You Got This

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….

 

 

 

Because of Corona: Covid week 3

I tried a rap with the boys.

You’re off school

Isn’t that cool

Cuz cuz cuz, Corona.

 

Everything’s closed

Stuck at home

Cuz cuz cuz, Corona.

 

They thought it was awful.

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.

Forsythia heart in a neighbor’s yard.

 

 

In a Blink: COVID-19 Week 2

She waved at me from behind the glass of the front door. We were on the phone together, we were ten feet away from each other, but the glass door kept us apart. The glass door kept the virus out, if there was a chance of me carrying it to my aging parents and my father with lung disease. I struggled to not let her hear my voice crack in sadness. I wanted more than anything to give my mom a hug of letting her know that I love her.

“Want me to throw a knife out the window?” she asked after offering me the chance to pick a bouquet of daffodils. “No, thanks, my fingernails are working just fine,” I replied as I gathered the bright yellow smiling flowers. They sit on my coffee table, a reminder of joy and new life.

And a distinct reminder of how life was altered drastically in a blink of our eyes. In a blink, the schools closed and the kids stayed home. In a blink, the offices closed and people started to work from home. In a blink, all our routines changed. All activities canceled. All restaurants closed to social gatherings. All public places closed. All people were told to stay home.

In a blink, the fear rose. The fear of catching an illness which could kill. The fear that the person near you could cough and spew minuscule, unseen particles of disease. The fear of drastic economic changes that could topple many people. The fear of losing jobs. The fear of stress increasing domestic violence and child abuse. The fear of how uncertain everything seemed to be. The fear of constant shifting change. The fear of death for families and friends. Gut-wrenching fear.

Yet, in a blink we also started to see life in a new way. In a blink we started to actually “see” our family. We started to think about activities that we could be doing together. We started daily family walks around the neighborhood that gave us moments to talk together. We spent hours creating cardboard mazes for the hamster, Lego constructions, and new fingerboard “skate parks.” We played games and watched more movies together. We roasted marshmallows for s’mores while lamenting that we couldn’t invite the neighbors over, but cherishing the moments together.

In a blink, we started to look at our neighbors differently. Did the elderly couple next door need someone to shop for them? In a blink, we encouraged each other to color on the driveway with sidewalk chalk, put bears in our windows for “bear hunts” for the little ones, and raised our glasses in salute of our community. In a blink, we started to see that only by encouraging each other to practice social distancing, uniting as a community with one goal, would we make it through this craze with as little loss as possible.

And how do we understand that the blink that happened in my world is so totally different than what happened to others. I have been able to adjust to the changes around me because I’m financially stable and have a truly wonderful support system. Others, though, have lost jobs, lost income, lost opportunities. Others have lost connections with friends and families. Others have struggled to find food for their families and lost access to healthcare and medications. Others are stressed about finding formula and diapers and baby wipes for their infants. Some are stressed by spending more time in dangerous situations of homelessness or abuse. For some people, their entire world has collapsed and they are drowning in their storm. The safety net systems are cracked and straining and the gaping inequality in our country has become exposed for all to see.  There are some local resources here.

In a blink, our very world changed. And it’s up to us figure out what we’re going to take away from this moment in time. Will we hold each other tighter? Will we show genuine love and respect for all human beings? Will we reach out and support those who are doing such hard work? Will we remember that we are all created equal? Will we grow in our faith and our commitments? Will we work to address discrimination and intolerance and inequality?

Fast forward a week to the day my father turned 80. My family and my sister’s family piled in our cars and drove over. We placed 80 candles on two small cakes, but only 5 or 6 candles would stay lit given the wind and overcast drizzle. We held up signs and sang Happy Birthday through a closed window. One of the cakes fell off the porch smashing onto the ground and we laughed. Super Tall Guy smeared a piece of cake onto my head and I resisted the temptation for a food fight solely because I knew we didn’t have access to water to clean off! We laughed. We blew kisses and mimed hugs. Hopefully we were able to convey our love and thankfulness to these wonderful grandparents.

But, oh, I miss my mom’s hugs. The grief is real.