In the nine years that I’ve had this blog I’ve written about 700 or so blog posts. NEVER did I think one of them would be, “So, moms and dads, how are you doing, oh, about a month into a worldwide pandemic quarantine?”
Strange times! Such strange times.
But I’ve been reflecting while on my daily (sanity-saving) walks on just what an extraordinary time this is for people actively parenting right now. Myself included. My friends. And of course, I think about the parents of our campers, what you’re going through, and our campers, too.
How are you Doing?
I know situations vary widely and wildly. But I also know that people are amazingly resilient. I know that people really do try to adapt, to make the best of things, to help where we can, and to try to keep up our spirits.
So it’s my intuition that, like me, you have amazing moments where you kind of secretly celebrate things being different in a good way, even if the situation is so weird overall.
And likely you have other moments where maybe you don’t feel at your best AT ALL — you don’t feel positive or like making the best of things, you just want this to STOP and go back to the way things were.
Like me, you probably sometimes also feel anxious about many things — the kids, your jobs, your self, the world, your family’s health, the future, you name it.
I don’t have the answers. The best I can do is commiserate about the range of emotions and experiences we are all having — to celebrate with you the best of them, to sigh with you over the unknowns, to cry with you over the disappointments and anxieties, and to take a deep breath with you and carry on, keeping on trying to do our best.
What I’m Learning, What You’re Learning
And I can also share with you my own stories in the areas above. I’d love for you to share your thoughts too, either in the comments of this blog, or via e-mail if you prefer, or on Facebook if you like. Sharing our stories can help us to see that we’re all in this together.
So here’s what I’m learning.
Going back to the innocent beginning of this whole thing, when it was announced here that Virginia schools would be closed for a mere two weeks, it wasn’t ideal, but we figured we could muddle through for two weeks. Our school system treated it as an extended spring break, so in our house I didn’t really try to make a schedule out of it, just tried to get through it.
And I tried not to fixate on how much work I felt I had to do for camp but couldn’t easily do, especially when one of my boys is just three years old. I didn’t always succeed. But I tried.
BUT THEN…it was announced that Virginia schools would be closed for the rest of the school year and I kind of lost it for my boys because they each love and embrace their school and friends and the daily structure and what they were working on and just the whole kit and kaboodle. I was heartsick for them.
Yet I saw no other path forward than to just breathe, accept it, and step into the new normal as best I could.
After crying a LOT for my kids and, I have to admit, for myself, because a lot of anxieties were bound up in that announcement — what about their future? what about my needs? with so many closures will camp happen? how do I juggle it all while my husband is in his busiest season at work?…I just hunkered down and put together a loosely structured schedule for #lifeinthetimeofcoronavirus .
Fortunately my boys like the schedule I’ve made, especially since it isn’t super rigorous.
I’ve actively chosen to neither be complacent about my boys’ educational and physical (outdoor/play) needs nor overly stressed about what it’s all going to mean.
I look back on when I grew up, in the 80s, when there was still a lot of healthy boredom, and the benign neglect of there not yet being highly structured playdates and all, and I guess I concluded that in the end, after all this is over, the kids are actually going to be alright even though there was this little pause in their formal education. In a sense, it is an education in itself. Or that’s the story I tell myself to keep my spirits up! 🙂
That’s not to say it’s always easy, or always delightful, but it’s just where we are.
And to be honest, like some other folks I know, I sometimes feel like the big slowdown has its good moments.
We aren’t rushing to get everyone out the door in the morning or into carpool or finding that lost sock at the last second. So it’s a bit more relaxed.
I am loving that we have a much more leisurely breakfast that spills over into a little bit of a hangout time. It’s sweet that I get “extra” moments with my boys that otherwise wouldn’t have happened, so I enjoy those when they come up while also trying to keep a little structure going, too.
The rest of the day looks a little like this:
When breakfast wraps up the boys get dressed and do chores; they make their beds, brush their teeth, put the dishes in the dishwasher, and then do a particular household chore that varies by the day (emptying trash cans, dusting, vacuuming, etc).
As the day goes on my older son Mason practices piano, and we have some art time, often with my friend Katherine, a ‘Ghany alumna, who teaches art on her FaceBook page twice a week. We’ve also enjoyed the Kennedy Center’s YouTube channel special with Mo Willems.
My youngest, Noah, isn’t as into focusing on the art, so I’ll take him on a walk outside while the other two get their creativity on.
And then we then spend the rest of the morning outside if it’s nice, until lunch. This one is super important to me as a mom, as a camp director, as a great believer in the healing power of nature. As long as we’re socially distancing from non-family members, nature is our #1 best friend — fresh air, sunshine, movement, discovery, the sound of birdsong. It’s totally ESSENTIAL for us because three boys under the age of ten cooped up inside all day? Calgon take me away!
When Noah goes down for nap, my older two have reading time and school work. My six-year-old Ellis’ teacher reads to his class daily via Zoom in the afternoons — I’m grateful that that connection is being kept. Mason’s teacher is starting to do some Zoom meetings as well.
After nap/school time, we go outside again if the weather cooperates and wwe call it “P.E.” 🙂 . If we can’t get outside, we’ll try a P.E. YouTube video.
After a lot of outside time, the boys relax with a show or just play legos, while I make dinner and get my walk in. The evenings are mostly spent just enjoying dinner and getting ready for bed, but we’ve sprinkled in some chess games for Mason with friends over FaceTime, some time to work on Cub Scout requirements, and some Musikgarten activities with the two youngest through our Musikgarten teacher’s Facebook page.
Our school system hasn’t given very rigorous work or schedules at this time, especially given Mason is just in third grade. My mom, Bonnie, a retired teacher after 40 years, has been super helpful with the academic piece by finding and sending ideas and worksheets over, helping Ellis via FaceTime to practice reading and writing, and she’s even going to do Mason’s piano lesson on FaceTime. We’re all just helping each other patchwork it together.
So it’s easy, and it’s hard.
Finding Our (Temporary) Way
Again, I’m trying not to get overstressed about what no formal school for a few months is going to mean relative to my boys getting into Harvard or becoming the world’s top surgeon or flying to the moon. I mean, my kids are nine-, six-, and three-years-old — I’m focused on their not swinging from the overhead light during free time or proudly bringing garden snakes into the kitchen to show me. I’m grateful that an academic pause isn’t my biggest worry because of their young ages.
But I also understand that everyone’s worries are all over the place, totally individual to the family.
Some kids are on the precipice of college and this time out can feel like a huge derailment. Some kids need special educational support that parents count on and missing that can feel like a huge hole in life for the child, and the family, and really drive worried thoughts about the future.
On another spot on the spectrum, I’m aware that some other school systems are requiring students of all grades to be on a computer for like six hours a day. Some parents have shared with me that this is too much screen time that’s leading to overly frazzled kids.
And then some kids have parents who are still working full time, so those kids may have to entertain themselves, or they might be on screens all day. Parents may not want this, but may be powerless to change it, adding stress to an already stressful time.
And so the ONLY one-size-fits-all answer that I DO think applies here is…compassion.
There’s no one right way to navigate this. There’s no perfectly charmed life that one person is leading just because they Instagram a lovely curated moment of seeming family bliss.
There are good moments and there are bad moments for us all.
There are anxieties and there are joys for us all.
There are semblances of routine and there are days out of balance for us all.
And there is uncertainty for us all.
WFH In The Time of Coronavirus
For me uncertainty is most pronounced concerning the fact that my job, while requiring serious year-round planning and preparation, has its most focused expression during the short window of twelve weeks when my all-girls summer camp is open from early summer Staff Training in June through to the end of Family Camp in mid August. And this typically means that of all the planning seasons of the year, spring is THE MOST INTENSE.
I am needed at work.
I need to work because I’m the Director of Camp.
And I want to work — this is my passion area in career and I’m so excited to lead and help craft a meaningful, engaging, dynamic summer for girls as young as 5 (Mother Daughter Weekend), little girls in Mini Camp, girls of all ages in between up to our Leaders-In-Training and even for the Counselors who form the backbone of our women-focused staffing.
So, given that I’m not supermom, and I’m very used to my kid-free work schedule even though I work from home (or from my parents’ home office), I have had some VERY challenging moments during this.
I know other parents have, too.
I’m struggling to find time to meet my kids’ needs while also meeting my work needs. Like other parents who work from home, still have work, and have to do some online work/e-mails/Zoom meetings, etc., not having the kids in school adds complexity and I’ll say it — some stress!
If I can get through a day that loosely conforms to the schedule above, enjoy a few of those unstructured moments that bring surprise, joy, and delight, and get at least a few things ticked off my personal to do list, I call it a victory.
And when my husband Matt finds the time after a full day at work to step in and run the show, I call that a victory.
And when we have more leisurely days and stress-free evenings with no shuttling around to extra-curricular activities, some outside play time and fresh air for the kids, AND I get to go on my solo walk each day, I call that a victory of getting through this.
But there’s more tag team parenting in our marriage than usual right now. I’m often only able to work nights and weekends, which means little time as a family of all five of us together, and that can be tough.
And even when I LOVE the slower pace for my kids and all their outside time, in the back of my mind I have that nagging, lingering stress and anxiety about my own work, especially falling behind on emails and communication and planning benchmarks needed in advance of each camp season.
In Virginia, our expected date to lift quarantine is loosely pegged between June 1 and June 15. So we are far from over in terms of juggling our work, our kids, and the future of camp. So I’ve turned to an acronym from camp to get me through.
We want our counselors to understand and practice self-care and mindfulness while at camp so that they’re at their best when giving their energy, skill, and guidance to campers. I’m practicing it, too.
We call it GRAPES and it stands for:
- Gentle: Being kind to yourself, be gentle with yourself and your expectations of yourself. I’ve let go of ideas of “perfect” during this whole thing. I hope it will give me perspective going forward.
- Relax: Do one thing a day that is relaxing for you. I’m trying to enjoy reading a chapter in bed every night.
- Accomplish: Work on checking things off a list. I make a list each morning, and work to check things off. One thing on my list every day is to get 10,000 steps on my FitBit, and I’ve worked to check it off every day.
- Pleasure: Do one thing a day that you enjoy. For me it’s my daily walks, which helps me accomplish multiple goals — relaxation, de-stress, exercise, mentally planning. See GRAPES can overlap! 🙂
- Exercise: Move, stretch, endurance. I’ve been walking daily, and found a few exercise videos I’m enjoying.
- Social: Reach out and stay connected. This is a bit tough right now, huh?! I’ve had nice long phone calls with my best friends, and at least one Zoom chat that is social per week – with college friends, or local friends, etc.
That last one is super important right now. In my GRAPES document at camp I word it this way: “Make plans to ensure that you interact with positive people. There is a value in social media, but this really should be done in real life, face-to-face. Second best is a nice long phone call.”
So while we obviously can’t be social with people other than our families right now, I’ve been doing three Zoom calls per week with different groups of camp professionals, and while these are work-related, they’re so uplifting and help keep me going.
We’re all in this together, and having that “face time” with people dealing with my same exact issues is truly healing for me. And again, while work-related, we have fun, joke, laugh, and commiserate.
The funny thing about the S – social – is that when we go over this during staff training at camp we laugh because the social piece is so easily accomplished there, and something we don’t even have to think about trying to do, it’s natural. How bizarre to be in the opposite space right now…
I can only hope (and pray and cross fingers and knock wood and beg and plead with the virus) that camp does happen this summer, we are social once more, we have the world’s greatest de-stressing session of all time and we do it all in the shade of the Alleghany Mountains, astride the Greenbrier River, under cover of a blue sky by day and starry sky by night, all while singing, “Take me home, country roads, to the place, I belong, West Virginia…”
See you this summer. Until then, hang in there!
— Elizabeth Shreckhise, Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls