It’s remarkable to me that eight weeks ago I had no idea what Zoom was. Today, each member of my household had at least one teleconferencing meeting for school or work over this now ubiquitous forum. It’s certainly become a lifesaver as all of our connections to the outside world now largely rely on this tool to keep things going during this strange season. It’s a tremendous help. But I look forward to a day when we no longer have to use it as much as we do right now, if at all. The Zoom brain drain and screen fatigue is real.
My daughter’s school has been especially helpful and supportive during the transition to distance learning. Being that I’m a teacher transitioning to remote instruction myself, I haven’t been free to take advantage of some of the supports they are providing to families during school closure. One of those services being Zoom parent chats where school staff can answer parents’ questions and simply provide encouragement as parents manage their children’s learning at home. On a recent parent support session, the school counselor posed the following question to parents: What will you miss when the shelter in place order is lifted and you are no longer at home with your family for an extended period like this?
I wasn’t a part of this session myself, but the school principal shared this question with all families in a subsequent communication. It has stuck with me, and keeping my slightly modified version of the question in mind – “What would I miss about today if the stay at home orders were lifted tomorrow?” – has helped me get through some otherwise monotonous and potentially depressing days.
Like most of us, I’ve been all over the place emotionally during this time of shelter in place. Some days are definitely harder than others. As I near day 50 of having been in my home getting out for only walks and a handful of trips to get groceries, my list of things I will NOT miss once this is over has grown. But my isolation gripes are minor when compared to those people facing extreme hardship during this pandemic. Job loss, economic uncertainty, health challenges (both coronavirus related and otherwise), these are just some of the crises I have been spared thus far. I realize I am very fortunate. Even being able to have the mental space to reflect on positives right now could in itself be considered a privilege. But I think it is key to getting through this time. This question – what would I miss? – has been helping me adjust my focus when needed. So here is my as yet developing list:
1) Consistent/sufficient sleep – The first couple of weeks after schools closed and stay at home orders had gone into effect, my system was totally off. My mind was dizzy not knowing how any type of distance learning would roll out, how I would meet the needs of my students, how hard the pandemic would hit my community, how my own children would adjust to the situation, when or if I could find toilet paper, etc. All of these concerns had me in a state of mental unrest. I was lucky to get 4-5 straight hours of sleep, and for at least a couple of weeks I had great difficulty falling asleep only to find myself wide awake around 3 am and unable to doze off again.
By week three, though, I seemed to have settled into a more tolerable and even comfortable state of uncertainty. I began accepting that no one really knew (or knows) how long this situation might go on, it was (is) out of my control, and I will just do the best I can. With that acceptance came sleep! And it has been exceedingly restorative. For the past 3-4 weeks (with few exceptions) I have been getting a minimum of 8 hours each night, and I feel like a new person. Getting this forced break from having my schedule so loaded that the only way to have family time, get all my work done, have a social life, and carve out some time for myself is to sacrifice sufficient nightly rest has been very healthy for me.
2) A wide open calendar – With two working parents and two active teenagers, it is rare to find even two empty days a month on the calendar where none of us are expected to be anywhere at all. Some months there isn’t a single day to be found. All of of us in my house could probably best be characterized as ambiverts. Not exactly extroverts, and not entirely introverts, we enjoy our time with friends and engaging in the social activities that we prefer, but we can all appreciate a nice “nothing day” when one comes up. That’s our term for a day when nothing is requiring us to leave the house if we don’t choose to do so. Having time to read a great book, enjoy a Netflix binge, journal, complete an organizational project, or to spend time gaming is something my whole family loves. For me, once my attention span returned, being able to go from one great read to another has been a treat that I rarely experience during the school year.
As our kids have gotten older, my husband and I have sometimes struggled with this uncomfortable feeling that our time is not our own. There have been many instances where we have shared with each other that we miss our children being young, back when we determined their levels of involvement in extra-curriculars without much of their input, and they didn’t know any differently. Sometimes you start feeling owned by the relentless schedule and calendar. On the other hand, we want to encourage our kids in their interests and pursuits. We’ve worked to balance their schedules (along with our own) and be intentional about not over-committing and over-extending. It’s an endless juggle to which I’m sure many American families can relate.
We never would have imagined life would come to a screeching halt the way it did in mid-March. Nor would we ever have asked for quite this level of inactivity. On the other hand, all four of us have expressed how rejuvenating it has been to SLOW DOWN. Putting in a full week of work from home, minus a sometimes stressful commute along with evening commitments, and knowing that there is rest to be had on the weekend is a welcome change of pace for a while. It was a bit of a jarring adjustment, and it is sure to get old (in some ways it already has). But this many weeks in, we all still seem to be managing to make the most of our extended “nothing days,” knowing they will not last forever.
3) Long walks through my neighborhood – If you’ve read my blog previously you know that at the end of 2019 my family adopted a dog from the local animal shelter. I now know the timing for that could not have been better. If anything is certain, it’s that 2020 is definitely the year to have a dog. We moved into our home in 2017, and in the two years of living here, I hadn’t spent much time walking through our neighborhood on any leisurely strolls. We don’t live within walking distance of shops or restaurants. Walking or biking would usually happen on nearby recreational paths, at the beach, etc. That changed when we brought home our dog. Daily neighborhood walks became a new habit. My husband covered the morning walks being that his work start time is later (and more flexible) than mine. Our son would get the dog out for a early afternoon walk after getting back from school, and then I got to enjoy the evening walks which until the time change in early March were mostly taken in the dark.
The stay at home order changed that whole system fast. Working from the house, I’m now free to get out for a walk multiple times a day. I quickly discovered endless possibilities for different routes to take around the neighborhood, making each outing a little more exciting for both my curious dog and myself. And spring sprung right before my eyes! It seems with each new day increasingly beautiful flowers begin to bloom, bringing a sense of beauty and hope that immediately lifts my spirits. I enjoy walks alone with the dog, but usually one or two walks a day are with my husband or or one of my kids (or on the very rare occasion, all of us together).
I don’t recall where I first heard someone say that we are created to be human be-ings not human do-ings. Nothing has helped me feel more human than having consistent time outside to breathe deep, clear my head, and just enjoy being in the natural world on my walks. It helps that fewer cars are heading down the streets, and it feels like the Earth itself is taking a big breath with me. The birds are louder than they have ever been before (or am I just now listening? Probably a combination of both). Getting out for a walk first thing in the morning, after a full night of sleep, when I don’t have a packed schedule ahead with places to go or need to be racing to get ready for something is really, really nice. Stopping to look at an interesting variety of plant that I’m unfamiliar with is honestly something I’ve never allowed myself time to do. In fact, I probably would have dismissed something like that as boring or “not my thing.” Slowing the pace has shown me there’s a whole lot that does interest me and does bring me joy when I’m more focused on being rather than doing.
4) Time to connect with my kids – In the weeks before the pandemic, my 16-year-old son had just finished a show run for a musical he was in, all the while still in rehearsals for his next show at his high school that was set to open in Mid-March. I maybe had 5 solid minutes of rushed (and not always pleasant) conversation time with him each day. Our 13-year-old daughter is just as busy with her own theater pursuits, strong academic focus, and lively social life. My family was running in different directions at all times. Then the world suddenly hit pause. I was especially concerned for my daughter, fearing that being cut off from her friends and having the disappointment of many canceled activities would be especially hard on her. To my surprise, both my kids took the initial disappointment in stride and continue to do so. It definitely helps that we have technology that can connect us to friends outside our house, and both my kids take full advantage of that. This is a vastly different experience than I would have had as a 7th grader if the pandemic had hit in 1986, when I was an only child who would have been stuck in my house all day with only a landline and call waiting.
After a couple of weeks of trying to force some family quarantine together time that wasn’t naturally occurring as I would have hoped, we have been able to fall into a more authentic, comfortable rhythm. Most days when the dog is ready for his after dinner walk and my husband is still “at work,” my son often wants to go out for the walk along with me. We went from hardly having a minute to speak, to having quality conversations nearly every day, sometimes for up to an hour on those walks. And it’s something we both look forward to and enjoy.
I’m finding different opportunities to connect with my daughter in ways we weren’t able to when life was so hectic. We had already found ourselves really bonding this year. So often with girls the tween/teen years can be tough. Mercifully, that has not been our experience (at least not yet). This stay at home order has given me precious time that I never would have had otherwise with these two amazing humans that call me mom, and who have grown up faster than I ever thought possible. And the family together time is happening now, too. I’d call this all a gift I never would have expected to come my way as we began 2020.
5) Reliving my honeymoon – Did I lose you with that one? I’m guessing you may wonder what on Earth I could mean by this. No, we weren’t wearing masks and hunting for Clorox wipes as newlyweds. This pandemic just happens to have hit the year we will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. In fact, this week marks 20 years since we became engaged. At the time I was living and teaching in San Diego, while my husband still worked and resided in Orange County where I had lived and we met three years before. We essentially spent our entire dating relationship and engagement living 2-3 hours apart depending on traffic. When we finally married in December of 2000, our honeymoon was the first time we were even in the same zip code together for a full week as a couple.
Being that our wedding budget was pretty meager, and our honeymoon budget was nonexistent, we were thrilled that a mutual friend and former coworker offered us her cabin for a full week in the local Southern California mountains of Big Bear. It really was the perfect honeymoon set-up for us. We just wanted time together, unrushed and uninterrupted. After always trying to fit in every important conversation before the continual goodbyes, being together and relaxed with not much to do was a fantastic way to begin our married life together. And we learned quickly that we really enjoyed being homebodies together. Reading, listening to music, working on projects (my husband taught me how to make a stained glass window on our honeymoon) — we found we could easily stay happily entertained in only each other’s company while stuck inside. We also loved (and still love) the beauty of the mountains, and walking/hiking through the area that week was wonderful. We didn’t enjoy any of the extravagant excursions some experience on honeymoons in more exotic destinations, but a week in a mountain cabin was just perfect for us. That time set the tone for how we most enjoy doing life.
And that is not at all how life goes when kids enter the picture. Ha! The words unrushed and uninterrupted are not found in the lexicon of parenting. With our two, our strongest homebody tendencies have rarely been indulged, at least not with us both together at the same time. We wouldn’t trade the experience of being parents for anything; it has been our greatest joy for sure. But I can’t say I haven’t thought back to those times when it was just us and wondered what it will be like when it is just us again. That day is approaching. You hear stories of the empty nest and couples no longer relating to each other, having built their lives completely around their children or careers. I’ve never pictured us being those people, but connection and communication can be difficult when you are living life at what sometimes feels like a breakneck pace.
It occurred to us both the other day that this time feels somewhat like being in that cabin cut off from the rest of the world. Yes, we have two others with us this time. But teenagers do tend to sleep in. I’m finding I love the mornings most, when the dog wakes us early, and we head out for a long morning stroll together before our kids even wake up. We’re getting to do this every single day! And it’s really nice to know that 20 years later, we still have a whole lot of conversation and laughter to fill those long walks. Even more so now. Without having to deal with a morning commute, we’re both starting our work days fresh from time in the outdoors being together. Lest I paint too idyllic a picture here, we have had our disagreements on those walks as well. We happen to be two pretty stubborn and opinionated people, especially with each other, so there’s some of that too. But that’s for another blog post. The important thing, and the thing that I will most assuredly miss when this is all over, is the quality time we are getting to be able to communicate and actually focus on our relationship outside of some all too brief or infrequent date night. It’s been a serendipitous 20 year tune-up. And I must say, it has us both looking forward to retirement together someday, Lord willing.
So it turns out there are some things about this time that I know I really will miss.
Zoom will not be one of them.