Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Sandcastles, Katie, Sandcastles

With all this time at home, we spent much of the past two weeks cleaning up the yard. We had, no exaggeration, 50 bags of leaves. And that was after bagging at least 10-15 last fall. Needless to say, our backyard is infinitely more liveable now. 

We are enjoying multiple meals a day outdoors, peaceful conversations in comfy chairs while the birds are chirping and the kids playing outside almost every day. The cleanup coincided nicely with warmer days and Henry finally being mature enough that he doesn’t need me constantly tailing him to make sure he doesn’t hitch a ride to Mexico. 

Lately, the kids have been spending hours in the sandbox. HOURS. You know those really special days or moments that you are sure your kids will remember forever? For us, it’s these free, seemingly never-ending days in the backyard during this upside down (sometimes scary) world. I have no doubt that while they are building sandcastles and making sand pies, these moments are being imprinted as lifelong childhood memories.  

Watching them play together and imagine and shriek with joy (and often anger) has been an unexpected quarantine gift. 

It is this enlightened perspective that I keep coming back to (several times an hour) as I walk through the kitchen and step on a million grains of sand. THAT I JUST SWEPT UP EARLIER TODAY. 

It is this enlightened perspective that I keep coming back to as I turn on the facet to wash hands to find it covered in wet sand. My hands are literally dirtier from just turning on the water. 

It is this enlightened perspective that I keep coming back to as I scrub the riverbed sediment out of the bathtub. 

It is this enlightened perspective that I keep coming back to as they run through the house covered in sand for the 42nd time in the last hour. AFTER I TOLD THEM TO DUST THEMSELVES OFF BEFORE THEY COME INSIDE. 

(Enlightenment, Katie. Remain calm, Katie. Remember, Katie, memories, childhood innocence, joy. SAND CASTLES, KATIE, SANDCASTLES.)

Okay, so, it’s not all sunshiny magic mothering over here. Life’s about balance though, right? 

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Day ... 9?

I have no idea what day we’re on. I sometimes forget what time of day it is. Today, an hour after our regular lunch time, I caught a glance at the clock and thought, “I guess I should think about feeding them soon.” 

And honestly, that’s one of the best parts of this whole wacky experience. Not the part where I forgot to feed my kids, but the part where I have no idea what day or time it is. It’s like Zack Morris hit the pause button on life. We wake when we’re ready (well, except me …. looking at you, Henry.), we eat when we’re hungry and we make mud pies several times each day. 

I’ve also been fascinated by what this experience has done for the kids. I’m not going to say we were the busiest family, but we were busier than I would have liked. With a couple of activities for each girl, we had something going on nearly every night of the week. Add in dinner, homework and showers, and the days, weeks and months blurred into one another. We were mostly just coexisting together. 

With everything canceled, our whole family has the space to breathe again. Our movements are slow and savored. We spend our time doing what fills our buckets and warms our hearts. Some of my favorite moments lately: 

Family walks in the woods: with spring rains, the woods are looking different lately. All donning rain boots, we explore the mud and the puddles with excitement.

Outdoor play: with no expectations of playing with anyone else, the kids have started actually playing with each other. The other day, Claire and Grace were pioneers living their hard-knock lives in the backyard playhouse. Pre-quarantine, this was NOT a thing that would have happened. 

Shared meals: with Scott home, the whole family has been eating lunch and dinner together way more than normal. It’s been so nice to reconnect with each other. We’ve also been hard at work spring cleaning the backyard and have enjoyed breaking up the monotony with a few meals outdoors. But to be real for a second, can we all just agree that fallen leaves are buttfaces? The extra time with Henry may be influencing my vocabulary.

More gratitude: Grace said to me yesterday, “You know, Mom. This whole thing has made me realize how lucky I was before. I liked going to school before, but not being able to has made me just miss it so much.” I think she nailed a sentiment we all share. Sometimes we're going so fast and we're so busy, we don’t realize all of the amazing things happening around us every day. When the teachers from the girls’ school drove by in the car parade yesterday, the girls were happily waving, excited to see their teachers. I’m sure they were completely unaware of the deeper message that was taking root. Your teachers aren’t just there because it’s their job. They are there because they love and care about you so much. That was abundantly clear yesterday as they drove down the street honking, waving and crying. Realizing the depth of a teacher's commitment is just one of the many things we have a newfound gratitude for. Watching our community come together to during this time has been nothing short of inspiring. Neighborhood chalking, drive-by teddy bear hunts, fundraisers, creative solutions — it's deepened my love for this place.

Movie night, every night: With Henry not taking naps, his bedtime has been bumped up and that gives us and the girls some time together. Some much-needed time together. We’ve been slowly making our way through the Marvel movies and bonding over which heroes we like best, least, etc. Grace is a fan of Cap, while Claire's fav is Hulk.

I am acutely aware that these are silver linings. And while I can find the good in this situation, it by no means I’m glad we’re in it. My heart aches for those who are suffering and grieving, for those who have lost jobs or income, for those whose businesses and livelihoods are at stake. For all of us, I wish this to be over as soon as possible. But when it is over, I do hope that we can all take the silver linings and weave them into our regular lives.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Day 4

Today was a good day. 

The weather was beautiful, which helped everyone’s spirits. There’s something about a worldwide pandemic, cloudy skies and every can of Chef Boyardee being sold out at the store that makes you feel like the end is near. But then the sun came out and we all let out a collective sigh (with the appropriate 6ft between us) because that feeling of imminent danger isn’t so oppressive when the sun’s shining. 

Each day that goes by, we’re learning strategies for handling this new life. 

The girls have a good routine in the mornings of sleeping in (well, as much as they sleep in), doing a little school-type work and playing before lunch. Today, they wrote in their journals, played a math baseball game online and painted rocks. Yesterday was my mom’s birthday, and since we couldn’t see her in person, the girls made their first iMovie trailers as gifts to her. They included family pictures and sweet messages. And I called it a STEM lesson! 

Henry has a good routine of basically doing whatever he wants. I have yet to figure out how to balance his needs and the girls’ simultaneously. But I’m not sweating it. He’s more than prepared for kindergarten and structuring his day like the girls’ isn’t realistic or effective for him. 

We did make a pretty gigantic move in his world though. 

For the past couple of months, I have felt the era of nap times was coming to a close. He wasn’t as tired at naptime, and once he did finally fall asleep, he was taking shorter naps. I was dreading this move because a break during the middle of the day was just as good for me as it was for him. 

The last couple of days, he didn’t nap and I didn’t get my usual break. That respite is just about the only time before bedtime that I get to exist inside my brain alone. Most of the time, Henry’s non-stop questions and commentary doesn’t allow me to think any of my own thoughts. That time of day is also when I knock out most of my work. 

With no mid-day break, I was considerably more irritable than normal. This is definitely not the time to be more irritable. So, Scott and I decided to try out the quiet box concept with him. We used it with the girls when they stopped napping — I’d pack them a new box of quiet time activities each day, and they’d spend an hour in their room coloring, playing, tinkering, etc. 

So, we sat Henry down and explained all of this. He was completely on board, and did so well staying in his room and playing independently. The rest of his afternoon was much calmer than normal, too. My sanity and irritability level needs that trend to continue.  

We took a family bike ride before dinner, and when it rained on us for a few minutes, the kids were squealing with joy. We desperately miss our friends and family, but these moments with just the five of us are creating such fun and unique memories.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Day 2

The highlights of Day 2: tears, screams, fights, headaches and non-stop talking. 

As is the norm lately, I woke up feeling anxious with unprocessed feelings. I decided a solo walk was in order, so I called in a sub (Scott) and rattled off the “lesson plan” to him. He took charge, and I took a walk. 

Oh man, was that walk needed. Many of us, myself included, just soak up the negatives in our lives until we can’t soak up any more and then it just spills out in one way or another. These days, the negatives are rolling in faster than I can empty them. The fresh air, open prairie and towering trees helped empty out some of those negatives (which is good because it made room for an afternoon bombshell). 

I got back home from my walk and found Grace in tears at the table, Scott clearly agitated. I had clearly walked in midway through a heated student-teacher dispute. 

Meanwhile, Henry’s in the living room screaming about how he can only find four hidden objects in his Hidden Pictures book. 

The sibling bickering came shortly after lunch, the non-stop talking lasted all day and my headache was fierce by 4pm. 

Then the big bombshell came. No school for the rest of the school year. 

I had suspected this might happen, but wasn’t prepared for the emotions that would well up inside me. This extreme move felt scary — it made this completely bananas situation so very real. I felt sad for the kids, for the teachers, for the entire school system. 

At first, I tried to hold back my tears so the kids wouldn’t be freaked out. I thought a crying mother would really kickstart their panic. But I also considered that seeing an adult have emotions — and process them — has value, too. 

I talked it all out with them — why I was sad, what made me feel anxious, etc. They offered some thoughts back and not only did it truly help me process what I was feeling, I think it helped them to process their own emotions. 

After we finished talking, Claire said, “Well, you always say you want more time with us, so now you have a couple extra months!” 

Her wisdom was spot-on, but I was most impressed by her trying to find the silver lining. She inspired me to start looking for my own silver linings from today. Just a few:

Claire opted out of TV time this afternoon to spend a couple of hours working on her animal project. She created a really cool diorama. 

We FaceTimed Grandma this morning and read a book together. 

The kids finally didn’t complain when I told them it was time to take our afternoon walk (well, Henry complained, but it doesn’t count when they’re four.) 

Grace, who prefers to keep the school-type stuff only in the allotted school hours, was so inspired to work on her animal project that she jumped right into after dinner and created a sharp-looking poster and found a video to accompany her presentation. 

My brother sent a video of my Dad that I hadn't watched before. I got to hear his voice again. He was, of course, giving advice as he loved to do. It made my heart so happy.

I am married to such a great husband that when I told him this morning I needed some time to myself, he said “go for it” without a moment’s hesitation. And when I said the kids are planning on school, he said, “I got it.” 

Thinking about all of this reminded me that in every situation, you can find good and bad. Depending on the situation, one is usually obvious, the other a little harder to find. Lately, and probably for the foreseeable future, the bad will be obvious. It’s up to us to keep looking for the good and keep practicing gratitude. 

Monday, March 16, 2020

Day 1

If ever there was a reason to re-start the ol’ blog, now seems as good a time as any. 

Today is the first day of the kids’ extended spring break — or rather the COVID-19 break. Doesn’t have quite the same ring, does it? 

Just like every other family in America (the world?) right now, we are trying to find our way in this strange, sometimes scary, world. A couple of nights ago, I woke up in the middle of the night and felt “off.” I was overheated and congested (as we are all so very aware, neither is a symptom of this virus), but my barely-awake self started to panic about whether I had it and whether I gave it to my 65-year-old mom who I saw earlier in the day. I eventually fell back to sleep after about 30 minutes of trying to rationalize with the panic inside of me. 

When I woke up that morning, I told Scott, “We need to talk about other things during the day.” We had been reading and scrolling and breathing COVID-19 (well, metaphorically) for several days when this mid-night panic happened. Unbeknownst to me, I was soaking up all of that anxiety and worry, and it bubbled out when I wasn’t awake enough to shove it down. 

I’m sure many of us are in that same boat. 

To try to interject some balance into my life, I started focusing on what was in my control — me and my family. The girls and I made a general schedule for how we’ll spend our days, including time for a little learning, time for free play, time for outdoor adventures and, of course, time for electronics. We tried to find balance in that schedule, too — not too much structure, not too much freedom. This is one of those moments in life that the kids, especially the girls, will remember for the rest of their lives. I want their memories to be full of something other than how scary this time is. I want them to be full of creativity, silliness, peace and togetherness. 

Scott and I also discussed our role in the community, the country, the world in minimizing the effects of this thing. With only a few exceptions, we’re staying home. 

On Day 1, things are going okay. Scott spent the morning working downstairs, while the kids and I did a few school-type things. The girls are creating their own COVID-19 journals and documenting what life is like for them during this time. They practiced fractions, started an animal research project, started growing crystals and played freeze dance. On a side note, all of that only took an hour. How do teachers make it through eight!?!??! 

There was some screaming and fighting (not me ... this time) right before lunch, but now everyone is enjoying some down time watching TV or doing extra credit projects with Scott. (I’ll give you $10 to tell me which twin is doing which activity*.) 

Outside of how we’re keeping the peace with the kids, I’m also trying to focus on some things to stay mentally healthy. I’m trying to get out in nature at least once a day. I’m taking a couple of extra seconds, closing my eyes, and being thankful for the bonus board games, family movie nights and meals eaten together. I know we are so very lucky to both be able to work mostly from home and I don’t take it for granted. We’re checking on neighbors and friends who have greater challenges. For me, the best defense against fear, anxiety and sadness is gratitude, hope, generosity and nature. Hopefully my kids don’t smother all of that by Day 14. 

*Just kidding. I'm not really giving out money. But I'll tip my hat to you!