My fourth-grade daughter and I are big fans of Lin-Manuel Miranda and his groundbreaking musical Hamilton. So last week – yet another week under the stay-at-home orders – I found particular relevance in the lyrics in which the ensemble sings, “The world turned upside down”. Right now, the world has turned upside down, as schools have shuttered, work shifts entirely online, and we accept the new norms of face masks and social distancing.
At first, I didn’t exactly embrace the changes that have resulted from the coronavirus pandemic. I spent the first few anxiety-ridden weeks desperately hoping for the time when the world would turn right-side up. But somewhere in week five, I reached a peaceful acceptance – or at least a détente of my usual worry. I’m beginning to follow the advice of one of my wise doctoral students, who encouraged me to lean in and embrace the reality. Two months in, here’s what has helped to assuage my worry and let go of my Type A neuroses.
In the week before school closed for my fourth-grade daughter, I jumped on social media and printed out daily schedule that essentially replicated a normal school day. I was naive enough to think this color-coded schedule would structure every hour of every day. I envisioned morning meetings, outdoor exploration, music, independent reading, and on and on. That schedule now sits at the bottom of a trash can. The problem with that schedule was that it aimed to replicate the normal school routine during a highly abnormal time. We’ve had to adapt our expectations of what normal means now.
Yet we’ve finally figured out our daily routine, with its non-negotiables. We get outside every day, regardless of Maine’s cold and blustery coastal weather. We have post-lunch ‘rest hour’, when I nap or read and my daughter streams seemingly stupid YouTube videos. To break up the monotony, we schedule at least one simple treat a day – small gestures that give us something to anticipate. We’ve had spa night with 99 cent toenail polish, make-your-own-pizza lunch, a competitive round of Harry Potter trivia, and ice cream sundae Sunday. As our routine has shifted, I’ve begun to appreciate the perks that might not have emerged without this pandemic. I now drink coffee in bed, since I’m no longer rushing out for my two-hour commute. I walk five miles a day, since the business of after school activities have disappeared. For months, I’ve wanted to learn how to bake bread; that’s now happening.
Honor Your BQ (Before Quarantine) Interests
In addition to that naively foolish schedule, I initially thought I’d use this quarantine time to pursue new interests and hobbies. I’d do Zoom Zumba sessions, and my daughter would dig into our well-stocked art bin. I’ve since come to understand that if these pastimes were not entrenched in our BQ lives, it was unrealistic to expect them to be priorities when my stress levels were maxed out. Simply put, I never Zumba-ed before, so why now? My daughter doesn’t naturally gravitate towards art, so why would she now? Instead we’re focusing on taking our interests and transforming them to today’s realities. My favorite Sunday morning yoga class now occurs through an app or digital platform. My daughter – an avid ice hockey player – has transformed the garage and driveway into a practice rink worthy of the National Hockey League.
Let Go of the Guilt
In my BQ life, guilt was a constant presence. A global pandemic seriously boosted my parenting and professional guilt. I felt guilty if we watched non-educational TV, if dinner consisted of a bowl of Frosted Flakes, and that we hadn’t pursued the millions of online classes or virtual read alouds. As a university professor and author, my guilt spilled over when I wasn’t engaging in Twitter chats, attending webinars, or pursuing online conferences. Gradually I’ve let that guilt go. I’m okay with the fact that we have not gone on a virtual vacation to Macchu Pichu, but that she’s learning history (and the facts of life) as we binge watch my childhood favorite sitcom ‘The Wonder Years”. I’m making peace with saying no – saying no to another Zoom meeting, saying no to an online assignment when my ten-year old really needs to snuggle on the couch and grieve the absence of school and friends, and saying no to reading alarmist newspaper articles which scream about how a generation of children will forever be behind because of school closings.
We Are All Doing the Best that We Can
Lest I sound as if I’m totally zen with our new normal and an eternal optimist, let me keep it real: I’ve struggled. I’ve eaten too much sugar, drunk too much wine, consumed too many potato chips. Like so many, I’ve had moments of panic and grief and sleepless nights and profound uncertainty. I’ve also worked hard to acknowledge my privilege in the current state of affairs – I am fortunate not to be on the front lines of the epidemic, not to have lost a loved one, not to be struggling with significant financial loss or food insecurity.
Two months in and counting, the moments of acceptance are just beginning to outweigh the moments of panic. I may not come out of quarantine fluent in multiple languages, ready to complete my first Ironman, or having perfected my sourdough recipe. But I will be emerging with a slower lifestyle, my sneakers having logged more miles on my daily hikes, and more books read. Most importantly, I will be coming out with stronger connections to my network of friends and family, more respect for the resilience of our children, and deeper appreciation for our nation’s teachers and their tireless work.
— Molly Ness, PhD, Author and Professor of Education at Fordham University in New York City