Early on in the pandemic, I found myself saying with some frequency, “when life goes back to normal…” Or “after COVID, I will…” It strikes me these were reasonable things to say at the time. A time when we thought life would return in a matter of weeks – or at most months – to whatever our prior normal was.
Now, it turns out (and I’m more and more willing to admit) we’re not in the midst of a “close your eyes and it’s over” sort of pause. Decisions my family and I made a few months ago were for the short term. And many of them don’t make sense anymore. We’ve had to make shifts for our own longer-term sanity, particularly given remote school for us this fall.
It’s normal, I think, for us all to dream of life on the other side. To plan for life on the other side. And to cling to a hope that the other side will arrive quickly.
In the meantime, though, what are we doing? The longer this goes on, the more I don’t want to miss my own life – and that of my loved ones – sitting around waiting for it to end.
I’m reading a wonderful book right now called The Not So Big Life: Making Room for What Really Matters, by an architect, Sarah Susanka. In the book, Susanka quotes a teacher of hers in saying that “Life is the experiencing of the experience.” Ah. Yes. That.
While the pandemic is happening, babies are growing chubby. Toddlers are learning to run. Kids are losing teeth. Hairs are greying. Fruit on trees is ripening. And Season 1 of Fraggle Rock is playing in our home.
As much as I’d love to run away from this, it’s here and not going anywhere. And so we must live IN it. Not in the waiting for it to be over. Here are three questions I’ve been asking myself to help me remember to live – and not just run or hide – during this time of complete chaos.
How can I make life special right now?
One thing we’ve been robbed of during the pandemic has been the anticipatory joy that used to be so abundant in our lives. Looking forward to a dinner date, a vacation, someone’s graduation, or even a simple little league game was something that happened with frequency. And I, for one, didn’t truly realize how much joy in my life came with all that anticipating.
So how, within our current COVID constraints, can we intentionally create situations that provide anticipatory joy? It’s easier than you might think. Here’s a story from my own life.
A number of weeks ago, my oldest son was struggling mightily at bedtime. He declared an intent to stay up the entire night (“or at least until midnight”). He made bedtime a fight for days on end. Finally, in a moment of either delirium or creativity, I made a bargain with him. YES, he could stay up until midnight. But on a night of our choosing, and if he earned it. And it wouldn’t be just staying up all night. It would be a full-on, fun-and-games nighttime bash.
This did the trick. He started going back to sleep at a normal time and worked on accruing enough “points” on a behavior chart to earn some nighttime festivities. Once he (and his brother) earned enough points, we put the date on the calendar.
We planned every detail of last Friday’s first-ever Levin Family Slumber Party. We spent probably about 2-3 weeks talking about what movies we were going to watch (and in what order). What games we were going to play. And what flavors of Ben & Jerry’s would go in the homemade ice cream cake we’d make for the occasion. The excitement that came with talking about the slumber party provided so much anticipatory joy, I realized at one point that I didn’t even really care how the actual slumber party went.
For the record, it was a blast. I dozed off around 11pm during Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, but the kids made it through the end of the movie. And exceeded their goal of staying up past midnight. There was so much joy in our house for something so simple.
How can I get help, within my own risk tolerance levels?
This question has been a BIG one for returning sanity to our household. Within the confines of what is acceptable for my family’s level of risk, how can I get more help? Having zero child care and two parents working full time for months on end earlier this year was, for us, a gigantic disaster.
Determined to make the fall look different from the spring (even though our kids will still be doing remote learning), we’ve taken active steps to get help in ways that feel safe for us.
We are teaming up with another family for a social pod, so that our boys have some much-needed kid social interaction. (Okay, and we, as parents, need that interaction, too!) We are hiring someone a few days a week to come and supervise remote school. We’re getting Chromebooks for our boys, so we don’t have to keep sharing our own technology with them. And we’ve said yes to family member coming to help for a week in September (even though we will quarantine from our pod after that).
How can I schedule real breaks?
I’ve written about this before, but getting away for a vacation this summer made me keenly aware of just how burnt out I was. And just how much value a reset can have.
I was on a call with some Mindful Return alums this week, and it was astonishing to hear how we each described events as (formerly) simple as seeing a family member (even at a distance), having childcare for 3 consecutive hours, or running with kids on a beach. Words these mamas used included “glorious,” “life-changing,” and “incredible.”
We are so desperate for the types of pauses that used to be built into our lives. So let’s try to put them there intentionally. Can you take a break from work (even for a day or two) to celebrate the end of summer with your kids? Can you schedule pauses, mini-trips, or even just vacation days sprinkled throughout the fall, to make the weeks seem like less of a marathon?
The mere act of asking (1) how can I make an event special, (2) how can I get help, and (3) how can I schedule real breaks, can help us all bring ourselves back to the present moment. Let’s ask ourselves these questions, so that we can all live IN the pandemic, and not simply just “get through” it.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave
Yes! This post reminds me of my struggle to get through grad school at night while working full time. For a while my attitude was “it’ll be better after school is over,” “we can get married after school is over,” “I’ll see family more after school is over.” Given that grad school would take me 4 years at night, I finally realized (with some help) that life wasn’t just getting through tough times, but that I needed to find some enjoyment even in the tough times.
Since this pandemic is going on for a while, we’ve relaxed some of our requirements. We have cleaning people come every other week (we all wear masks), our son is back in daycare (he’s the only child there for now thank goodness), we see my parents and even let them hold my son, and we have 2 families in our “pod” that we trust to also stay safe and stay away if anyone is exposed or gets sick.
In some ways, this simple life is nice. It’s easier for us because we do have the option of daycare, since our son is young enough, but my husband and I have said that we’d like to keep some of the simplicity of this lifestyle going forward. We’d like to spend most time with friends and family who matter most, and not overextending ourselves with people we aren’t close to. We’d like to spend more quality time appreciating our son and cooking dinner early so we have more time in the evenings with him. We like teleworking more so we have more time with him in the mornings and at night. So we’re looking for ways not just to get through and somewhat enjoy this time, but look for silver linings and life lessons.
This post really struck a chord with me and I wanted to share my thoughts. Hope others can relate!
Thank you so much for sharing, Jessica! What a great analogy to the grad school experience. I do fear that if we’re not careful, we could do the “just get through this next thing” for our entire lives. I love your reflections about how you’ve relaxed your own requirements given the trajectory of the pandemic (not always an easy thing for humans to do – change our minds!), and about the elements of this more simple life you’re planning to keep. Yes to all of that.