Emerging from the COVID Fog

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.

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….

 

 

 

And the baby freezes….

In preparation for a workshop I gave last week for the crisis nursery project, I was reading about coping strategies that people use when they feel under threat.  It’s interesting to think about how we develop some strategies as young children that carry over into adulthood. And some strategies that were helpful when we were young are not helpful as an adult and yet we keep trying them.

We’re all pretty familiar with the “fight vs. flight” mechanism when facing a threatening situation – and it doesn’t even have to be the black bear that was wondering the city neighborhood last week. Less well known is the “freeze” aspect of coping in which the individual takes no action – not always helpful for a bear sighting, but interestingly, this is the strategy that first develops in the young child and infant. This makes sense since the baby can’t get up and walk away (or run) and has no strength to fight….but if under tremendous or constant stress, this style becomes an ingrained coping mechanism.

Last Monday morning, I sat in the waiting room at the hospital’s dental clinic for Seth’s appointment. He played happily watching the fish swim from one tank to the next, knocking himself silly for not ducking under the connecting tube, or tripping over the slight ramp. I did my usual – people watching….always fascinating.  Sometimes I even watched my own kid to be sure he was still in the general area and hadn’t knocked himself unconscious yet.

After watching numerous people emerge from the clinic area and talk with waiting relatives or on the phone, I had this sense of “gosh, these people are real grumps. Is it a Monday morning problem or do they have really poor coping mechanisms? Such negativity….” (very judgmental of me sitting there…)

Well, fifteen minutes after being called in….I was one of those grumpy, not coping well people. The dental resident saw Seth for 1.5 minutes, said “yep, tooth’s got to come out” (very good – this was my third professional opinion) and “too bad he ate breakfast or I could have done it now since I have an opening.”  Right…turns out very bad. Little did I know when walking happily out of the exam room that my sense of homeostasis was about to be challenged when I was offered an appointment TWO MONTHS later to pull his tooth!

I did a bit of the “freeze” mechanism….or was that shock? And then spent the next 2 days in “fight” mode. There was no way I was going to let my 2-year-old walk around for 2 months with a broken front tooth. I called other dentists. I called the insurance company. I called the head of the hospital dental department. In the midst of this, there was a cancellation and Seth was on the schedule for extraction on Friday. All went smoothly and he has a cute little hole in the front when he smiles.

But I did not have a smooth week at all. It’s amazing how much energy being a “grumpy, unhappy parent” consumes. Yet, there really wasn’t any other option than to keep pursuing the issue. Seth certainly had no ability to say “gosh, mom, this broken tooth is a bit annoying and occasionally painful….and you can keep saying I’m clumsy and grumpy and tired from the vacation….but you don’t really know what’s bothering me, do you? (despite what your blog says last week!!)”  And so – I carry his stress within my heart.

Hmmm….I was about to type that the “freeze” is about his only coping mechanism – but that is not actually true. He’s very good at the “fight” – crosses his arms in front of his body, stamps his foot and says “bad” in a most grumpy tone. He’s pretty good at flight too if I mention the word “diaper.” I’d have to say he’s quite well-rounded in developing his coping styles – but it’s not really helping him in the world yet. To navigate the broken tooth, to manage the hygiene, to access his nourishment, to dress, to travel….all that still requires me.  No wonder two-year-olds are so frustrated and so frustrating!

So he and I are ready to face another week. I’m going to work on managing my coping strategies, he’s going to work on developing some new ones, and we are going to continue to hug and kiss and say “I wuv you, Mommy.”

PS – a snapshot of Seth this month would make you shake your head. So pathetic looking. His left eye squints in the sunshine (strabismus), his left front tooth is gone, and his left knee has 3 scrapes now and dried-on, now-blackened geometric patterns where the band-aids used to be…Just makes you pick him up and say “poor baby!” Sam+bunnyBut the Tooth Fairy did leave him a toothless bunny (since cousin Ryan reminded me that the Tooth Fairy always leaves a present for the first tooth!).