Wow. I don’t even know where to begin. There is so much going on since I last wrote. Life is so different and the news is changing to so quickly. But at least our family is developing a new routine as well buckle down for this wild ride. Last week I realized a routine would be critical for our mental health so we had a family meeting to discuss what that routine would be.
It is not necessarily a routine we are excited about but so far it seems to be helpful. We spend most of our day on the first floor, which is one big open room. We have designated it as the Quiet Work Zone from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm. Each of us has set up an area that serves as our personal workspace. Our kids can do their distance classes while my husband and I quietly do our work. When my husband or I have calls or videoconference sessions, we go to the basement so we don’t disturb the kids. We all break for lunch around the same time and try to get some exercise in at some point during the day.
Once school hours are over, the Work Zone becomes more of a mixed-use space. Mostly we are still working quietly but someone might be texting with friends or working on a puzzle. Work Zone rules end around 5. The TV goes on and we start discussing our dinner options. We have group calls with family members and friends to see how they are doing as we prep dinner. After dinner, everyone has free time. Most nights we watch a movie. We have implemented special rules about screen time and bedtime to help keep a regular schedule.
I realize we are incredibly lucky. Our house has two floors and each kid has their own bedroom so we all have private spaces. We also have a basement with a freezer so we have a little extra food and don’t have to go out too often to shop. My husband, son and I last rode the NYC subway on March 12. Our kids have been home from school for over two weeks. My daughter continued to see some of her friends (out of doors and spaced apart) for a while but has stopped that because many of them have left town and one now has a fever.
It is all too easy for me to go down a rabbit hole worrying about what will happen in the future. When I do though, I realize I lose sight of my top priorities – my immediate well-being and that of my family. I have a history of anxiety and depression and the current situation is certainly triggering. One of the coping strategies I developed as a child to deal with my dysfunctional family was to appear like I didn’t need any attention or help. I would ride out the storm by disappearing into my room, hiding from the chaos, suppressing my feelings and convincing myself that everything was ok.
Those strategies became habits that were hardwired into my nervous system and helped me survive childhood. I have learned that as an adult, those strategies no longer serve me well. If ever there was a time that I needed to be able to understand these tendencies, it is now. I basically need to do the opposite of what I learned to do as a child.
Now I need to acknowledge that the situation we are in is not okay. I need to admit I am facing an unprecedented threat – to myself, my family, my communities, my country, and the world. Everything is changing. I need to stop hiding. Strong leadership is crucial right now and I realize I need to be a leader for my family so that I can help us survive this situation intact.
That is A LOT to deal with. So how can I deal with that? I need to start with the immediate and work my way out from there.
First, I need to admit that I need help and I get the help I need. My husband and I talk to each other privately about our needs and concerns, as well as strategize, so we can send our kids a consistent message. I am actively reaching out to my networks – friends, family, neighbors, and professionals – to talk about how I am feeling, reality-check with them, share my insights, strategies, and successes and seek comfort, support, and advice. And I am finding ways to have fun every day.
Second, I am focusing on my kids and their needs. As the parent of two kids, one of whom is 2e, I have a lot of experience with this. We have overcome a lot together as a family. While we are facing a unique challenge, I am confident that we have deep enough resources to get through this time. That being said, this is not going to be easy. Naturally, my kids are stressed out, sad and anxious. They miss their schools, their friends and their freedom. My husband and I are making sure we talk with them – together and individually – to check-in, see how they are doing and give them space to express their feelings and concerns. We also try to have fun with them. Whether it’s making a crazy sandwich from all the leftovers or having picnic dinners in front of the TV or watching stupid YouTube videos together, we make it a priority to do something enjoyable every day.
Third, we are checking in with friends, family, neighbors, and others frequently to make sure that those we care about are alright. It helps us know how everyone is doing at this time and we are getting creative at coming up with solutions to the challenges were are all currently facing.
Lastly, I spend a little time each day doing advocacy work. When I see policy proposals that concern me, I write letters to my representatives. I make small donations to organizations that I feel are doing critically important work. And I share strategies, resources, and knowledge to help others. This work helps me remain connected to the larger world and allows me to have a positive impact.
I hope that all of you are healthy, staying safe and finding a new rhythm that allows your family to endure these challenging times.