October 10th was World Mental Health Day, a day to bring awareness to mental health and end stigma around treatment. Important in a normal year, 2020 has magnified all of the ways that people can struggle with mental health. Isolation, fear, anxiety… all of these have been brought to the forefront for people who may not have had any issues with mental health Before Pandemic, and have heightened responses from those that do.Continue reading
On Friday evening, we gathered with some friends in their backyard. This was the first time we had done so since March. Everyone wore masks, we were spaced apart when eating, and we stayed outside.Continue reading
The school year ended five weeks ago, and in a way it was a relief. Managing remote learning for a 4th grader and a 2nd grader, while working full-time and a toddler in the house, was stressful to put it mildly. Part of the stress came from knowing that I could not replace the teachers, even a little bit. I mostly left my kids to their own devices, and had to trust that they would do what was assigned (and then cried when emails came home from teachers that work was missing).
It was an unsustainable tug of war. I had never signed up to be a “homeschool teacher” and struggled with guilt over not doing more and frustration over what I was being asked to do. I somewhat threw my hands up in the air and said “It’s only 8 weeks of their lives – there won’t be long term damage.”
Illinois entered Phase 3 shortly after the end of the school year, which allowed for a bit more reopening, including the camp where the kids normally go in the summer. However, Ger and I agreed that we were not comfortable sending them to camp. We wanted to see what the virus would do over the course of the next several weeks. I enrolled them in camp, but had the option to mark that we would not attend until Phase 4, which would be a minimum of four weeks later.
And so, “Camp at Home” began. In some ways, it was harder than the school year. Every day, I created a Google Slide, specific to each kid, and posted it in a Google Classroom I created. Every day I had to copy over the content in to a new slide and change the information. It became a daily cycle of “give them something to keep them occupied.”
At the beginning of July, Illinois entered Phase 4. I was frankly shocked. I had fully expected that the trends of new virus cases would not continue to go down and we would be stuck in Phase 3 at least until August. Yet here it was, and we could send our kids to camp, if we chose.
I contacted the camp and found that they would be following the Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines for schools. The camp is a Montessori school, so in a way, it would be a prelude to what the academic year will be like, on a much smaller scale. The camp likely only has about 50 elementary school-aged children in the summer. Masks would be required. Temperature checks on the way in, and no parents allowed in the building. Frequent hand-washing, and keeping the kids isolated from each other in small groups. Sharing of supplies kept to a minimum, and packed lunches would need to contain all plates, utensils and napkins needed – nothing would be provided.
Ger and I have said from the beginning that we would like to be on the “other side.” With estimates that nearly half of the U.S. population might have been infected by the time a vaccine becomes available, we would like to be in the 50% that doesn’t get it. Meaning that we have been diligent in our practices of staying home, wearing masks when we have to leave the house, social distancing, hand washing and cleaning.
At the same time, I have read increasing reports of concerns over the well-being of children. It isn’t just the education, but the socio-emotional aspect as well. When the school year ended, somehow I thought that maybe they would return in the Fall. That feeling quickly evaporated and with Illinois guidelines around entering Phase 5 (that a vaccine is available), Phase 4 will be “life as we know it” for a long time. Probably a year or more, if I had to guess.
We all have to make decisions about our level of comfort. What are we willing to do? What are we not willing to do? Being home for over 15 weeks has taken a toll on my kids, and at times has been alarming.
I considered the guidance from health experts and educators. We decided that sending the kids to camp, under the requirements of Phase 4, would be “low risk.” It wouldn’t be “no risk” – no risk would be keeping them home altogether – but compared to other activities, it was a risk that we were willing to take. We would take every additional precaution in our home. I had my kids practice wearing their masks for longer stretches at home. And without yet knowing what the public schools will do, it would be practice for what the classrooms could look like in a few weeks.
Today will be the first day. I won’t be there to watch and make sure their masks don’t get pushed down below their chins. They are excited to go, but that joy may turn to fear or anxiety when they get into the classroom. We will have to maintain our diligence on “re-entering the house” when they get home in our efforts to keep the virus at bay.
Yet, I am starting today feeling as comfortable as I can be with the decision to send them. We have made dramatic shifts in our routine, repeatedly, over the past few months and this will be one more. On top of everything, I hope they have fun. Being stuck at home has been so hard and they have done so with minimal complaint. I hope that they have a day where they can laugh with Mr. Adam and the other kids and embrace being outside of our home for a few hours a day.
Day 32 of our confinement to our home. The days have now turned into a predictable rhythm of remote learning assignments from the elementary school, juggling work and a toddler, endless dishes and laundry, and time in our backyard if the weather cooperates. We do telehealth appointments with doctors when needed, FaceTime with family, and Zoom meetings for church. I text constantly to stay connected, but it isn’t the same. I miss playdates, going to the museum or zoo, Starbucks, and dinners with my friends. Continue reading
So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.
-Naomi Shihab Nye, from the poem “Burning the Old Year”
I always pause to reflect on my previous year at the onset of a new. I am not looking for a sweeping reform of myself, but, as my husband likes to say “there should be progress.”
2017 was a year of fear and healing, being pregnant for the third time in two years and finally welcoming our rainbow baby in August. 2018 was a year of adjustment, with having an infant at home again, and realizing that my husband was grappling with anxiety that we had previously not recognized. 2019 was a year of “getting back to even-keel.” While toddlers are a challenge, I find them easier than an infant that is so helpless. We figured out as a couple how to support each other, through a lot of hard work and a fantastic marriage therapist.
What will 2020 bring? When Nelle and Iris died inside of a 6-month period in September of 2015 and February of 2016, I unapologetically put myself first. Then I became pregnant again and focused only on that pregnancy, and the newborn that we brought home. As my husband’s anxiety emerged, I spent a lot of energy on him: understanding his triggers, and trying to convince him of the safety and support of our family. I felt at times that I was holding everything together, and I am not resentful. He was there without question and without wavering when I needed support, and the definition of a partnership is that I would do the same for him.
But I could also tell what I gave up of myself in that time in 2018, and watched it spill into 2019 and we worked to get back to “even-keel.” Now, the place feels good, and I am eager to carve out time for myself again and pursue the things that I love.
I was writing less and have had to take a step back. This blog was born from the grief that erupted after my daughter was born still. That grief still continues to linger, though not as prominent in everyday life. I was able to form a central “theme” for my writing for so long, but have recognized now that it has branched into more than just grief. It is also about healing, and finding that “new normal” for myself in things that I “didn’t used to do” before my daughters died.
Grief is uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable for the person carrying grief, and it is uncomfortable for everyone else, not knowing what to say or thinking that we should be “over it” by now. It has taken years for me to understand that I will always carry grief, because a little piece of my heart is missing.
Part of that discomfort has allowed me to push myself in other ways and step outside of my comfort zone. I have never considered myself an artist, and am now trying to learn to paint. I have always wanted to be able to create art, but never felt that I had any talent and would become easily frustrated. Now I am working with a friend who is showing me tips and techniques so that I can gain some skills, but more importantly, confidence and pride in my work.
Would I have pursued art if I had not lost my daughters? I honestly have no idea. But I am definitely in a place where the uncomfortable is not as scary as it once was.
And on a final note on this blog, Grieving Out Loud, and the writing that I have done over the years around grief and will continue to do. A dear friend of mine unexpectedly lost her beloved grandmother in December. She told me that the title is so fitting, because grief is not about keeping everything inside, and making everyone else comfortable. It is about continuing to acknowledge and honor the person that lived and was loved. Never forgetting and not remaining silent about that loved one’s impact on our lives.