Keep smiling

What a bizarre and worrying time it is right now. This past week has brought a rollercoaster of emotions for my family. Last week, we received news that our local schools (here in the suburbs of New York) were shutting to promote social distancing, to help halt the spread of COVID-19. Then on Saturday, I turned 40. Some anticlimax that was!

With celebrations planned in the city, we had to make the quick decision to cancel our plans. Instead, we took ourselves off to The Hamptons for a night, as a family. Whilst there, we walked on almost deserted beaches and gazed at the tranquil water......and took time to breathe. I tried to breathe away the stress that had engulfed my body, the stress that was creeping into my every pore, the stress that made me fear the worst, the stress that was clouding my every thought. I returned on Sunday, knowing that I had to pull myself together to maintain some normality for my children, to soothe their worries and reassure them that things would be OK, so long as we stayed together and followed the rules.

Monday brought the start of homeschooling. We attempted to establish a routine; a schedule was produced for each of my school-aged kids. I can't say that Monday was a good day. It simply wasn't! My pre-schooler asked for a play-date (on repeat) and questioned why she wasn't at nursery. My 3rd grader started out well and then became restless and tearful. My 5th grader looked at me like I was asking him to cut off his right arm when I requested he settle down to work. I ended up in tears, questioning my ability to parent and teach. I am a qualified teacher but honestly, teaching my own offspring brings challenges of its own! Again, I breathed through the madness and hoped that Tuesday would bring joy and smiles for all of us.

You can probably guess, it didn't! Although marginally better, we were still muddling through, trying to reach a compromise with work / rest / play time. What we were getting used to though, was being together all day in a more formal situation than the normal 'family time' we are used to. The kids affectionately referred to me as 'Teacher Mummy' and my expectations of what we were going to achieve during this distance-learning experiment, began to loosen. I realised that what we'll complete together may not be a typical classroom learning experience; instead it will be our experience of learning together in a difficult time.

This doesn't mean my children are not completing the assigned work (they most definitely are) but it means we are finding ways to share and experience learning that works for us as a family. This is so crucial to remember at this time. What looks to be the correct way of doing things for one family, may not work for another. Families are juggling all manner of challenges right now, not least comprehending the work set for their children! People are still having to work, care for young siblings, care for sick family members, search for scarce goods online (thanks toilet paper stockpilers), exercise, look after their mental health, stay sane. The list goes on and on.

One thing we've been consistent with this week, is time to get outside for fresh air and exercise (in whatever form). Thankfully, we are not yet on lock down, so we've played baseball in the backyard, done a neighbourhood scavenger hunt, ridden bikes in the street, walked in the sunshine and waved to others who are socially distancing. This may sound idyllic, and i'm not dismissing these precious family moments, but they have literally enabled us all to cool down from the stresses of being in close quarters and of navigating the homeschooling landscape.

I've seen many social media posts this past week, showing gorgeous scenes of children working diligently with adoring parents gazing on. That's wonderful and in some cases, probably the case. However, for many parents, feelings of worthlessness, confusion and anxiety are real. Some parents are heartbroken for their children. Exams that have been studied for are cancelled, proms have been called off, school trips have been written off and friends have been forced apart with little time to say goodbye. For these children and their parents, this time feels utterly depressing and brings rolls of concern and uncertainty. What I feel we all need to remember, is that this experience is so unique and requires a whole new set of emotional tools to help us through. We must reassure and equip our young students with the belief that this hideous time will strengthen their characters and they will emerge the other side with deeper resilience and of course, pride at all their achievements. Exams and results are indeed of critical importance but they should not be the only way by which we measure these principled and inspiring young people. 

These unusual circumstances have also given me time to reflect on how lucky we are that we can be together and that we have space to roam and escape for a few moments. I cannot begin to imagine how hard some families are finding this and my heart goes out to those who are struggling.

Moments of laughter have become like soul-food for us and it's how I ground myself (along with taking time to breathe). The importance of humour and laughter is more crucial than ever right now. The seriousness of the situation our world is facing is no laughing matter, yet we must all remember to try to keep smiling. One day soon, our playgrounds will be filled with excited chatter, our streets will buzz with cars, we'll hug our family and friends without a second thought and our conversations will not evolve around which store has toilet paper. We will look back at this time, knowing that we grew - as individuals, as families, as communities.

Please stay safe people. Keep to the rules set by our governments and we will eventually pull through this - together!



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