The Good and the Bad, Part 2

Standard
Image by Myriam Zilles from Pixabay

Late last week, I said the only good thing about the pandemic and stay at home order was snuggling with my children in the morning. Spring Break days didn’t start until 9 or later. Well, they did for me; I got up early to write, and let the kids sleep as long as possible. But when the kids got up I set it aside and we spent long, lazy mornings snuggling in bed: a true luxury. I’m very aware of how blessed I am to have five people to live with; I am not starved for tactile human interaction.

But early this week I realized, on the back side of two hours spent working in the yard, that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent outside. I would have gotten the yard work done regardless, but it would have been the only exercise I did in the day, and it would have felt rushed and guilty, with the knowledge of all the commitments waiting for me dragging down my soul time. Also, we had several days in a row when the wind carried the interstate noise away from the house instead of toward it, so it really was soul food in my own back yard.

Deprived of having to run the kids hither and yon, and with the publishing industry at a near-standstill, my own work feels less pressured, my time feels my own. I’ve doubled and tripled my physical activity in the past few days. Not that it’s all high intensity. But I’ll do Jazzercise On Demand with Julianna and then hike with the family for an hour later in the day and do some light housework or take a walk or bike ride with Alex.

When a friend first posted a meme that suggested viewing this enforced isolation as a Sabbath, I saw the wisdom of it but I hated it. I still hate it, but mostly because I don’t see an end point. And it hurts me to see my children’s childhood formed by this, a quarter of their schoolyear spent in isolation from the social growth that I lacked as a child, and which I’ve worked so hard to facilitate for them.

But two days into online schooling, when we’d established a routine at last, I saw my children respond with love instead of the bickering that has characterized so much of the last several years.  There was laughter at our dinner table–all the way around–an easing of the tension and angst and negativity. It was such a balm to this weary, sleepless soul, I had to get up fro the table and grab the first “flower” from our stash of them to put on the Easter Tree (something we do from my Lent book)–the first thank you that has gone on our tree this year.

I told my teenager that this will be THE formative memory/event for his generation. And I realized that for most of us, the things we consider formative really didn’t impact us directly. 9/11 was crushing, but it’s a totally different thing to have experienced it from the heartland, far away from the carnage. The people who really suffered were my pastoral music friends who did weeks’ worth of multiple funerals every single day. The people who were in the buildings. The people who had loved ones they didn’t know if they were alive or dead.

I was on the outside of all that, and probably most of you were, too. I never really processed how different it is to be in the middle of a nightmare I can’t wake up from, faced with holding not only my own mental health together, but that of my kids. Kids who’ve been ripped away from their friends, their beloved teachers, their favorite activities. They’re suffering a hardship in childhood that the vast majority of us never did.

The good and the bad, part 1: Distance Learning

Standard
I’m processing my life right now by writing through it, and the thing that’s striking me is, once again, how close together the good and bad things in life are. So I figured I’d share some of those good-and-bad things. It’s turned into far too long a post… you know, every time you process one reality, it shifts… so I’ll do this in two parts and pray it doesn’t require a third!

My daffodils are actually coming out the advertised colors this year!
1. Distance learning: bad. When this started, all those online resources insisted you create a dedicated space for learning to get you in the right mindframe. It sounds totally reasonable, but I’m telling you–this is not reality. Reality is that if you have four kids, there is no dedicated learning space. You can’t turn your kitchen table into a school. One of them is watching a video, another one’s watching a different video, the third one is trying to concentrate on reading and won’t be able to, and the fourth went downstairs because he couldn’t take it, and comes upstairs yelling every five minutes about who’s hogging the wifi bandwidth. (Item: it turned out to be a problem with his computer, not the wifi.)
.
2. Distance learning, addendum: If you’re thinking of recommending earbuds: we don’t have them because I think they’re bad for our hearing, but also, when you have a kid with Down syndrome, a parental unit has to watch the video too. So there is no ideal here. There’s only dealing with reality as best we can. We work at the kitchen table (with paper flowers and candles and napkins and centerpiece candles in place); we work on the couch; we work in Mom and Dad’s bedroom; and whenever possible, we work on the deck.
.
3. Distance learning: good. My husband took two days off work to help us get started, which was a godsend. (For him as well. It’s wearing on a person to be “on” as long as he has, communicating the university through the onset of the coronavirus era.) Something amazing happened on Day Two. We were all sitting at the table at dinner laughing together. No fighting. The morning was stressful, but we found our rhythm and the structure served everyone well. We even planned out Xbox time!
.
4. Distance learning: bad. I am reeeeallly ready to be off this emotional roller coaster. The hits just keep coming, and I’m not even watching the news. I reel, I cry, I freak out, I pull myself out of it (usually with help i.e. a serious scolding from my husband), and I think, Got it. But every time I adjust to the new reality, the next day brings another whammy. On Days one and two of distance learning, I got my freak-out out of the way and wrapped my brain around it. I went to bed with hope that the first good day we’d had as a family could, in fact, become the norm… only to be told, midway through the morning of my first day doing it solo, that they decided it was too much work and we were taking a complete pause in learning for three days.
.
I feel like the entire world is going to need PTSD counseling when this is over.
.

5. Distance learning: good. The Catholic school did not cancel, and my second grader lost his mind midafternoon, which required me to snuggle with him and help him plan out his “choice” activities. One of those ended up being sidewalk chalk, which turned into a family event.

.
6. Distance learning: good. I have learned this week that although I can’t help with geometry, I do, in fact, still find fractions relatively simple work; ergo, I *can* do fifth grade math!
.
7. Distance learning: mixed. The Met is streaming operas. (Good!) But no one who has kids on any kind of schedule can watch an entire opera that begins at 7p.m. and lasts nearly three hours. (Bad.) However, we did get to see the first forty-five minutes of the Barber of Seville.
.
More thoughts to come.

Bonus: the Liturgical Composers’ Forum, of which I am a member, is launching an initiative to support the composers who have lost their jobs in this economic mess. They give so much to us by facilitating our sung worship; I hope those of us who still have income can give something back.

(Part two continues here…)

(Linking up with 7 Quick Takes at This Ain’t the Lyceum…)

Random Observations of a Writer On the Reality of Living Through the Coronavirus Shutdown

Standard

It’s been a week since the kids came home from school for the foreseeable future, and today is day 2 of an official “stay at home order” where I live–though we can still go hiking (and we intend to continue doing so as long as we’re permitted, weather permitting—which it hasn’t done much of lately).

Bear Creek 5_opt

Mental health is my primary concern—both for me (anxiety came home to roost again in the past week) and for my kids. It’s spring break right now, but the first three days of our Coronavirus Break were school days and I doubt it’s a coincidence that the anxiety hit at the same time. I am staring down the barrel of at least a month of trying to educate my developmentally disabled daughter on my own—a child who needs adult help for a significant part of her school day. And in the midst of all this, I am drafting a new novel. I’d *like* to be writing music, too, but I haven’t figured that one out yet.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I thought I’d use my blog to share a few things about this historic (blech, spare me from ever experiencing history again!) time, as they strike me. So here are some thoughts, in no particular order:

1. I’m struggling to keep coronavirus from entering the book I’m drafting. The characters keep wanting to touch each other—touch elbows, give hugs, you know, normal human contact things. And every time they do I feel like I’m committing a sin.

2. Also, I just wrote the line, “December passed into January; school restarted, and with it the normal routine…” Which opened up a big, queasy pit in my gut, because it reminded me how NOT normal the routine is now. The best times of my life right now are the ones when I forget this is all happening. But when it comes back to mind, it’s almost worse than never having forgotten at all.

3. Everyone says STAY AT HOME, and those who are shouting loudest never acknowledge that such admonitions don’t leave room for the “get outside, the park trails are open even if the playgrounds are not” (in many places, at least). So when I back my van out at 4:00 on a Tuesday afternoon to take the kids to the Bear Creek Trail for a walk around the wetlands to hear the peep frogs and throw rocks in the creek, my scrupulous self cringes.

4. Facebook is a welcome venue for ordinary human interactions—except no one is talking about anything except shutdowns and the virus. That’s not a criticism; it’s what’s on our minds. But it does mean if you need a break for human interaction, you likely aren’t going to get what you went looking for. The place you go for relief becomes a further source of anxiety. It’s a conundrum.

5. I resisted the idea of structure, because a) the earlier the kids get up, the more hours of the day I have to figure out how to keep them from killing each other, and b) structure is only structure if you follow it, and when the weather is crap 90% of the time, you have to throw the structure out and go outside whenever the weather decides to let you go outside.

6. I intended to spend the next weeks rehabbing my back yard: tearing up weed patches and sowing grass seed. But now it’s the only outdoor space my kids have for most of the time. I’m trying to find a solution, but I’m afraid there isn’t one. I may have to accept that the best laid plans for reclaiming the lawn from the weeds are just toast.

7. One good thing, I’m almost embarrassed to admit. I’ve said for years that things like toilet training are less about kids’ readiness than about “when the parents are ready to put in the effort.” I’m kind of an artsy, spacey person who remembers her own habits of cleanliness but have not necessarily been great about policing those of my kids. Thanks to coronavirus, our kids are currently learning all the habits of handwashing that I never remembered to enforce before. Surely this will be good in the long run.

8. On the other hand, the reason I’m so great at policing is because I feel constantly dirty these days. Constantly creepy-crawly, afraid to touch anything. For now, it’s not a bad paranoia to have, but the trouble is that such paranoias don’t follow logic. Once this is all over, I foresee a really big mental/emotional struggle to reclaim my independence from anxiety. Imagine how bad this time must be for people who *actually* struggle with OCD.

Enough for today.