It is an eerie time right now with so many unknowns. There are so many unanswered questions and fears and no guidebook to get everyone through. I am listening to and watching the people close to me and those that I follow through the virtual porthole of social media and the feelings seem universal and constantly evolving through a cycle of emotion.
The only answer I know for sure in this is that there is no answer. So instead of trying to know and understand all things and provide the truths to all my kids’ questions, I have started to listen more. We are sharing feelings instead of facts, humor instead of solutions, and ultimately finding our own story in this.
We are a family of five (two teen boys, 14 and 17, and a teen girl, 13). We live in the country nestled in the foothills of Alberta, and other than our menagerie of animals, we consider ourselves a very typical example of today’s middle-class Canadian family.
The concept of being a touch isolated is not new to us. It is actually one that we subconsciously sought out five years ago when we left the city. We knew what we were seeking (open spaces, trees, land to garden, paddocks to share with animals) but we didn’t realize what we were escaping. It was the physical closeness to others all the time — it was the noise, the haze, the commotion, the competition and the hurry that we found ourselves freed from once we settled on the farm. Those things that for nearly 40 years of my life I had become so accustomed to that they felt like part of me had started to fall away and I was for the first time left with quiet.
Quiet, for me, became the thing I craved and feared. I became acutely aware that we can’t control when the slow moments of nothing will creep in and slip into our minds and hearts and force us to look at things we’d rather push down. For me, there was healing that needed to happen, forgiveness that needed to be given, but also anger that needed to be felt. That was hard to do when all I wanted was to curl up on the deck with a blanket, a cup of tea and watch the birds skip and dive in front of the mountain views we had just spent our life’s savings on.
What I mean by this, is that I may have inadvertently had a head start in learning how to cope with social distancing. I wasn’t thrown into it in terms of a crisis, but I had to learn fast how to change my life, my patterns, my schedules, and my outlook quickly to be able to support my family.
Going to the grocery store each day no longer made sense, so planning better and writing lists (and lists for my lists) became a daily routine. Connecting with others via virtual coffee or text or phone call check-ins made more sense because the distance was greater between us and the responsibilities of maintaining the farm and my family — while running a business — took up much of my time.
There was an adjustment period, for sure. I was used to slipping into the mall often to grab a cute new outfit, a specialty drink and a quick lunch with a friend as a treat for navigating the chaos of raising three medically-complicated kids that require a plethora of appointments and meetings. But what I soon learned was that if I wasn’t throwing myself into those routines, I no longer found the need or desire for them. I found other ways to fill myself and to connect with friends.
While I would still go into the city, it became more organized and planned and less impulsive. I began spending less money, desiring less and ultimately became more resourceful. It is where the start of my shift to living more sustainably took hold. Don’t get me wrong: I still wanted nice things, but what I learned is that by staying in I had more money to save and spend on the things we really wanted rather than everything I touched or saw throughout the day.
Being home and being away from others in a physical sense had taught me that I could be self-sufficient in ways I never thought before. I was learning to substitute ingredients in recipes that my once-inflexible brain insisted must be exactly as written. I could fix things and journal more, I could do yoga on my own floor, I could have really good conversations holding a glass of wine and talking on the phone (and it was kind of nice because I didn’t have to get in a cold car and drive home after a visit). I could pack a shit load of groceries into the car and only have to go every couple of weeks instead of every second day. I began using Pinterest for practical solutions instead of solely for cute hairstyles and outfits.
So, if my entrance into social distancing has taught me anything, it has taught me this.
If you are forced to be only with each other, you will find things you love about one another that you didn’t know existed (despite your years living together). You will also find things so annoying about one another that you will have to sit on your hands to avoid chucking things at the person in front of you. You will learn patience and forgiveness as well as how to find autonomy and privacy in creative ways. You will learn that at some point, you have to sit in the quiet and let yourself feel things you don’t want to. You will truly learn who the people you live with are as humans, you will see when your kids need you (even though they say they don’t need to talk, or they’re “fine”), when they need a break, glimpses of who they will become and what they still need to learn from you. You will get a window into all the things you have done right, and all the things still yet to do when raising your kids — because there is time to see it.
My challenge to you in this unprecedented time is to see it as a gift. You can’t change it, you can’t rush it, you can’t ignore it. So, embrace it.
Pay attention not just to what your kids are saying, but to what you might normally miss in the expressions of their body language on a busy morning. Ask what they want for dinner and invite (if you have teenage boys, by invite, I mean tell) them to join you in making it, so they one day share it with others. Teach them how to be good partners to their future spouses. Show them how to do laundry, but now that you have time, also how to press a pair of pants or hem that cuff that is pulling away. Show them how to clean a bathroom in a way that makes logistical sense, so their future partners don’t one day look at them and say, “Did you honestly just clean the vanity with the rag you just wiped to toilet bowl down with?” Force them to go for walks with you one at a time, and allow them to see the emotion that you can normally save for the car ride to work. Having them truly see you and all your humanness is just as valuable as what you learn from seeing them.
Take time to light the candles you’ve been saving, open the expensive bottle of wine, dance in the kitchen, take long showers, watch terrible TV, play a game, call your parents and check in, write a letter to a friend you think about all the time and never call, make all the snacks, pull out that super cute knitting project you bought yourself three years ago and never started. Because these can be the ways to live. They should be the way you choose to live.
The time has been carved out for you. Embrace it.