There is a scene in the well-known 1980s Romantic Comedy, “When Harry Met Sally,” starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, when Crystal’s character explains how he starts a book by reading the last page first. I always scratched my head over this – why would you want to do that? Leaving the anxious nature of Crystal’s character aside, I now realize that at certain times there is merit in starting from the end when embarking upon a new story. We’ve been doing this Covid thing now for eight months; parenting, working, existing, all under exceptional conditions. For parents and educators of twice exceptional kids, and as twice exceptional adults, sensitivities, anxieties, and perfectionism often drive behavior. During the best of times, with these characteristics it’s hard to maintain balance and calm. During our current situations – all variations of the same complicated theme – we need direction on how to keep our stride during this pandemic marathon. We don’t know how this story will end, but if we concentrate on how we want to tell our personal Covid stories, perhaps that can inform us how to behave, define priorities and allow us to create the story we want to tell when this is all finally behind us.
There are aspects of this Covid life; parenting, working, living that require us to be intentionally present. We have a mental checklist: take your mask when you go out, stay six feet apart from anyone else, wear gloves in certain circumstances, wash hands. These are prescriptive, and in some cases, based on contractual agreements and law. It’s the other stuff, our daily interactions with our loved ones – now that we are all under the same roof – adjusting expectations for ourselves, our kids our educators, and those with whom we work that could benefit from some end-of-story consideration.
Ask yourself these questions:
How do I want my children to remember this time? Will it be a burden? Will it be hard but evident how much you tried to be creative, understanding and flexible? Will you have spent less meaningful time because you are together all the time? Will you create family traditions to pass the hours? Will you bring humor to this very humorless situation?
What will my spouse/partner remember about this time? Will there be stolen moments? Will there be walks and talks and knowing looks at each other above your children’s heads? Or will you be at war, visualizing yourself hanging by your fingertips at the edge of a cliff? Will you be unshowered and unshaved? Will that matter? What matters?
How will your employees remember this time? Will they feel unable to meet anyone’s expectations – their family’s or yours? Will they remember flexibility or will they remember impossibly late nights doing what they need to do so they can attend to their kids during the day? Will there be understanding? Will there be self care?
How will educators remember this time? Will they overcome this hurdle with creativity and aplomb? Will they feel abandoned and judged by the administration or by parents? Will people remember that they too have their kids at home?
When events are out of our control, we do best to focus on how we handle the moments, not what are those moments. There are a zillion “awfuls” that are happening right now. You can rattle them off, I’m sure, on more than ten fingers. In order to write the story we want to read later, it’s more important how we address the challenges, than what those challenges are.
There are some simple mantras to help.
Drop the Rope. Let go of things that don’t matter. If it doesn’t matter to you to dress for work or the day – then drop that expectation. If it’s nearly impossible to keep your child off a screen when school ends before you finish your workday – then let it happen. Are you eating cereal for dinner? Ok! Do you have to ask for an extension on a work project – do it.
Pick Up the Rope. Make a concerted effort to make things special. Create moments to celebrate – out of the ordinary experiences that you will remember. When it’s time to get off work, take another deep breath and do something meaningful with your child and/or partner. Figure out one thing per week that is out of the ordinary. Get outside and play. Water balloons, nerf gun wars, croquet, bocce, badminton, hikes, backyard picnics, backyard camping, dinner under the stars, flower pressing, craft time – all things you can schedule during the week to break up the monotony of sitting in front of a screen.
Face the day. Take a deep breath every morning. Get ready for a new day and approach the day with gratitude for what you do have, what you do not have to deal with – there is ALWAYS someone who is dealing with more and has fewer resources.
Clown around. We’re in the midst of a circus. At times we find ourselves juggling, walking the tight rope, and maybe even sticking our head in a lion’s mouth. Wherever and whenever you can, bring humor to the day. Be creative. Reorganize your schedule so you can have lunch with your child and/or partner. Focus on what matters and try to make the unstructured time fun and meaningful. Laugh at yourself. This is hard and you will make mistakes and have regrets. After all, you are jumping through hoops. If you can laugh, the tough times dissipate much faster.
Your Goals are Love and Happiness If what you are doing or saying (or not doing or saying) is making someone feel bad, sad, or mad – restrain yourself. Do everything with love in your heart. Even if you are dealing with a difficult colleague – bless them in your mind – they are undoubtedly struggling with something. Wish for your child happiness above all else right now. Everything else is second. If they aren’t happy at school – talk to the teacher about that specifically and brainstorm together on how to help make your child happy at school. Happiness and love should inform your demeanor, your cadence, your approach each and every day.
At the end of the day (or at the end of this crazy Twilight Zone period in our lives) you want your story to end with This is How I did Covid, not This is What Covid did to me.