the poor animal and tossed it. A few minutes later, I had to secretly retrieve poor “Scarlett” and wrap her in pink tissue paper and put her in a “nice” box to bury in the hole that said puppy loves to dig in the front yard. We held a short funeral service where I cried as I prayed for the hamster in Heaven.
Back upstairs to work, just to be called down again for some school issue, but also the need to run to the local grocery store to buy flowers for the burial site. It was a bit for the 11-year-old to explain without many words the purpose of the flowers to the inquisitive cashier. But we stuck them in the ground (where they kept falling over and we decided they looked better that way anyway).
Back upstairs to keep working on that presentation while fielding multiple tech issues and issuing multiple reminders of what time it was and what “class” the boys should be logging in to next. Finally, went to the school to pick up my nephew and drop him and The Little Guy off at my sister’s so I could have a nice evening out with a friend. Mumblings at the school pick-up zone informed me of an email about a COVID case at the elementary school. Trying to show this email to my sister a little later as I dropped off the boys brought to my attention a general email from the middle school….followed by a direct email “To the Family of Mr. Ornery” – your student may have been exposed to a student with coronavirus and should quarantine and stay home from school for 14 days.
At this point, I’m now in a calm panic mode. This is the kid who vomited this morning (a minor COVID sign). This is the kid who had a headache and mild sore throat 3 days ago (minor symptoms). So, this is the kid who now was dragged into the local urgent care for COVID testing because his mom just had to have an answer (particularly because of possible exposures to other kids in the neighborhood).
The rapid test after miserable nasal swabs was negative. The PCR test after a really miserable nasopharyngeal swab “that tickles your brain” will come back tomorrow or the next day. The poor, brave young man survived all this. Two hours later, as he sucks on the straw of a cookie crumble frappuchino from Starbucks (nice Mommy), Mr. Ornery reflects, “This has been my worst ever kid day, hasn’t it?” Yes, buddy, it sure has.
But you’ve still had moments of smiles in between tears.
You’ve had moments of fun in between frustration.
You’ve had moments of joy in between discomfort.
You’re going to have some hard days and some days will be harder than today.
But you have a sweet, tender heart to sustain you.
You have amazing friends to encourage you.
And you have a mom who will cry right along with you (especially when you need a moment to lay beside the grave and say good bye to your little dwarf hamster friend before bed…and I watch you through the closed door weeping within).
My family made it through three months of hardly any academic progress when the quarantine for the COVID pandemic started. Teachers tried their best to rapidly convert to remote learning and parents tried their best to survive kids suddenly home, remote learning, continued work and the weight and stress of uncertainty. Then we walked through three months of summer which was spent mostly in trying to “feel” like life could be slightly “normal” again but still not engaging life quite fully. My repetitive phrase for any activities, trips or events the boys wanted this summer was, “Not this year, honey….because of COVID….”
Suddenly and all too soon for my brain and heart, the boys were to start school. Suddenly I was asked to make a choice between two options that weren’t sitting well with either my heart or my brain.
Every day for most of August, I shifted in my thinking process and in my gut decision. Do you send your most precious beings into a school building with other children in order to benefit them academically, and yet have that sickening feeling that you might be jeopardizing their health by being exposed to COVID-19? Or do you keep them home with a false sense of safety in having “less” exposure, but knowing that they will not receiving much academic instruction by doing cyber schooling while I’m working full-time?
Top this dichotomy off with the fact that I’m making the decision for three vastly different boys receiving special education services. While I’m pretty certain that I cannot work full-time at home while simultaneously coordinating the learning of three boys, I’m particularly certain that I can’t teach kids who have learning challenges. Usually I tell myself that I’m making the best decision I can with the information that I have at the time. In this scenario, it seems that there’s no “best” decision, there’s just a need to make a choice and see what happens.
As I seem to enjoy coping with stress through some humor, a fellow mother and I started a little “shut-down pool” which allows parents to throw in $5 and choose which day the school will announce that the building is closing. Half the money goes to the winner and half goes to a charity.
One of my other challenges for schooling was how to get the 8th grader to switch his backwards day/night schedule. We decided he would start in the Cyber platform as he has enough social anxiety and stress about mask-wearing that staying home seemed to fit his needs better. When I went for a run the second day of drop-off and my first true “space” of no kid responsibility for 6 months, I came home to find the teen sleeping through 2nd and 3rd periods!
My other challenge was how to get Mr. Ornery off his gaming addiction that I had spawned out of necessity of keeping him occupied in the Spring so I could work from home. He made the decision easy for me when his impulsivity got the best of him and he spent hundreds of dollars in contribution to Epic Games. The X-box now lives on my bedroom floor.
My third challenge is The Little Guy. He has all the confidence in the world but is likely soon going to be hit with the reality of how far behind he is academically compared to his peers. His teachers had been keeping an eye on him and providing some supports, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a shock as he settles back into school.
So on the eve of the First Day of School, I realized that we were all not quite ready. We managed to get haircuts, but not much attention paid to back-to-school clothing. I managed to buy a few school supplies, but didn’t even bother with the “recommended lists” since the boys will be both in and out of school. We had the iPads in the chargers, but not really ideal work stations for the days at home. And then there was the mad dash around 11:30 pm to make up a little treat bag (from whatever I could find in the closets) and write a nice “have a great year” note, and find the “My First Day of School” signs (but couldn’t find the erasable liquid markers so Sharpies would have to suffice), and head to bed.
Mr. Ornery and The Little Guy absolutely loved their first two days in school. There were no complaints or discussion about having to be in a mask. No comments at all about how different the school environment was. Only enthusiasm about which kids they recognized. How great the 4th grade teacher is and all the fun things he has planned for the year. How “amazing” the food is in the middle school cafeteria (even though it’s in “to-go” packaging this year). And on their first day of staying home for remote learning, both boys begged to go back to school.
I don’t know what the next few weeks or months will hold. I don’t know how I’ll be feeling about this decision months from now. But for this one week, the joy and excitement about school from two little boys who generally dislike school was worth it. So, bless all the teachers who worked hard to start us all off well. Thank you.
There were moments on the Jersey Shore a couple weeks ago with such intense fog that we couldn’t see the water from our seats on the sand. We couldn’t see the buildings where our rented house was tucked. We couldn’t see the lifeguard stand holding up trained rescuers. We couldn’t see danger, shelter or safety, but we could see each other.
And each other is who we have seen for the past three solid months during the COVID pandemic. Yes, we have gone for walks in the neighborhood with other people. Yes, we have passed people in the stores. Yes, the boys have played outside with other kids, trying to keep distant and not “sharing” despite years of reprimand to share their toys. But most of our entire human interaction has been within my nuclear family and that of my sister’s.
It was exciting to get away. Everyone was ready. But the weather was awful and uncooperative and full of fog and rain and wind at a steady 15 miles/hour and gusting into the 20s. The beach wasn’t welcoming and the playgrounds and basketball courts were closed. We spent most of our time inside and unlike other vacations, the boys were given plenty of electronic time because the adults were tired and solely focused on resting at the jigsaw puzzle table.
The fog on the shoreline seemed to match the fog of our brains during the shut-down. Time stood still or sped up but we couldn’t figure out what day it was. Work was either too stressful or we couldn’t get to it and that was stressful as well. My kids were suddenly home from school for the entire last quarter of the year, missing their friends and their teachers and completely missing out of academics.
We rallied and did what we had to do to “flatten the curve,” to not overwhelm the capacity of the medical system to care for those who had contracted coronavirus. But after three months, people were tired. Summer had arrived and we were ready to live to again. Escape to the shore offered a chance to change the scenery and start seeing the world in a different light.
One day I noticed that my three guys were standing looking out into the ocean. I’m sure they were just trying to judge the approach of the next wave and were unlikely to be as reflective as I am. I, on the other hand, snapped a quick photo of “my hearts” standing at the crest of the earth, pondering the vastness of the world that seems to go on forever in its steady form and yet is a constantly shifting landscape up close. I doubt they were contemplating the ill-preparedness of our country for the deadly onslaught of COVID-19. They likely were not wrestling with how to dismantle the racist systems that impact their very existence. They probably were wondering what seafood to have for dinner.
The beach week offered a chance to reflect on and talk to the boys about resiliency – the weather is awful, but we can choose to be happy and enjoy the moments we have. Mr. Ornery had started to refer to “bad” things that happened with the phrase, “We’re cursed.” I began to reframe it for him, “Actually, dear, we’re blessed.” We laughed at the ease of pedaling a surrey with the direction of the wind versus the return trip of pushing against it. We found new activities like burying a yoga ball into the sand to bounce off it like a trampoline. And since the water was unfriendly, the boys finally had time to dedicate to learning to skimboard.
And while the older teens refused to engage in their previous almost daily excursions to Wawa, the local convenience store, because of the mask-wearing requirement, it gave us a chance to talk about responsibility. In a time of spreading virus, we cover our face to protect the health of the community because that is our responsibility as human beings. We could find fun masks to wear. We could laugh about how many times we turned around to run back inside to grab the masks. We could make it work.
And, the week gave us a chance to relax and reflect on the importance of rest. The Lord calls us to rest because He knows it’s important for the human body. We need sleep every day and we need times of rest every week. Rest renews us and heals us. After three months of a country in crisis and shut down, we needed to rest and help ourselves become prepared for the peaks and surges of the virus, for the next challenges we would face, for the next battles we would start to fight on behalf of ourselves and our communities.
While it took a good week to dig out from under the work that piled up in my absence, I felt grateful to have a glimpse of emerging from my COVID fog. I am grateful for the privilege of a job that has allowed me to work at home and provides me with times of rest. I am grateful for the friends and family who have walked beside me in the fog and continue in constant support. And I am grateful for the privilege of sharing my life with three growing boys and sharing the wonder of horseshoe crabs and sand-sharks and brown sharks and turtles and ice cream and parasailing.
May they take that sense of resiliency and responsibility and rest as they continue to look out in wonder and face their huge world.
A week or so into the closing of schools for the COVID pandemic, the learning support coordinators for each of my three boys called to see how we were doing. Apparently they were required to see if any updates to the 504 or IEP plans needed to be made to handle the transition to remote learning. I couldn’t think of anything at the time.
Times have changed.
I have tried to help my boys meet their educational expectations. I have nagged and cajoled. I have praised and punished. I have hidden the gaming devices and TV remotes. I have yelled and screamed. I have cried …. and I have cried.
But it’s still a mess. My boys are not iPad learners. They are get your hands dirty learners. They are drop the rock into water to measure volume learners. They are sit with other kids in a classroom to motivate me learners. Their ADHD and learning styles are not meshing with a learn-at-home environment.
I warned my 7th grader one day that he was in jeopardy of failing yet another class….in a long procession of emails I receive every few days. His response was spot on: “I would be fine if I was in school.” He’s right. He was an A/B student. He was fine. “I know you would,” I understood. “I just don’t do well with this iPad sh$t.” I know, buddy. I know.
Super Tall Guy is expected to learn about Greek Gods and Goddesses from a series of Powerpoint slides. Not surprisingly he doesn’t care. I thought about the fact that had he been sitting in the classroom, he might have heard a tiny bit about a goddess or two as the teacher talked. He might have snickered to a buddy across the room about a particular characteristic of one of the gods. He and his friends might have joked about the lesson as they walked through the hallway to the next class. Something might have seeped in. But not if he’s sitting at home required to swipe through slides in just one more endless exhausting list of “things to do.”
Even the third grader commented the other day on our daily walk, “Mom, the iPad just doesn’t trigger my brain to learn.”
On a phone call at Easter, my sister-in-law noted that she’s been homeschooling her children for years, so this shutdown hasn’t really changed them at all. “But,” she acknowledged, “I have the whole curriculum supplied to me. I know what we’re trying to accomplish.” She is a teacher, an educator. Me, on the other hand, looks at a list of what is due today or this week for multiple teachers, multiple subjects and multiple children. I don’t know “where” they are along the continuum of lessons. The difference between home “education” and crisis online learning is huge.
Mismatched to the very core of their brains’ ability to retain information, this remote learning expectation is also mismatched to the life of a working parent. Like school, my work also shifted to the home. My coffee house meetings are now draining Zoom calls. My simulation classes are now dry lectures that I’ve recorded onto Powerpoint. My comradery at the office is now gone. My brain is stressed about how to get work done because every 5 to 21 minutes, I’m interrupted to assume the role of teacher, short-order cook, Bingo number-caller, dog-walker, TV-fixer, argument-settler. My conscious bombards me with work that is not getting done. My email-response time is at least 3 days late. My to-do list is never-ending and just moves from one day to the next, from one week to the next. And one day a week, I work at our medical practice, so 20% of the week, I’m completely absent from my children. As I struggle to keep up with work, I just can’t even attempt to teach, especially as a single full-time working parent.
And I’m stressed by the sheer load of trying to understand life within the context of a rapidly transmissible, potentially deadly or life-changing virus. I’m worried about keeping my aging parents healthy. I’m worried about keeping my children healthy as we learn about unique inflammatory reactions in kids. I’m worried about the patients that I’m not seeing in the office although I go in for 10 hours one day a week to sit and make telemedicine calls. I’m worried about people around our community who are experiencing far more hardship and stress than I am. I’m worried about how much of this could have been prevented by a competent and coordinated government response at the beginning. This concept of allostatic load is certainly present in many people’s lives and for me leads to forgetting to do things, taking a long time to respond to emails or texts, and falling into complete exhaustion by the end of the day. I don’t want to clean the house or wash dishes, I just want to sit at the puzzle table or zone out on the couch.
I fully know that my children’s teachers are trying their best to convert from their plans for the final school quarter to an online platform. They are all truly amazing teachers and I grieve the fact that my boys no longer sit and listen to their wisdom. I also know that teachers are generally trained to be in front of a classroom of children and have little to no training in being an online teacher. It’s hard on them too and they need support.
I also struggle with trying to focus foremost on the boys’ emotional needs. I worry about how much to push them and how much to acknowledge that they are also stressed by this whole situation.
So many families I speak with have similar experiences. So many agree that they were holding together for the first few weeks and managing okay. But now it has all collapsed.
I guess now is the time to revisit that learning support plan for the boys (the 504s, the IEPs). Now is the time just give it a wash for this school year. Now is the time to think about what supports need to be in place and what changes need to occur in case schools have to be closed in the fall.
Now is the time to be honest….that for my family ….remote learning is a traumatic check-list of failure and a complete lack of “learning.”
My hope is that the boys will catch up and not shutdown any love of learning. That they will indeed rebound. That they will have a most beautiful future learning to do the things they love.
And, thankfully there’s always the joy of the puppy…..
Like so many people sitting at home to work over the past six or so weeks of “shelter-in-place,” it seemed like the perfect timing to get that puppy I had been contemplating for months.
Since the boys were clearly stressed by the sudden change in their lives and unable to say things like, “Gosh, Mom, I’m feeling really stressed and unsettled by this rapid change and don’t have great coping mechanisms,” they expressed this by fighting over who would get to sleep with our little cavadoodle. They cuddled up with Mitzy any time they were overwhelmed with big feelings. They found an outlet in loving a fuzzy little animal. So when a friend posted about Animal Lifeline on Facebook, we got our application in and waited for the next transport of puppies rescued from puppy mills or kill shelters in other states.
Scanning through a dozen or so photos of available puppies the following week, Mr. Ornery zeroed in on a tiny pure black puppy. “Look at those eyes, Mom,” he said, “that puppy needs us” (or the other way around). A few hours later, the boys were cuddling a black lab mix and I was signing paperwork.
All the way home, the boys argued over a name before
Amazon reminds me I purchased this in 2009
settling on Malachi. I tirelessly argued that was a boy’s name. The moment my friend texted a series of suggested M-names and I read her daughter’s suggestion of Mocha, I knew that was it. The next day, Little Guy came running into the room singing, “Grande, non-fat no-whip Mocha. Grande, non-fat no-whip Mocha, where’s my puppy Moka?” using my favorite coffee drink to remember a new name. I laughed and I switched the spelling to match a book we’ve enjoyed.
Sure it sounds like a great idea to get a quarantine puppy. Why not pile on a lot more work? With the current crisis level of stress, I had started to sleep 8-9 hours a night. Now I sleep 6-7 and beg the puppy to go back to sleep in the early mornings as I lay there restlessly unable to doze off. With the constant disruption of children as I try to pay attention to Zoom meetings or put thought to paper for work, now every 20-30 minutes I have to figure out what the puppy is chewing on and take her out to pee.
But I can handle this, because having a new puppy is just like having boys:
Little Moka can’t come into the house without tracking in dirt or carrying in bits of nature. Mostly because she loves to dig the black dirt all over the sidewalk right in front of the door – so that everyone now drags in dirt! It’s especially awesome when it rains.
She contributes to the constant “I can’t find my shoe” issue. It’s been three days and I still can’t find the left flip-flop and my right running shoe. And I don’t know whether to blame boys or a puppy who picks it up and carries it around the house.
She leaves wet blotches in the carpet much like the boys do when they spill their drink and “forget” to clean it up or mention it until I find it with my socked feet.
An innocent appearing behavior, such as licking the front porch railing quickly becomes destructive and I think about all the repairs I’ll some day have to do because of the constant flurry of activity of all these little creatures in the house.
There are some lessons learned, as well. For example, when leaving the puppy home all day with the older boys while I’m at work, I might have needed to specify to remove the “solid waste” BEFORE using the spray and wet paper towel to rub the carpet! (Even magic Folex hasn’t been able to touch this stain.)
Also would have helped to be a little more specific in my note to the 11-year-old that read, “Please take puppy out every hour and feed at 12 noon.” When I unknowingly gave the puppy dinner and she groaned as she still tried to eat with a belly double its normal size, I learned that Mr. Ornery read that as “feed puppy every hour” as well as take her out.
Despite all this (and the continuing destruction that I’m sure we’ll have), I don’t regret the decision. The other night, on The Little Guy’s ninth birthday, the puppy jumped off the couch and landed on her front leg wrong. She howled in pain. The boys ran to find me and I held the puppy tight. Wrestling with whether she needed to get to the emergency vet, with time she started walking on it again. As she tucked in to sleep that evening and the younger boys cuddled into my arms on the couch watching a movie, they wept with worry about the puppy. Reassuring them, I thought, you know what, you boys are going to be okay. You have tremendous love for another creature. You have deep empathy for someone in pain. You find joy in the physical connection (even if it is a puppy licking your face). And you are learning more responsibility.
Welcome to the family, Moka. We’re all glad you’re here.
We’re crashing. We seriously thought we could do it. We rallied ourselves up. The adrenaline was high. We knew what we had to do and we could do it… Switch to social distancing… Switch to working at home… Switch to remote schooling. We got this. It sounded manageable because we were told that we were staying in for two weeks. And that seemed to be very doable.
For some, it was intense work of changing up the way offices were run, or medicine was practiced, or preschools and schools switched to home-based. For some it was endless hours of getting systems ready to run a new way. For others, it was a sudden social change with kids home all day without the usual supports of friendships and playgrounds and activities. For some, it was sudden isolation, stuck within their own four walls of the senior high rise without Bingo night or card games or opportunities to talk with each other.
And we thought we could do it.
A light: Free library in nearby neighborhood offering masks for those who need one.
But then as the weeks ran into one another and the days blended together and the time stood still, we realized we just couldn’t do it anymore. We were crashing. The adrenaline was gone. The constant stress and unrelieved worry that simmered underneath our conscious emotions began to overflow. We had prepared ourselves for the sprint. We didn’t realize we would be undertaking a marathon.
And just as the tears started to leak and the brain started to spin, we suddenly realized that all our natural coping mechanisms were gone. The tight squeezing hug from a friend. The hanging out together over a cup of coffee. The meals around the table.
Sure there’s the telephone and the FaceTime and the Zoom Happy Hours. But suddenly we realized that wasn’t cutting it. Because if nothing else, this crisis-demanding social distancing has made it abundantly clear that the human body is designed to be in close connection with other human bodies. The energy that radiates from our very cells when next to another feeds one another and refills one another. Being together uplifts one another and soothes us. Technology cannot replace touch and proximity.
Week 6 of shut-down and we’re crashing. We’re crashing because jobs are lost and money is tight. We’re crashing because we don’t want someone telling us what to do. We’re crashing because we just need to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The word “indefinite” doesn’t work for us. We need control. We need a timeline. We need to know.
We’re crashing because we’ve never lived like this. We don’t know how to live like this yet. And we are not getting clear and consistent information and instructions. We don’t see a clear and unified plan. We’re crashing because we’re scared and angry and feeling helpless.
We’re crashing because our usual coping skills weren’t built for this and because we we’re hard on ourselves. We expect to be productive. We expect to get things done. We have forgotten how to rest.
We’re crashing because there are moments when we can’t see the light. The hurt and the pain that surrounds us. The illness and death of friends and family. The images of mass graves being dug and long lines of cars waiting, desperate for food. We’re crashing because the world is so different than it used to be and feels less safe.
Zen: Adult coloring book by a friend
We’re crashing because it is time to crash. The Corona Blues have set in and we are each having to face the darkness. And it’s time to rethink what we’ve been doing. It’s time to look forward to a new world and a new way of life. It’s time keep our eyes out for the light that is there around us.
And it is time to give ourselves permission to rest. It’s time to find activities that help us make time stand still. Reading a book. Doing a puzzle. Intricate coloring. Baking bread. Weeding the garden. Long walks through the woods. Anything in which time warps and what feels like ten minutes has been forty-five. For in those moments, the body pauses, the breathing calms, the stress lessons and the soul heals.
It’s time we give ourselves those “zen” moments and encourage one another to do so as well.
Easter of a pandemic. I stayed up late for Easter bunny fun designing a nice scavenger hunt for the boys to find their baskets in the morning. What I failed to appreciate was the vicious combination of holiday excitement and poor impulse control. Within minutes, Mr. Ornery was in tears about how hard the hunt was, how this was stupid, and how angry he was about having to do this. Within minutes a fight had broken out over whose tiny piece of chocolate was whose after cracking open all the plastic eggs from the family-room-egg-hunt. Within minutes, I was tucked away back in my bed sobbing.
My expectation of a beautiful morning clashed with the ADHD expectation of immediate access to candy! My expectation of a fun bonding moment in the midst of quarantine clashed with the need to just get to the end goal. It took me awhile to bounce back and realize that we are all stressed. Holidays add stress. Decreased amount of sleep adds stress. Constant, smoldering worry of an ongoing pandemic adds stress. A complicated scavenger hunt for an Easter basket was not the right type of stress to add.
I’ve been imparting wisdom left and right about how it’s most important to attend to our social-emotional health during this time, especially the health of our children. The other day, I stood in the hallway of our medical office listening to a mother stress about how many hours of school work she was trying to get her 6 year old to accomplish. She had gotten home from work and spent about 4 hours with her kindergartener trying to get assignments done. There was stress. There were tears. There was guilt about not spending time with the younger sibling because of all the attention on school. Her voice cracked. And my heart paused for her.
“Listen, we’re living in a pandemic. We’re just hanging on some days trying to cope. There’s too much stress of trying to do work well, trying to parent well, and trying to help kids with school. She’s in kindergarten. She’s going to be fine if you just focus on her emotional health,” I spouted.
There are just a few times I’ve cried during this pandemic and most of those times have been while on a phone (or after hanging up) with a teacher or learning support teacher at my boys’ schools. I find that I keep voicing how hard this is for parents to try to do their own work from home while simultaneously trying to figure out how to help the kids. I’ve advocated for paying more attention to “how are the kids feeling?” and figuring out how they are coping with their stress. We’ve revised 504s and IEPs. We’ve decreased some of the workloads. But it’s a work in progress.
The moment the schools closed, Super Tall Guy packed up and moved over to my sister’s house. He loves being there with her two teenage boys. He spent the entire summer there last year. And while that seemed fine when they talked about closing school for two weeks, when the governor closed schools for the rest of the year – a total of 3 months – that just didn’t seem sustainable. I struggled with the fact that he wasn’t getting the same “bonding” time that the other two boys and I were having (not that he’d come out of his room to go on our daily family walks, anyway). And although I kept fussing about whether to “make” him come back home, I finally relaxed into persuading myself that his stay there was buffering his social-emotional health. He is happy and that is good enough for now.
There’s just no right and wrong. No clear cut answers to anything. We are all just trying to do our best each day and waking up to try again tomorrow. So I wrote this….
We’ve been trying to cope with all these changes and name them. We can’t go to the skate park with our scooters and skateboards, because of Corona. Grandma didn’t get to join us in coloring Easter eggs, because of Corona. We can’t invite a friend over to play, because of Corona. “Will we go to the beach for vacation this year?” We might not, honey, because of Corona.
Because of Corona, I start all my work emails with the words, “So sorry for my tremendous delay in responding….” It’s my “Covid-delay.” You know the joke, where someone gets distracted by a passing squirrel? Well, that’s all I have in my life right now – lots of squirrels!! And there’s no space for brain power.
Because of Corona, the governor of our state just canceled schools for the rest of the year. My 5th grader is missing out on his “senior” year of elementary school – the strutting in the hallways of being the “big” kid on the block, the visit to the middle school in preparation for the transition, the grade-level picnic at the local playground as a last bonding hurrah. I know it’s a small thing in the grand scheme of health and life, but it’s a disappointment and a grieving. And it’s a stress to know that the squirrels are going to be circling me for another two months!
Because of Corona, I am now putting in full days at the medical office which means my sister is helping by watching my youngest for almost 12 hours (which gives her a total of 5 boys in the house; although fortunately the three teens sleep a good chunk of the day). And it means that Mr. Ornery is home alone for a good chunk of time watching TV. I thanked him for it the other night as I tucked him into bed and he said, “It’s okay, Mom. I know you have to help people.” It’s still a sacrifice for the family.
Because of Corona, the younger boys, the little Cavadoodle and I take a walk around the neighborhood every day. They are usually on a scooter or skateboard and I’m usually saying inane things like, “Look at that beautiful purple flower which I don’t know the name of….” We are becoming more in tune with nature and the tiny changes of the season that we would never have noticed had we been in our hectic schedule of gymnastics, hockey, basketball and on and on. It’s a time of growth for us.
Because of Corona, I am a little more irritable and snap at the boys a little more. I’m around them so much now that I start to pick on little things. I’m trying hard to get work in and realize I’ve just snapped at a little boy who interrupted my online meeting because he simply needed a hug. I sleep much more than I used to and yet struggle to feel rested. I read more. I puzzle more. I bake more. My body is stressed and trying to deal with the trauma of an upended life. It takes a toll on all of us.
Because of Corona, my neighbor and I have started to jog or walk together a couple mornings a week. We just need to move and we just need to talk. We just need the comfort of venting to one another, listening to one another. I’ve been connecting with many people electronically. I’ve had several zoom “Happy Hours,” but there’s a different physical and biological response when we’re near someone even if we’re six feet away.
But because of Corona, we’re also awkward around other people now. I fold my arms across my chest to make sure I don’t accidentally reach out and touch someone as we talk. As someone who is not all-huggy, I now crave the hugs from my great-hugger friends. My neighbor brought over sidewalk chalk for the boys and we awkwardly tried to figure out if she could hand it to me or put it down and I’d pick it up…. Because of Corona, I wonder if people worry about me baking cookies for them (so I wash frequently and use gloves to plate them). It’s a constant edginess.
I asked the fifth-grader how he felt about missing his last quarter of his school year. “Awesome!” he exclaimed. “Isn’t it a little weird, though?” I inquired. He paused. He doesn’t talk about emotions much (you know, a preteen boy). He replied as he walked away, “Yes, it is weird. …. But I’m okay.”
I’m okay. Acceptance. That’s the point we need to get to, but it’s going to take awhile. We are coping with loss and disappointment. We are coping with uncertainty and constant change. We are coping with stress and trauma. The wisdom of Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief fits this age of pandemic. As individuals and communities, we worked through denial of “it’s just a flu.” We wrestled with the anger of “how can you shut down our normal routines and businesses and ask us to collectively stay home?” We start the bargaining of “Can’t I just….or….” And we feel the depression and anguish of the current state. We hurt for those experiencing intense hardship. We worry about the individual and societal and worldwide impact of this experience. The grief is real.
And we work toward acceptance and healing. We work toward a new “normal” and a new level of empathy and compassion. We work toward making sure that everyone is “okay.” Blessings to each on this journey.