I'm An Assistant Principal––And Mom Of Three Under Five––And I Love(d) Quarantine

by Danielle Ricci
Originally Published: 
Courtesy of Danielle Ricci

I’m going to say it – I love[d] quarantine.

Okay, love might be an exaggeration, but let me differentiate between COVID-19 and the quarantine. COVID sucks. COVID has brought tragedy and death. COVID has forced small businesses owners to close their doors. COVID has closed our schools and cancelled weddings and separated partners during birth. But the quarantine that came as a result of COVID? For me, the quarantine has led to learning and growing. The quarantine has opened space for me to look inward. The quarantine has brought me back.

Now let me give you a little frame here. The day before the quarantine began, I was working as a high school assistant principal, a college softball pitching coach, side hustling a little photography, preparing for my Ph.D. dissertation defense — oh yeah, and eight months pregnant — with my third baby.

“Wow! I don’t know how you do it all!” people would say to me in some kind of awe. Me either, I’d think to myself. But looking back now, I’m finally figuring out exactly how I did it. Quarantine has made me realize this: I did it at all at huge costs. Huge, but invisible costs — costs to my physical and mental health. I was irritable. I was tired. I was anxious. I wasn’t moving my body enough or eating enough. I was at times a distant wife and a distracted mother. I was creating mental checklists and answering emails after hours. I was getting up from the dinner table to pack the next day’s lunches and arguing with my husband about keeping our dry-erase calendar organized. I was anything but truly present.

Having the pace of my life come to a screeching halt on a Thursday afternoon in March was probably the best thing that happened to me. This societal pause was the only thing that forced me to hold up the mirror and begin to question the state of my life and my happiness. This disruption of normalcy has made me really begin to examine what was my normal. And as we’ve slowly started to come out of quarantine (for better or worse), I’m finding it important to stop and reflect. To journal. To talk to my people. To really think about how I want to define myself in this next chapter. I read an Instagram post from Dave Hollis that said, “In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.” YES. This.

This is what I’ve been challenging myself to consider lately. The way that I’ve been thinking about my “coming out of quarantine” process is like a giant sifting of my life.

I have vivid childhood memories of looking for shark’s teeth on the Florida Gulf beaches with my grandfather. He hacked together a sifter on the end of a long pole. We’d drag that sifter, fill it up with sand, and shake it out. Then we’d dump what was left behind onto a beach towel and examine it for shark’s teeth and other sea treasures. So that’s how I’m trying to process through what’s next for me — I’m reflecting on the sand versus the shark’s teeth. I’m asking myself to think about what stuff is rolling back out with the tide and what is landing on my beach towel for me to look at a little more closely.

Courtesy of Danielle Ricci

So what are my shark’s teeth? What has worked for me during this time? For starters, and probably the most impactful, is that I’ve lived at an entirely different pace. A slower, calmer pace. And I like it. I feel like I can breathe again. I used to pride myself on multitasking, and I genuinely believed I was happier when I was on the go. Guess what? I was wrong! Guess what else? I actually like naps! I have a tendency to fill any open space in my life — but it just isn’t healthy for me to do that. I need to get comfortable with that open space and use it to just be. And while this exact pace and extra space might not be completely sustainable, I’m thinking about ways to make slowing down a more normal part of my life.

I’ve also been more present. As a mother, I have been able to spend time with my children that I never would have had otherwise. Yes, there were days when I was on a Google Meet while nursing one baby, making a PB&J for another, and keeping an eye on the third every time she said, “Mom! Watch this!” (If only I had earned a dollar for every time I’ve heard that phrase during quarantine!) But there have been many more days when working from home has allowed me to enjoy time with my babies — a morning stroll casting spells on our neighborhood with our tree bench wands, an afternoon picnic in our backyard with fancy hats, or an evening treat of homemade cookies and milk — because let’s be real, baking was totally a quarantine thing!

I’ve been more active, logging 10k steps most days. I’ve started journaling again and taken up meal-prep to avoid trips to the store. And you guys, I’ve read four books! (Well, I’ve listened to four audiobooks, and maybe I should attribute this to overnight newborn nursing instead of quarantine, but you get my point.)

Then what’s the sand? What didn’t work for me? Well, I definitely haven’t had as much alone time with my husband as I’d like. Between having a newborn and few places to escape, our only “alone time” has been between when we put the babies to bed and when we go to bed.

I also have struggled with the anxiety around COVID itself and the really hard decisions that have been a part of it all. (Who do we see? Do we send the kids back to care? Should we go to restaurants? What about the baby?!) I’ve spent too much time going down social media rabbit holes, and I’ve eaten a lot of chocolate — but it’s dark chocolate, so that’s okay, right? I’ve blurred the boundaries between work time and family time as I’ve tried to balance working from home with caring for three little girls. And I’ve definitely struggled with missing social interaction.

But now my job is to process all of this and prepare for the season to come as we slowly emerge from quarantine. I need to find ways to sustain the positives that the quarantine has shown me. That might mean waking up a little early to do some journaling. Or saying no to taking on another work project. It might mean choosing a walk over an Instagram binge or an art project with my kids over folding laundry. It will look like being purposeful about date night and continuing therapy for my anxiety.

But here’s the thing — it’s all going to need to be intentional. Humans? We’re like elastics. We can stretch out, but we tend to snap back to our original form. But elastics can loosen over time — you know that one that used to tightly wrap around your pony in two loops and now it won’t even hold your hair up? That’s what I’m going for here! I need to keep stretching so that I don’t snap back. I need to be mindful of my choices and be sure they align with the intentions I’m setting for this reemergence.

COVID has sucked, but in many ways, the quarantine has saved me. I don’t want to do it all any more. And I don’t want my “doing it all” to amaze people — because it’s really been quite the farce. I want to breathe. I want to be present. I want space, and I want to learn to be comfortable within that space.

So that’s what I’m going to keep doing. Combing. Sifting. Looking for the shark’s teeth, and watching the waves take back the sand.

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