Time for the bright spots of this whole mess. I’m not trying to sugarcoat anything but there have been some really beautiful moments and subtle shifts I’ve witnessed in this brave new world we’re living in, as least in my own home.
My kid said over dinner last night, you’re not just a mom now, you’re a teacher. And then began the list. In her sweet 6-year-old voice that swallows r’s like a born and bred New Yorker, she told me I was a teacher, a “worker”, a writer, a “cooker,” and so on. She might have been trying to butter me up but it got me thinking: along with uncertainty for the future, this time in isolation has brought some marked gifts.
- Teaching them how to read and write. I get the unexpected pleasure of being in the front row of this marvel: watching letters turn from lines and circles with staccato sounds into words with meaning. We will now always have the memory of sitting down after breakfast going over our “ot, ock, er” word families and then writing words, then sentences, and then short paragraphs.
- The simple analogue pleasure of cutting their hair. Part of me has always wanted to be a hairstylist. I love the whole sensory experience of being in a salon — the smells of all the products combined, the tools of the trade, the lighthearted gossip, the feeling of someone washing and brushing your hair and the sound of the scissors. Both of my girls were starting to look like wildebeests so I watched a YouTube video, bought a pair of hair cutting scissors online and methodically cut my daughters hair yesterday in a clearing in the park across the street with the wind rustling in the tall pines around us. There was something ecstatic and deeply peaceful in the whole experience: giving care, love and grooming to my daughter, the sensory elements, how cute she is, and that I actually did a good job and didn’t have to fork over 50 bucks to a stranger to do it.
- “Wind in my hair” — that’s what my ex-husband jokingly called the bike he rode around Paris every day. We’ve been taking daily bike rides exploring our new neighborhood, the greenways and the bike paths around Raleigh. Some places are empty so you can really see the simplicity of the city plan and the beauty of the natural surroundings. And it’s so quiet in some places, you can hear only the wind. In the downtown Raleigh NC neighborhood that I moved to in February, there are kids’ drawings in the windows, teddy bears on the porches and people out gardening, sitting in hammocks and working remotely from laptops. A landscaper neighbor wheeled over some pots to lend me to plant herbs and then guerilla planted some mint in one of them. We are all alone but we are in this together. It’s hard to feel that isolated when you know the world is isolated along with you so in a way, we’re really more all together then we’ve ever been. (Except for the inevitable “plandemic” conspiracy theorists that is.)
- Whipped cream. I was spraying a swirl of aerosol whipped cream on my kids strawberries when I realized how much my eating habits had changed and probably not for the better but in some ways I’ve let go of some of my food rules for the time being and though aerosol whipped cream isn’t the best for the environment or our health, the way we shop for food has opened me up to different ways of cooking and eating and there’s something good about changing routines and expanding what you are and who you are.
- Discovering and developing learning tools. From Scholastic to games like Teach Your Monster to Read to places like Understood.org to games you can buy like Math Dice, I’m taking back ownership of my kids education and future. I just took on a full-time workload but in the early days of the pandemic, I spent nights exploring the latest in learning and teaching and since have watched the explosion in online tools and resources while those in charge tried to figure it out all too slowly. Online learning is only going to get better and you can figure out how to make it more human and interactive and collaborative as a family so there is time for solo learning, and time where you can bond and learn together.
- Less pressure. Stripped of a million errands and plans, FOMO all but gone (especially for those of us outside that peak FOMO age bracket), we can focus on what’s right in front of us: our family, carving time for ourselves, getting our work done, being creative with problem solving, learning something new, and enjoying what’s all around us, all without the pomp and circumstance of pruning and prepping our faces and bodies and wardrobes for primetime. We don’t have to wear quite as many hats because we are not getting dressed every day for work and school (Zoom is not the same) so we are getting dressed for comfort and leaving more time for the important stuff.
On a darker note: Not everyone’s circumstances are the same, and subtract a few months, and a few years, I would have been trapped in a pretty bad situation myself so I am acutely aware of the escalation right now in domestic violence worldwide. I hope at least this time can bring more awareness to the insidious problem that courses through all of society. It seems like every woman I have ever spoken with for more than 5 minutes has a story of a scary relationship. I know my ‘bright side’ list could seem pretty pollyannaish or like gloating but I know I could have been in far different situation right now, which is why I appreciate being with just my kids all the more, having largely come out the other side. For those of you who are not so lucky or feel like being alone would be even worse, I can tell you it is not. Please try to find safety as soon as you can if you can in any way. Easier said than done I know but you deserve better and I pray for your safe passage soon.