parenting

Covid City 13: My Gratitude List

img_4455April 3, 2020, 9:30 am

I started a new practice yesterday: every time an anxious thought intrudes into my mind, I inhale, exhale, look around, and focus in on one thing I am grateful for. Then I do it again, and again, until I feel calm.

You know what? It works.

In this current moment, I am sitting at our dining table while M eats scrambled eggs and strawberries beside me. Dave is cooking pancakes in the kitchen. L is playing games on my phone on the couch. Basil is lying on the hardwood floor at his feet. The cat is sleeping somewhere, probably in my closet. No one is asking for anything from me right now, and so I could check Twitter, scan a news article, or give in to one of the many thoughts swarming my brain.

Instead, I am grateful for:

  • Our continued good health. The facts that none of us are high risk, that COVID-19 goes easy on kids, that no one is injured or in pain right now. It’s a privilege that Dave and I have a home, that we can focus on our family’s emotional process instead of on our physical health, that we’re all able to stay here and go through this together.
  • The past version of myself who went to therapy and worked hard to manage my anxiety. Thank you, young me, for establishing practices that I still use today.
  • My union-protected job. It’s easy to get frustrated by all the bureaucracy and by the assholes abusing power, but I’m glad I have these things to get frustrated about.
  • My immediate boss. Her support, understanding, and flexibility throughout all of this has been huge.
  • Journalists, academics, politicians, and everyone else who is writing and talking about how we can repair our classist, racist, colonialist country.
  • That delicious baby. Squeezing his huge, chunky, squishy thighs is like squeezing those stress-relief balls but with the added bonus of silky baby skin.
  • My precocious preschooler’s sense of humor. He is straight-up hilarious. Not just
    goofy poop jokes but well thought-out, set-up-in-advance, actually funny pranks. Then he laughs with this full-body ripple where he throws his head back and stomps a foot and my heart explodes.
  • The way my husband hugs me.
  • Also the way my husband explains audio technology to L as they set up our at-home recording studio. And then the way L proudly over-annunciates his words when sharing this new knowledge with me.
  • How my old dog cleans baby food off the floor, except for peas.
  • Hot coffee.
  • Cat purrs.
  • The strange cacophony of sound when multiple friends laugh at the same time on Zoom.
  • Sitting on my balcony in the rain, staying dry under its roof while I listen, smell, breathe, and let myself relax a little.b6fa470c-0af0-470f-a6cc-4acfa131e5f2

 

Covid City 12: Week Three

4/1/2020, 8:15 am

My family is starting to fall into a groove here in Covid City. Aspects that felt hard before are getting easier. We’ve found a flow of sorts to our days. But new things feel hard now, like the repetition and redundancy of it all, and how much video chats suck. The unknowns are weighing on me in a new way this week, too. 

There are too many questions, on both the global scale and the individual scale. I worry about hospitals being overwhelmed beyond capacity; Maimonides Medical Center recently had to turn their pediatric emergency unit into a coronavirus isolation wing (see the picture from TIME magazine below). This scares me. What happens if my baby has an allergic reaction to a new food, or if my big kid breaks an arm? Will there be a doctor available to treat them? Will this treatment expose our family to the virus?

Week one was just insane, everything coming at us all the time, changing every hour. Life was so different so suddenly. I jumped straight into plan-and-prepare mode. Week two brought me the ability to find space for myself, to cry and be angry and work on acceptance, but it still wasn’t enough space to truly reflect. This week, though, as my household has begun to settle and I’ve been able to think a bit more, reality is sinking in deeper, and my OCD has been set off. All these thoughts keep rushing my brain. We have more time in quarantine ahead of us than behind us and this feels daunting. More daunting is that we have no idea what our future economy and society will be like. Things can’t go back to how they were before, yet this return to before is exactly what those in power want. What can we the people do about this? Signing petitions and calling senators doesn’t feel like enough. Now that COVID-19 has woken more of us up, it feels like we’ve got a large enough mass to do something real. But what does that even mean? What actions should we take? And will our so-called leaders listen? What will happen if they don’t? Will things get violent? 

And then there’s the hardest question that keeps shoving itself into the forefront of my brain: Who am I going to lose to this?

laura in hospital
Two decades of cognitive-behavior therapy and practice living with OCD are kicking in. I’m doing my breathing exercises, and the act of replacing an intrusive thought with a more positive one has become second-nature by this point. I’m also trying to avoid the news entirely and focus instead on my family. We’ve had more good blocks so far this week than bad ones. It’s interesting how Covid City has turned even the most normal expectations upside down. Like, Mondays are good for us now; after two days of hanging out together with no “Mommy work,” we’re refreshed and ready to go. But then by Thursday, which was an easy day in the time of before, we’re a wretched mess (at least I think that’s what’s happening; the days are certainly blurring together).

I’m also trying to focus on what I’ve learned and what tweaks I can make to improve our days. A new framing has helped me: this life in Covid City is not homeschool, working from home, nor stay-at-home parenting. This life is all of it all the time. It is not possible to separate my roles out from one another. I don’t stop being the mama because I closed the bedroom door and put headphones in for a work call. I don’t stop being a program coordinator because my kid slinked into the room with tears in his eyes. My children appear in video meetings with my boss, I send emails while watching Frozen 2 for the fifth time in five days, and I make edits at night while Dave reads kids’ books out loud. All of my boundaries have merged. It is intense and at times overwhelming, but giving in to this merge feels better than trying to resist it.

Even if I had the physical space of a house with a home office on a separate floor, I don’t think I could work and ignore my family all day. I’m the organizer, the one who keeps track of time and pays attention to the little details. Dave is great at diving into messy art activities, cooking elaborate meals, wrestling and rough-housing with L. He does the laundry, walks the dog, cleans the kitchen (sort of). But without me, he struggles, just like I struggle without him. If anybody’s in this together, it’s the two of us. 

I keep thinking about my mom. I’m glad she doesn’t have to live through this, though in some ways, she would have been perfect for life in quarantine; during the years approaching her death, her phobias had forced her to isolate from the public, her undiagnosable illness meant she had to live with a million unknown answers, and her ongoing hallucinations had reduced her days to just getting through rather than planning ahead.

When I was L’s age, though, she wasn’t so sick. I have the sweetest memories of sitting at her and Granny’s feet, picking up scraps of fabric that had fallen from their sewing shears, draping the pieces over my dolls to make a patchwork dress, pretending like I wasn’t listening in on their conversations. I didn’t go to school until I was five and started public Kindergarten; most of my early-childhood days were spent over at Granny’s in the sewing room. The two women who raised me were hired to do big jobs like bridesmaids’ dresses, cheerleading uniforms, and elaborate quilts, but they also made almost everything I wore. They worked busily, and I was often told to entertain myself. There were no smartphones, iPads, or even TVs in the sewing room. The fact that I was bored did not bother them at all; they felt no obligation to keep me entertained. I certainly had my moments of ennui, but now looking back, those moments aren’t the ones that stand out. What I remember more than anything is how safe, comforted, and loved I felt in that sewing room, even when I was being ignored.

Granny_Mom_Me
This week I’ve decided to focus less on structuring our days and more on trying to create this feeling for my family. The world outside our window is scary right now. But here inside our apartment, we’ve got so much. I’m not giving up on our old homeschool plans and activities – I want L to be challenged, to keep learning, to practice the skills he’s been working so hard on in preschool. And I’ve actually really enjoyed some of the homeschool moments we’ve shared as a family doing yoga, learning about octopuses, or doodling with Mo Willems. But these things can still happen without the entire family centering our days around L. Letting him sit in boredom sometimes is probably good for him. At the very least, it allows me the space I need to keep breathing and to keep those positive thoughts flowing. Ultimately, that’s good for us all.

Covid City 9: Resources for Staying Centered

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Posting quickly here today to share some resources my family has been loving as well as an excellent list of self-care and wellness sites my friend, Maria Logothetis, created. Everyone can benefit from these, not just parents!

Also, today’s morning meditation self-care goal is to take deep breaths. I am exhausted. M was up and screaming from 3 to 5 and then we all got up at 6:30 am for yet another day of making this work. It’s a good thing he’s adorable. Still, being cute doesn’t make up for being underslept. I need to come back to my breath as much as I can today, to center myself, calm myself, and remind myself that this ability to breathe with ease is a true gift, especially here in the middle of Covid City.

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Resources We’re Loving as a Family


Yoga 

  • www.downdogapp.com – Offers 5 apps for different workout methods: Yoga, Yoga for Beginners, HIIT, Barre, and 7-minute workouts.  They are offering free subscriptions until July 1 for any students, teachers or staff/administrators in K-12 & College.  All you need is a school email address. They are also offering their services free to the public until April 1st.
  • https://www.myyogaworks.com/  – Offering a 14-day free trial with a variety of classes, from beginner to prenatal to advanced. No app; website only.


Meditation/Mindfulness 

  • https://www.garrisoninstitute.org/programs-retreats/community-programs/ – Hosts mindfulness retreats and workshops of all kinds throughout the year. Currently offering Free Live Meditation sessions via Zoom on certain days.  Check out their link for details.
  • https://kripalu.org/resources  – Kripalu is a yoga and wellness center in Massachusetts.  They run retreats and workshops on a regular basis and have a list of articles and videos to help deal with stress, anxiety and the like, ranging from aromatherapy to cooking to yoga and meditation.
  • https://centerformsc.org/practice-msc/guided-meditations-and-exercises/ – The Center for Mindful Self Compassion has some online resources and guided meditations for you to explore. Self compassion is many times the first step to working with difficult emotions, especially fear and anxiety.
  • https://tricycle.org/  – This is a Buddhist online publication that has great meditation resources. They post free guided meditations from renowned meditation teachers, both Buddhist and non-sectarian, and have lots of articles for reading more on meditation and Buddhism. They also have a Daily Dharma email you can sign up for, with introspective quotes emailed to you daily.


Podcasts/Audio Talks for Mindfulness & Meditation

 
Free Meditation Apps
  • Headspace – Focused on guided meditations and tips to help you meditate. Ranges from beginner programs to advanced.  Great place to start.
  • Insight Timer – Offers great free individual guided meditations plus meditation programs – a series of meditations – you can pay for. Also tracks the time you meditate so that you can look for trends, etc.
  • Calm – User-friendly app with guided mediations.


Food for Thought

Covid City 8: Be Gentle, Please

March 23, 2020 7:30 am

My calendar tells me it’s Monday. This matters when it comes to my job, but as a parent here in Covid City where going out is not an option, there is no such thing as a weekend.

Case in point: M woke up at 6 am Saturday morning. L stumbled out of bed a couple of hours later and asked when we’d be starting circle time. After having spent the past week experimenting with various homeschool arrangements, Dave and I needed a break. “Today is a Saturday, sweetie,” I said.

“Oh right, it’s a home day,” L replied.

“Well, I guess every day is these days. But it’s up to you. Do you want homeschool today?”

L thought for a moment and decided no. But then, only minutes later, he launched into project time and from there proceeded to lead us through the full homeschool schedule: outside exercises, center time, lunch, quiet time, meditation, dance party, more project time. It actually all went very well; Dave and I were even able to get the laundry and cooking done. So what was the magic secret? Why had this day gone so much better than the others? And how could we make it happen again?

Later that night, Dave and I analyzed all the different options we had tried thus far and came to some excellent conclusions. Even though L had melted down when we’d let him take the lead earlier in the week, he seemed to love it on Saturday. Perhaps now that he had processed things a bit more, letting him lead would be the best move. We went through all the details and felt confident in our plans to replicate Saturday’s success going forward.

Sunday started out quite lovely. L led us through some project time while Dave selected a fun assortment of records. But then, out of nowhere (though it’s never truly out of nowhere), L freaked out and screamed so loudly he woke the baby up from nap. Dave reprimanded L, but I preferred a gentler approach and so interrupted him mid-sentence. This is definitely not the “united front” philosophy we have agreed upon. Dave was, of course, pissed off and left the room, which pissed me off. It took a while to calm L down, then Dave and I had to calm each other down. Meanwhile, the baby was still screaming from his crib.

And that’s when it hit me: we can plan, analyze, and schedule all night long, but the truth is, four people on lockdown in a small apartment are going to get mad at each other. We’re going to yell at each other. We’re going to laugh with each other, too. And in the end, we’re going to get through it with each other.

Homeschool with Dave = setting up a mini-recording studio in the living room.

Saturday worked because it worked. Who knows exactly why. What I do know is that I cannot make everyone happy and I cannot make every day go well even under normal conditions, much less in Covid City. Some days will be good. Others will not. That’s life, with or without the coronavirus.

Of course I’m going to try to create conditions that will foster happiness, creativity, and positivity during our days here at home together. Our child craves structure; when left to his own devices, he enforces it himself. But no matter what happens, I have to stop wasting so much of my brain space on trying to make every day as good as it can possibly be. Parenting in Covid City is weird and emotional and messy. Getting through the day is good enough.

P.S. My morning meditation self-care goal today is to drink more water. I am used to have bottle after bottle while I work in the office, but here at home, I am all discombobulated. Plus, the three of us keep leaving our glasses all over the apartment and then when the baby wakes up, we frantically stash them in weird, high-up places out of his reach, which are also out of our sight and thus out of mind. So today, I’m bringing back the water bottle.

Covid City 7: What About Me?

March 20, 2020, 10:00 pm

You know what? We’re actually kind of figuring it out over here. Things are still a mess, but we’re getting better at it. Or at least more used to it. Obviously I don’t like parenting in Covid City. I’m exhausted. I didn’t choose this. I would never choose this. But there’s no reason to keep fighting it; thinking about how things used to be or worrying about what will come doesn’t help. I’m overwhelmed, yes, but sometimes that’s just how it is. Sometimes we have to swim underwater for a while even if we don’t want to.

You know what else? It’s Saturday. We made it through our first week. We did it. We’re doing it. Good job, us! Good job, everyone!

Big realization: Dave and I left ourselves out of the homeschool schedule. In no way did we consider our own needs at all; we didn’t even include breaks for each other. Over the course of a weekend, I went from having a typical full-time office job, with lunch breaks and coffee breaks and talk-to-other-people-face-to-face breaks, to working 15-hour days with no breaks at all.

I have been so focused on everyone else in my family that I completely lost track of me. So, in addition to adding in at least one solid break and one shorter break every day, I’m also going to add in a two-minute morning meditation where I set a self-care goal for the day.

The idea behind this exercise, based on the practice of morning intentions, is to: 1. Take some space each day before the craziness begins to just be with myself for a minute, and 2. Focus in on one action that I can return to throughout the day to center and calm myself, to help myself find positivity, to remind myself that I am worth caring for, too. It’s simply a way to gather myself together each morning and focus my energy on self-love. The act of setting this goal is enough, even if I don’t come back to it later. But hopefully I will, and hopefully building this into my routine will help me practice better self-care as we adjust to the insanity that is Covid City.

I encourage you to join me in this activity. If you don’t know what to choose for your goal, perhaps something like “take a deep breath” could work, or “be nice to when I talk to myself in my head.” You can use the same goal every day, if you want. My one recommendation is to keep it specific; something like “relax” is a little broad and daunting. Choosing a simple act might feel more doable.

Today my goal is to stretch. So many of us carry tension in our neck, shoulders, back, and hips, especially those of us working from makeshift home offices and/or lugging babies around. I feel like I’ve pushed my body through the past week without considering it at all. What an amazing gift it is to have a healthy body! Particularly in these times. Today I want to be good to it, which means I’m going to get off this computer right now and do some stretches.  Maybe I will remember to do them again later, too.

What will your intention be?

Covid City 6: Embracing Change

March 18, 2020, 8 am

As it tu­rns out, it is not possible to take care of a 9-month-old, homeschool a preschooler, and also work full-time all from inside the same apartment. Especially when that apartment has only four rooms. Add to this the monumental task of explaining things to a sensitive, smart, anxious four-year-old and then helping him navigate his emotional reaction to it all. Life here in Covid City is intense.

Like many parents, Dave and I went from having 75 hours a week of childcare (L at school 8:15-5:30/6 five days a week, the baby with my in-laws from 9-6 three days a week) to having no back-up at all. M is completely off-the-hook, requiring someone on him every waking moment; literally, if you turn away for a second, he tries to kill himself. I somehow managed to work from our makeshift bedroom office on Monday while Dave kept both kids alive, and poor L was bored, sad, and emotional all day. By mid-afternoon, he broke down crying and demanded my attention (“I need more hugs,” he later said to Dave).

He needs more of a lot of things right now. To make matters harder, the only time Dave and I can plan, prep, and work through how to best provide this support is once L is asleep, which isn’t happening until 9:30/10:00 pm nowadays. And, let’s be honest, whoever is doing bedtime usually falls asleep in L’s bed before we get the chance to talk; L has been having nightmares, M has been teething, and so Dave and I are maybe getting four hours of broken sleep a night. These two kiddos are exhausting.

Shockingly, I did get some work done on Monday. And you know what? It felt completely irrelevant. Why was I writing a biweekly report instead of writing homeschool plans or emails to my loved ones? Why was I confirming advisement calls when we have no idea what next semester will even look like? Another COVID-19 season will arrive before a vaccine has been properly tested and put into place. Society as we know is only going to keep changing.

CUNY, and all other employers, need a long-term plan here, not just some weird attempt to move old routines and expectations from offices into homes. Too many people, higher-ups in particular, are clinging to a model that has quickly become ridiculous. It doesn’t make sense to keep working as usual right now.

I’m personally lucky enough to have some PTO to use for the rest of this week, but even that phrase, “PTO to use,” feels absurd. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs, to the point that the unemployment website crashed when Dave tried to access it last night (now they’re doing a staggered schedule based on last name, so Dave’s assigned time slot to apply is Thursday morning). Our entire global economy is ready to collapse. Healthcare facilities are overwhelmed as confirmed cases continue to rise. Right now, what matters most to me is not clocking in work hours. Instead I need to focus on taking proper care of these kids, staying connected to my people, and squeezing in self-care as I can, which means writing and meditating because that is how I stay sane.

Also how I stay sane: pointing out the positives, no matter how small they are. Here are some of my positives for you:

  • It is wonderful to not rush around every morning, racing to get everyone dressed, fed, and dropped off so that I can get to the office on time.
  • It is equally wonderful to forgo the mad dash from the office to the subway to L’s school for pick-up by 6 pm.
  • Homeschool is actually fun. I mean, I studied Early Childhood Education and taught preschool for years so that helps. And L is super into learning. But even if those things weren’t true, there’s something special about doing this together.
  • M is nine months old today! And he is trying to talk! Cannot wait to hear what his first word is.
  • These kids eat SO MUCH food. It’s impressive. But also my kitchen is a disaster. But also, that’s okay.
  • The pets are thrilled. They are quite therapeutic, and it’s super sweet to watch them bond with the baby. I love how oblivious those three are.
  • Signs of spring are everywhere. When L spots a dandelion during a dog walk, he gleefully squeals and runs over to pick this weed of a flower then show it off to me with reverence. Adults have strayed way too far from the things that matter.


As crazy as it is to be a parent under quarantine in Covid City, it’s also fun; my adorable little life-suckers provide quite a bit of welcome levity, and they do an excellent job of distracting me from the news. That being said, I don’t think yesterday would have gone as well if we hadn’t implemented a new schedule with multiple activities. I know not every family and kid needs that kind of structure, but if you’re like us, I pasted our adjusted schedule and new ideas for you below. Keep in mind that we don’t intend to do this every day. In fact, L is watching Moana right now.

Parents, whether you’re homeschooling, doing art projects, or watching shows and eating Cheetos all day, you’re a freaking badass. Stay strong.


New Schedule, Adjusted After Homeschool Experiment Day 1, and Very Loosely Interpreted on Day 2
9:00     Family Circle Time: Good morning / Day & Date / Feelings Check-in / Book
9:30     Independent work at dining table (details below)
10:00   Center time: Creative, Science, Math, Library, Music, Computer, or just TV (more below)
10:45   Snack
10:55   Meditation/breathing exercise
11:00   Project Time –“animal of the week” (see below) or a one-off
11:30   Clean Up
11:35   Dance party
11:45   Reading on the couch (L reads a book or sight-word cards)
12:00   Adult does lunch prep while L watched Doodles with Mo Willems (this is great, L likes it)
12:15   Lunch
12:45   Quiet/alone time in room
1:30     Family exercises (see below)
1:45     Nature walk with Basil or watch TV or Center Time Rd 2 (same centers as Rd 1)
2:45     Snack
3:00     Chores
3:30     Meditation/breathing exercise
3:35     Family meeting
3:45     Homeschool ends, turn the TV on and bring me a margarita immediately

Independent Work: High Five puzzle book, math sheets from the web, writing letters in a notebook

Center Ideas & Locations:
-Creative on coffee table: coloring pages, paper and crayons, stickers, cutting things out
-Science on balcony: nature box, planting and watering seeds, dissecting my dead garden, digging in a planter full of dirt, using a magnifying glass to inspect the random things out there
-Math on dining table: addition/subtraction puzzle, counting & sorting items, toy abacus
-Library on couch: Lots of cozy pillows with books and sight-word cards
-Music in living room: play instruments, sing karaoke, pick a record and discuss what instruments you hear

Animal of the week: Choose an animal and throughout the week, watch Nat Geo and Animal Planet videos, makes notes of facts about it, do art projects, listen to songs, “dance” like the animal, discuss what it eats, look at map to see where it lives

This week for us is the octopus: Nat Geo Doc (4 mins), Nat Geo Pics & Facts Slideshow, “Octopus’s Garden” by the Beatles, making octopus tentacles with tissue paper leftover from Xmas, acting like an octopus, finding sets of 8 things around the apartment

Family Exercises: Go Noodle has a lot of options we haven’t explored yet. Yesterday we did this intense video but were terrible at it and laughed a lot, so that was fun.

Covid City 5: Slow Down

March 16, 2020 7:15 am967550910_203cea191b_o
Today is not the day to launch that ambitious homeschool plan. Today is not the day to clock in eight hours from your makeshift bedroom office. Today is not the day to refresh the news every minute and worry over what will happen next.

It has happened. School is canceled. Concerts are canceled. Bars are canceled. Offices are canceled. Normal life as we know it is canceled.

But you know what’s not canceled? Nature, friendship, walks, exercise, meditation, art, books, dancing, singing, loving.

For today, let’s try to process and breathe, to let ourselves settle a little. We’ll figure things out as we go. Perhaps the plans we make will work for us. Perhaps they won’t. But right now, for today, let’s try to relax.

I went on a run yesterday and was reminded of how simple yet powerful running can be. It’s been awhile since I was a regular runner, but last night, I slipped on my old trusty sneakers and ran out the door. At first my thoughts raced in circles, winding through all the disruptions of the past few days, my daunting to-do list, the plethora of unknowns that remain, but the beautiful thing about running is that it eventually takes over. The pounding of my feet, the depth of my breath, the pace of my heart. Every time I run, my body finds its own rhythm that pulls me away from my mind and shuts off my thoughts. Afterwards, I am always refreshed (if also exhausted and sore).

If you can, get outside today (in a safe, socially-distant way, obviously). I have to work most of the day, but at a certain point, I do plan to shut off my computer and phone and go to the beach with my family. We need these escapes, these breaks, these resets. Everything has changed so quickly; it’s time for a collective slow down – of both the virus and ourselves.

To those of you who are differently abled, sick, living alone, or for another reason unable to walk, exercise, get outside, or physically be with your people, I hope you can find other ways to connect. Perhaps sitting by a window to birdwatch will help, or Facetiming with a friend. But to matter what you decide to do, please know I am sending big love.

Because ultimately, that’s what today (dare I say every day?) is all about: love.