Back To School
A Stand Alone Article by Lucy Lemay Cellucci
The school system can be a tough place for students to negotiate when they don’t fit the criteria of the typical learner. Many kids today are working with deficits in their executive functioning skills, peer relations, and emotional regulation. And that doesn’t even take into account how many kids are sitting in their desks, bored out of their minds. These factors can have a significant impact on a student’s ability to learn.
It’s tough, for a parent of a child who is less than enthusiastic about going to school, to find ways to encourage them to be more positive about their learning environment. Cheerfulness will only take you so far as you are prying the desperate clutch of your child’s fingers from around your waist as they cry and beg you not to leave them. Same goes for being super approachable and willing to listen…that does little to help the parent of the sullen teenager who comes home from school, isolates himself in his room and refuses to discuss why his day was so unpleasant.
As for myself, I tend to channel my unease into kitchen nonsense (my term for being busy with food), and I try to make things more palatable by baking. Some days I bake a lot, arguably too much. But the end result is a well-stocked freezer and the chance to work out some of my anxieties. This usually results in a calmer frame of mind that yields a few share-worthy nuggets of wisdom.
Make Like a Bottle of Bubbly and Chill
Okay, first things first. Your plane is going down, and everyone (including you) is freaking out, sucking up all the dissipating oxygen. You know you have to do something, you have to help, but who and what do you tend to first? You know what I’m going to say next, right? You help yourself first. You aren’t going to be any good to anyone if you hop on the Chicken Little bandwagon and run around, flapping your own arms, convinced the sky is falling.
Maybe you’ve just received a call from your son’s grade eleven math teacher to say that he’s failing math and will need to go to summer school to catch up, or, even better, maybe you just received a call from the school’s principal informing you that your fourth-grader is hatching a plan to eat peanut butter and breathe all over the kids with nut allergies who bother her.
Whatever it is you’re concerned about, that endless tape you’re playing in your mind, worried to death about your kid’s future, picturing them in an orange jumpsuit, or homeless, or selling combination laxatives and amphetamines on the street is not serving you. So stop it. Literally, give yourself the command: STOP.
This is your mind, hard at work, giving you hits of your body’s stress hormones, ramping up all sorts of inflated worries. This is where I put on music and get baking. Maybe you’ll go for a walk, or a run, or hop on a unicycle. It doesn’t matter, as long as you do something that breaks your U.T.L.S.D (useless thought loop of self-destruction), bring your blood pressure down, and get your head on straight. You can’t think clearly, never mind parent effectively, when you’re freaking out. So don’t even try. Just stop and chill. Repeat as many times as necessary before trying to do anything else.
Teachers Are Teammates, Not Enemies
This is probably the most important thing I can say: When school and home can’t work together, it’s the child who suffers. Sadly, many of our kids are picking up the tab for the lack of collaboration between school and home. Parents feel that teachers are arrogant and unsympathetic, and teachers feel that parents are unrealistic and wishy-washy. People have an uncanny way of living up to the labels that are slapped on them by others. This parent-teacher dynamic is no exception.
At the beginning of each school year, I make it a point to call a meeting as soon as possible with the new teacher(s) so that I can introduce myself, outline my child’s strengths and challenges, and open the discussion to setting up my peeps for a successful year. I do this BEFORE any problems arise, while everyone is still fresh and friendly from summer vacation. In secondary school, it can be more difficult, so I use email mostly to communicate with the endless slideshow of educators.
For the most part, with both my kids, I have had teachers who were willing to work with me. I cannot tell you how many written exchanges I have had with educators where I have either told them how much I appreciated their efforts or I was told that they appreciated my support of their efforts. Kids need to have adults who are willing to work together with the common goal of helping them. Sometimes it takes a village, other times it requires an entire continent to raise a child. You can’t build a bridge to success for your child all by yourself. Your task will be even more difficult if you’re constantly screaming at your co-engineers, telling them all where to go.
Speaking from the perspective of someone who has been in dance education for the last twenty-five years, I can say how challenging it can be to work with students who come to dance with varied levels of ability, styles of learning, as well as issues with focus and self-esteem. I only see them for a couple of hours a week in an activity of their choosing! I can’t imagine having to teach them all day within a system that is failing them, but having so little wiggle room within the curriculum to affect any change. The education system is a broken one. No other industry has as high a rate of career drop-out (40–50%) within the first five years. Our teachers need our support, not harsh criticism. Most teachers really do want what is best for your child, and a willingness to listen, offer respect, and cooperate can go a long way to helping bring out the best qualities in the people who are responsible for your child’s education.
Chunk Tasks Into Bite-Sized Goals
So, perhaps one of your biggest struggles, particularly if you are trying to help out a kid with poor executive functioning skills, is the daily battle with homework and organization. This is a tough one. As someone who struggled herself with organization as a student and sees the same dynamic playing out in one of her kids, I can tell you it is an ongoing effort. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mastering the organization beast, but there are a few things you can try that should help dial back the helpless feelings of overwhelm.
Let’s say your son has a paper due on Albert Einstein. It needs to be completed in two weeks. Instead of viewing the assignment as a whole, you could break it up into manageable chunks. Write the due date on a planning calendar and work backward, planning out thirty-to-forty-minute blocks of time in which he will spend working on the paper. Before he begins his first work block, outline on a sheet of paper (or Chromebook) what he will be researching/writing about. Then plug in the specific topics into the work blocks that you’ve helped him to schedule. Examples: Tuesday will be spent researching Einstein’s biggest scientific discoveries, Thursday will be spent researching facts about his personal life, Sunday will be spent drafting the research points into paragraphs, etc….
Speaking from my own process as a writer, breaking up my own work blocks into individual sessions of chapter writing, creating social media content, and editing has allowed me to progress much better than just starring down the barrel of an ambiguous task labelled write and publish a book.
Praise the Process, Not the Result
One of the biggest stumbling blocks our children have in succeeding academically is getting wrapped up in their grades. I have been putting forth a valiant effort in trying to make my kids realize that putting their best effort into a subject that does not come naturally to them, actually learning something and tackling a challenge that yields a result of 3-, is even more valuable than receiving a 4+ on a subject that comes so easily to them that almost no effort is required on their part. The value is in the growth.
This is a tough sell on my part because my kids, like most of their peers, are focused on the result and not the process. We have become such a results-driven society that we are setting up our kids to be perfectionists without even realizing it. While perfectionism looks admirable on the outside, presenting itself as the personality trait that makes us strive for excellence, on the inside it is nothing more than fear and insecurity.
When we strive for nothing less than perfection, we are putting out the message that we are so insecure with ourselves that we cannot bear for others to see us (flaws and all) in the way we see ourselves. We are so ashamed of who we are on the inside that we have to protect ourselves with a stone fortress of achievement. Perfectionists are not a joyful bunch. Their critical nature toward others is often a reflection of how critical they are with themselves. They don’t make for good team players and have extreme difficulty in developing resiliency and adaptability. Nobody wants these people at their dinner parties.One way that I am trying to inoculate my children against this self-destructive track of thinking is to praise their efforts on their work more than the result. When my kids bring home a test or project report to be signed, I try to be just as enthusiastic about a 3- grade as a 4+. I make a big to-do about how proud I felt when I saw how hard they were working on the project. We celebrate with something chocolate-covered. If the mark is extremely low and shows a lack of understanding of the material, I try to leave my feelings out of it and ask open-ended questions: How do you feel you this? What was hardest here for you? What would you do differently next time around? Then I tell them how bright and capable they are, not to worry about it, it’s only a mark, they are capable of turning things around, etc…. I’ve come to realize that the more relaxed I am about these things, the more relaxed they’ll be as well, which is a good thing. Nobody can learn anything if they’re stressed out and feel like they’re doomed to failure.
Allow for Opportunities Outside of the School System
I’m a big believer that standardized testing and classroom learning will only take a person so far in life. There is MUCH to be learned from the ongoing classroom known as Life Experience 101. It was through opportunities that I pursued outside of school that led to me to discovering my interests in having a career in dance education and literary arts. Much of what I have learned has been from sources outside of the traditional education system. When I was a student waiting for an appointment with my guidance counsellor, I would read the sign posted in the waiting room that read Those who fail to plan plan to fail.
These words used to depress the living daylights out of me. As someone who struggled to remain organized and had no clue what she wanted to do in life other than avoid the career in administration that I was being pushed toward by my well-intentioned parent, I felt lost and adrift, convinced that middle age would find me living in my mother’s basement. I’m happy to say that my worst adolescent fears never came true, all because I had the opportunity to stretch my wings and experience some game-changing interests that put me on the path I am today.
This is why I push my kids a little in the pick-a-summertime-activity department. All the difficulties of the school year will just melt away when you see your kid all lit up after spending a week at an arts or engineering camp. Our true role as parents is to help our kids discover their talents and abilities and gently steer them in the direction of opportunity, not to push them relentlessly and argue with their teachers so that they leave high school with an impressive grade point average. And if your kid graduates secondary school and still doesn’t know what they want to do, don’t sweat that either. A couple of years in the workforce will bring about a level of maturation that will be tremendously valuable in helping a young adult to figure out what they want out of life.
Don’t Be Afraid to Take a Break
So I have a little confession to make. Last year, my kids had something like seven days of marked absence recorded in their winter term. I would say maybe two of those days were actually due to illness. The others were because we woke up to a glorious, thick blanket of snow while the sky pelted us with tiny flakes. Instead of going into my children’s rooms and announcing it’s time to get up for school, the words wanna go skiing today? came out of my mouth. I know that skipping school is generally frowned upon, and I myself am an advocate for consistency and commitment, blah, blah, blah…but there’s something to be said for an impromptu trek up into the Gatineau Hills and enjoying a little line-up-free, midweek skiing. Sometimes, being on a chair lift overlooking the gorgeous snow-covered scenery is a great place to initiate a difficult conversation or disarm a frustrated teen’s defenses enough that she’ll actually talk about her feelings. For me, a ski hill never ceases to amaze me with its ability to readjust my perspective and make me realize that whatever I’m dealing with won’t be the end of me.
I think that taking little micro breaks here and there is a great way to recharge, show your kids that you’re on their side, and carve out strategic time to help them develop coping skills for difficult situations such as tumultuous social interactions. Kids who have difficulty with peer relations often feel more stressed from that than academic challenges. It’s okay to take a break when things are tough and remind them (and you) that life has so much to offer, and that this too shall pass.
In the end, it’s all about growth and change. We’re all students in that classroom, learning these lessons far beyond our school days. So keep calm as you parent on. Take breaks. Surround yourself with people and activities that refuel your tank. Make the time to have fun with your kids, despite the difficulties at school. Treat every Friday as if you just passed “Go” in Monopoly. Develop weekend rituals to celebrate the end of the school and work week. Make your kids (and yourself) realize that there’s always something good coming up. Before you know it you’ll be staring down the barrel of the Christmas holidays wondering when the heck you get to send them back! Keep your cool, mama. It’s only school.
Why I'm Writing A Book
A Stand Alone Article by Lucy Lemay Cellucci
PUTTING THE PUZZLE TOGETHER
When I began writing You Are Here, I wasn’t intentionally creating a book to share with the world. It was nothing more than a little time carved out for myself back when my children were both quite small. I took to escaping through solitary evening walks while working out my tangled emotions. Later I would note my observations in a journal.
I was restless, exhausted and unhappy. Although I appeared to have everything going for me (husband, kids, lovely home, career), I felt completely drained by my life and unable to cope. I didn’t speak about my feelings because I was terrified of appearing ungrateful. While my heart was so full of love for my family, my spirit was drained to the core. I hardly even recognized my own reflection.
I started paying close attention to the women around me, seeing the cracks in their own public veneers. I recognized the wounded tones underneath their sarcasm. I sensed when their laughter was not genuine. I realized there was an entire community of women who were going through life wearing the façade of contentment. They struggled to maintain control of themselves and others around them. Some were attempting to occupy as little space as possible within their world. They depleted themselves physically, emotionally and mentally. I saw how, despite our best efforts to the contrary, we all seemed to end up in the same place: a pinball bouncing between love, resentment and guilt.
I started writing and worked some of my observations into essays. Looking for a common theme, I pinned the titles up on a corkboard, eyeing them with the scrutiny of a crime detective searching for clues leading to the perpetrator. Then I started to see it.
WHO AM I AGAIN?
Women, by the masses, are grappling with disconnection from their authentic selves. Like a toxin it seeps into every aspect of our lives, making it impossible for us to feel content. We are present for our spouses, children, jobs, communities, and essentially everyone that is not us. Why? Because we don’t believe we’re worth it. Many of us will not justify the time, effort or expense if it is only us who stand to benefit. We equate giving to ourselves with taking away from our families.
We don’t realize we are actively creating our unhappiness. Many of us have watched our mothers and grandmothers work themselves to the bone. That is simply what “good women” did. Our earliest lessons about love and caregiving were tutorials on martyrdom.
By contrast, there are others who survived households where there was such childhood neglect they spend every moment proving to themselves they aren’t their parents.
Some are raising families in privileged socioeconomic circumstances. We have never known the feeling of lack. There has been little struggle in our lives. We have never had to show our teeth and strive for something. We become Thumbelina, a tiny well-groomed fairy atop her lily pad, adrift down a river of complacency.
Whichever catalyst has set you down this path, you inevitably join the secretive ranks of the Sweet Ladies Society (SLS). The first and most important rule of SLS is we don’t talk about SLS. Instead we smile and make others feel welcome. We make dinner, pack lunches, volunteer, check on homework, accommodate coworkers and employers and drive our kids everywhere. We stop watching programs or reading books that have no interest for anyone else, refuse to make time for things like nights out with friends or time to ourselves. We completely stop leading lives of our own.
You will experience frustration living your life this way but you are unable to put your finger on the cause. Perhaps you guiltily blame your emotions on your family. You pour yourself a glass of wine, crawl into the tub, cry softly into a washcloth and call it “me time.” Under no circumstance should we ever indulge in the urge to flee our families and rent a one-bedroom condo at a secret address. That sort of behavior is frowned upon in SLS. Instead, keep all of your feelings tucked deep down, host a book club and join the parent’s council at school. Stare silently at your husband and wonder how on earth you arrived at a place where neither of you have touched the other in the last eighteen months and why this seems to be a perfectly acceptable arrangement.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE IN THIS
Let me be perfectly clear: you are not alone. That is why I wrote this book. I have learned to cope with some mighty uncomfortable feelings and am just now coming to terms with what love is. I am learning how to give my entire heart to the people I love without handing over my entire self. I no longer berate myself for falling down. In fact, I’ve wholeheartedly given myself permission to mess up. Most importantly, I’ve learned how my happiness is solely my responsibility. I alone create it for myself, not through marriage, children or career.
It’s time to shift your life from a place of surviving to a place of thriving. Embrace mistakes and conflict as opportunities for growth. Look at life through the lens of appreciation. This attitude changed the trajectory of my path. I realized I had more control over my life than I knew.
Genuine happiness isn’t something that happens to us. It’s something we create with intention. A big part of that intention involves the healthy management of our emotions. This is not easy in today’s world of distractions, but an essential ingredient if we are truly committed to changing the lens through which we view our lives. If it’s working for me, maybe there’s a chance that it could work for you. There is strength in numbers and power in connection. I want to be part of a community of like-minded, healthy women who recognize their worth, love themselves fiercely and are able to give that beautiful love to everyone around them. What would it feel like to live this way? I invite you to join me and we can figure this out together.
The Italy Experience
A Stand Alone Article by Lucy Lemay Cellucci
STEPPING OUTSIDE THE COMFORT ZONE…
I am the quintessential homebody. I love being at home. I have my favorite track pants, a favorite spot on the couch, and a favorite teacup. I rarely deviate from my routine. In one of those seldom and out-of-character impulsive moments, I agreed to accompany my husband on a business trip to Italy a few weeks ago. It all came about quite fast, leaving little time to anticipate the nine-hour flight that would cross the Eastern Standard time zone and catapult me into the next day on European soil. I had moments of sheer terror as I packed my suitcase the night before our flight, facing my anxiety at the prospect of leaving my kids for a week and figuring out what I would be doing with the twelve to fourteen hours of free time I would have to fill as my husband went to work every day. I was going to be on my own every day in a foreign country where I did not speak the language, navigating public transit between cities and trying desperately not to get lost, mugged, or murdered. Death by gnocchi and wine. Look it up. The struggle is real.
OH, TOTO, I DON’T THINK WE’RE IN KANSAS ANYMORE…
This was the first time I have ever left North America. Now I really understand how Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz felt when she stepped outside her farmhouse out into the new world. Everything was different here. The streets, the buildings, the food, the people…I spent the first couple of days of my trip in a jet-lagged haze, not knowing where to put my eyes. One of the more spectacular sights for me was the view of the Alps I was treated to every day during my three-kilometer walk to the train station. It was awe-inspiring and humbling to see these mountains in person. I felt the hairs on my arms stand on end the first morning I took a walk to investigate my surroundings. It was like being called by something I couldn’t see but knew was there.
SHE CAME TO USE THE TOILET…
It was late in the afternoon, after a full day spent roaming in Vicenza art museums. I had an hour to kill before catching my train back to the villa I was sharing with my husband and his coworkers. I was desperately in need of a restroom and walked into a café (BTW…all cafes in Italy serve wine. It’s impossible to remain sober in this country). The Italian signage posted in the window stated that the washroom was strictly for customers only. No problem. I’m happy to be a customer. “Posso avere un bicchiere di vino rosso, perpiacere?” (May I have a glass of red wine, please?) After being directed to the whereabouts of the washroom, I was promptly faced with a new dilemma. The toilet wasn’t the recognizable apparatus I was expecting to see. Instead, it was a large basin-like object on the ground surrounding a hole. To make matters even more bizarre, there was no toilet paper nearby. There was, however, a little nozzle attached to a hose. It resembled a smaller version of a gas pump. What the hell was I supposed to do with that?!?!?!?!
I promptly exited the strange little restroom without using it. I returned to my table in the corner, started drinking my wine, and googled toilets of the world on my phone. I scrolled through the images until I found a picture that matched the contraption that was down the hall from me. Turns out it’s a squatting toilet, which is still common in many parts of Europe. As for that little gas pump nozzle, that was thoughtfully labeled the Bum Gun in my diagram and instructed me to use the stream of water that flows from it to rinse off my tush after I’d taken care of business. A month ago, if someone had told me I’d be sitting alone in a cafe in Italy, drinking a glass of wine while googling instructions on how to use a toilet, I would have laughed. But, as they say, never say never. Anything is possible. I slugged back the rest of my wine and proceeded with fresh resolve to use the washroom. Okay, bum gun...you’re up!
It is with great pride that I tell you I did not ruin the shoes I was wearing in the process of learning how to use this toilet. We really do need to celebrate the small victories in life.
GET LOST AND YOU WILL FIND IT…
It’s ironic how, despite the fact I spend my days wandering a foreign country on my own, speaking to almost no one, hearing this language spoken around me which I have little to no understanding, I felt more connected here to people, places, and myself than I had felt back in my own country.
There is less distraction, for one thing. I relied on my phone for navigation when I was out and about, but I did not spend a single moment flipping through texts, email, or social media. My senses were too occupied, engaged in the seduction of sensory delights that surrounded me. When traveling by train, I could not afford to go on autopilot and miss my destination. I had to be watchful. My daily thoughts were not pre-occupied with anticipating the arrival of children from school, the preparation of dinner or other household tasks. As a result, I experienced a level of engagement and presence that isn’t normally felt in my day-to-day routine.
And my creativity feels like it’s been doused with Miracle-gro. I’ve been writing, drawing, and choreographing nonstop since I’ve returned. An added bonus for a creative soul who spent some time taking in the work of some of the greatest artists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
These are the most precious souvenirs I have taken back with me from this trip: stimulated creativity and a reminder to bring presence into my daily life that includes moments of great appreciation for the things that surround me. I will see them if I train myself to look properly. They are there, ready to give me the same sense of majestic appreciation as the Alps. And if I want to enjoy a glass or two of Valpolicella while I’m taking it in, who’s going to know? Could make for some interesting posts, now, couldn’t it?
A Stand Alone Article by Lucy Lemay Cellucci
There was a sword hanging over her head. It had been there for as long as she could remember. At first, it was no bigger than a smudge of silver, dangling just above her crown. As a small child, she would often see it and wonder what, exactly, it was and what she was supposed to do with it. A few times, she recalled trying to stand on a chair and reach for it, but she was always sternly reprimanded by her people and told to leave it be.
As she grew, the sword also increased in size, and in time she became acutely aware of its intimidating presence. The blade was precise and menacing. The hilt was heavy and imposing. Once, by accident, she got too close to the edge of the blade and now wore the scar across her cheek as evidence of her foolishness. Her face burned with shame as her people shook their heads at her. So she learned to accommodate her existence around it. She became adept at making herself small and irrelevant. She became practiced at escaping its notice and standing so still that the blade never sought her out again.
For a long time, it took great reserves of her energy to avoid the sword that loomed overhead. It once struck a chord of terror so great in her, she quickly learned to immediately turn away from whatever made the blade sway in rhythmic motion, like an insidious pendulum that was biding its time. But now, all she felt was tired and beaten down. The mirror showed her a face embedded with deep lines around the eyes, valleys of exhaustion. Her gaze held a vagueness that would not succumb to the demands of focus. Her mouth, however, remained in a state of constant readiness with a smile; like a gunshot signaling the start of a race, she was poised to offer it to anyone who inquired about her success in escaping the tip of the overhead blade. This, she knew, was what her people wanted from her.
But inside, she felt broken. Disconnected from that internal part of herself that she used to recognize, it now felt as if a void existed inside. Like a gigantic crater that once held a great body of water that had evaporated under the tremendous pressure of grief. It used to bother her, this feeling of being fractured. But over time, she came to regard the emptiness as a companion who provided respite from the agonizing feelings that were aroused every time she would feel the movement of wind above her head from the heavy blade’s movement.
But that was before…
Before the day she found herself too tired to look away from her reflection in the water and caught the blinding glare of sunlight shooting out from the blade suspended above her head. Since she was not looking directly at it, she had the courage to hold her attention to it longer than normal. The light from the blade held such power and intensity. It seared from the heat of a truth she had not yet come to realize. She peered closer into the reflective surface of the water. It was then that she saw it. The blade had her name inscribed in its sleek, silver sheathing.
That was the day she woke up. Rage swelled through her, consuming everything in its path. It ignited a blaze that brought down the surrounding forest and the sanctuary that contained her kingdom of survival. She watched as her village burned down. Her people ran from her, screaming, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING???” “STOP IT!!!” “WE DON’T LIKE THIS!!!” but she didn’t listen. Her feet remained firmly planted. She watched as the fire gave birth to the scorched fields where she would later kneel, grab handfuls of charred soil, and claim the land as her own.
That was the day she decided she was done. She was done with the loneliness, the loathing, and the self-pity. She was done with looking to her people to tell her how to avoid the danger. She was done with beating the drum of everything she found distasteful. She was done asking permission. She was done with the fear that had been gifted to her through a story she had never written.
But most of all, she was done looking at her scars and seeing ugliness. She took a good hard look at those lines around her eyes and the scar across her cheek that exposed her imperfection to the world. What if, she wondered, those lines and cracks didn’t mean that she was broken after all? Maybe they were proof of how strong she had become. Fault lines had appeared in the places where enormous shifts had occurred, yet somehow she survived.
It was then she realized those scars didn’t make her weak or ugly. They made her a warrior. For the first time, she felt an understanding deep in her bones that told her the sword hanging over her head was never meant as a threat against her — it was a weapon that was waiting for her to gather her courage, take it into her hands, and slay the beasts that came for her with their teeth. The sword wasn’t meant to scare her. It was there to empower her. And now, standing upon the ash of her newly seared earth, she was finally ready to reach for the hilt, draw it to her breast, and use it in the way it was always meant…for her.
COVID-19: Finding The Middle Ground While Flattening The Curve
A Stand Alone Article by Lucy Lemay Cellucci
Social distancing is a practice with which many writers are quite at home. Many of us, by nature, choose to self-isolate so we can hammer out our musings about life or nail down a solid plot arc in an ever-evolving novel. Most of us have, at one time or another, chosen to willingly self-isolate either because we simply weren’t in the mood to socialize or recognized that we needed to engage in a self-care regime that didn’t include the company of others.
Now we are faced with a situation that requires us to remove ourselves from the population at large, and not surprisingly, many of us are not happy about it. I have had my own misgivings about this practice and was, at first, completely opposed to the idea of my freedom being curtailed in this way. But after coming to grips with the reality of living in a pandemic, watching the people in charge at my job have to deal with the responsibility of the health and safety of our students and their families, and then having to explain and enforce these practices with my own children, I have come to the stark realization that COVID-19 will not be the demise of our society. What will, however, take us down faster than a 325-pound defensive linesman is our reaction to the virus.
SINK OR SWIM?
Most of us have an opinion about how our country has been governed through this crisis. Whether or not you feel the situation has been appropriately handled isn’t as important as how you are handling your own mindset and behaviour throughout the coming weeks. Leaders who enforce strict preventive measures are seen as panic-inducing zealots, while those who take a sit-and-wait approach are viewed as irresponsible and non-reactive. The truth of the matter here is that the whole world got caught with its pants down on this one, and many of us failed to understand what we were dealing with until Elvis had already left the building.
Our leaders are no more exempt from human error than we are, but of course, we hold them to a much higher standard. This time, they’ve got just as much skin in the game as the rest of us. The health and welfare of their loved ones are just as much at risk as ours, only they have the added responsibility of the entire nation on their shoulders as well. But instead of hunkering down and focusing on getting our own houses in order, many of us choose to publicly flog our leaders and create a lot of negative energy by complaining about recommended procedures, the most popular being the practice of social distancing, or the people who are choosing not to engage in it.
WHY SOCIAL DISTANCING MATTERS
Social distancing is a preventive measure that aims to slow down the rate of contamination by limiting social contact. It is not meant to prevent you from getting sick per se, but rather flexes its efficiency in slowing down the spread of the disease. This allows for our health care system to meet the demand of sick people and care for them without becoming overwhelmed. In times of crisis, it is our social systems we rely on the most to get us through the difficulty. If we allow this virus to spread at a rate that allows for the collapse of our social systems, then we are at risk for the kind of apocalyptic chaos that makes for great television but sucky real-life experiences. Overwhelmed hospitals that are forced to turn people away – check. Limited access to food and resources – check. Hanging out with cool people who carry samurai swords – check (but only from one to two meters away. Step back, Michonne).
Think of social distancing like soaking the trees to slow down the burn rate of the forest fire. It sits to right of panic (think toilet paper hoarding) and the left of apathy (whatever, man…it’s just a cold). It’s a proactive measure which is truly, at the present time, the best defense we have in our arsenal to guard against having to face a situation like the one happening in Italy. Considering the exponential rate of growth of this virus, that’s exactly what we would be facing if we just allowed ourselves to conduct business as usual.
CREATE A NEW NORMAL
The best way to survive times of uncertainty is to create a new sense of stability. Easier said than done when most of us are staring down the barrel of at least three weeks of unstructured time with our kids at home and no place to take them. I am, contrary to my Gemini nature, a huge fan of routine. As a student, a teacher, and a new mother, routine has saved my ass more than once. Now that we’ve lost ours, it’s pretty common to feel the anxiety that comes from this aimless, day-by-day existence.
The first thing I did to help bring a little order to the court was sketch out a schedule of how our days would unfold, Monday to Friday. There are blocks of time built into our post COVID-19 outbreak days that allow for chores, independent reading, time outside, artistic pursuits, TV, and free time. Throw in a few cooking lessons and movie nights throughout the week, and the time passes more rapidly than I would have ever imagined.
As for myself, I make sure I’m up before my kids so I have time to squeeze in my own morning workout in my basement storage room (Hey, it’s no Movati, but self-isolators can’t be choosers), time for meditation/appreciation/quiet-in-the-head, whatever you want to call it, and then shower and breakfast. My laptop work periods coincide with my kids’ electronics time, so I know I can count on at least some moments of uninterrupted work.
The walk after lunch does wonders to help ward off the afternoon crash, and with the help of a nutritious snack, it gives me energy for the home stretch until dinner. After dinner, providing my sobriety has held up, I engage in my own artistic pursuits, which include learning to draw (something I’ve always wanted to do) and learning a handful of simple songs to play on the piano so I can accompany my daughter on her ukulele (we do a mean rendition of “Riptide” by Vance Joy #truth).
CHOOSE YOUR FILTER WISELY
How well we fare during this ordeal will largely depend upon the filter we choose to frame our experiences. If you wake up every morning with a feeling of impending dread about another day stuck at home with the kids, worrying about money, your health, and nurturing the seeds of anger toward our leaders or neighbours who, in your opinion, aren’t handling things correctly, then your foreseeable future will be awful. If you look at this as time to dig deep, pull out your best adulting qualities, set a great example for your kids, and learn cool things along the way, like origami and the finer points of beer gardening, then you will have risen above circumstantial reality and tapped into the power of focus. What you focus on is what you become. Energy follows thought.
Find ways of connecting with others during this time. Post pictures of how you’re entertaining yourself. Bonus points if they involve shower caps and sock puppets. Video chat with a friend and have a cup of tea or a glass of wine together. Start listening to comedy recordings and podcasts to boost morale. Set aside a portion of the day to discuss non-COVID-19 matters. Most importantly, seek out others who, like you, are intent on keeping their mental health in check. Call them. Text. Email. Every day. Choose your group members wisely, though. Our situation is not unlike that of the characters from The Walking Dead, which is primarily a story of survival of the human spirit layered over the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse. Instead of vetting each other with the famous “How many people have you killed?” question, consider the following:
- “How many rolls of toilet paper do you have?”
- “How many surfaces have you sanitized?”
- “How long has it been since you left the country?”
- “How much vodka do you have?”
Yes, the situation is serious, but keeping a sense of humour about us will go a long way toward getting us through it without experiencing overly high rates of depression, anxiety, and still liking the people with whom we can’t practice social distancing. We will get through this. The comforts we are forced to part with right now are not within our control. How unhappy we allow their absence to make us, however, is within our control. Crisis can be an effective teacher in the way that it really makes us hone in on what truly matters in life. Who and how we will be with each other when these periods of self-isolation and social distancing are over is determined by how we are conducting ourselves now. So go sanitize your hands, make a batch of COVID-19 chip cookies, play a board game with your family, and then go write a letter to your great-great-grandchild, telling them what you learned from this period of time in your life. Then take your own advice. Remember, the whole idea of what we’re doing is meant to dampen the vigor of the spreading pandemic, not the human spirit.