We started this Covid-19 journey with lots of unknowns. We asked, “Is this really happening?” There was an onslaught of “No Way!” when we realized we were suddenly working and learning at home no longer leaving and suddenly, constantly living with an undertone of fear. As if the chatter in our heads wasn’t enough, our email boxes began filling. First, emails about the processes of how school and work might happen. Then corrections and redirections about those first emails based on rapidly and ever-changing circumstances. Then we got emails seemingly from everyone and their mothers telling us how they can help us, how we can help ourselves and how we can help others. The start-stop process of creating schedules, mapping out new routines, embracing the (forgive me for saying this annoyingly overused phrase) “new normal,” all to realize the ongoing shifts that made nothing consistent.
Gifted and twice exceptional people are not known for their smooth transitions. The past several weeks have seen micro and macro transitions the likes of which we’ve never seen before. In some cases, this “immersion therapy” has allowed us to become more flexible. That is the best-case scenario. In other cases, we’ve experienced never-ending tantrums, meltdowns and other less-than-lovely behavior; and don’t think I’m only talking about the kids! Did you wonder why liquor stores were deemed essential? Doing one of my rare grocery shops I noted that the liquor store across the street had a line wrapped around the building.
So, when the Grand Poobah of transitions occurs – going back to work, school, life – what will it look like? Well, one thing is for sure, we aren’t going back to “normal.” I think our energies are wasted trying to figure out the scenarios of WHAT; What will it look like? What will we do? What will be expected of me? What will people want? Instead I think we need to plan for the HOW. How will kids show up to school? How will parents show up to work? How will teachers connect? I don’t think it’s going to be pretty, and that’s why I think our best efforts will be spent on how we will soften the landing for all stakeholders. Certainly, the biggest, and maybe the most important question is, How will we communicate with one another?
Humans are adaptable and we all changed our ways of life over the past several months. We figured out how to communicate and connect with one another while not in the same room or while we are in the same room, but with half of our face covered. What we say and how we say it has substantially changed. We’ve had to rethink our cultural norms; the way we dress, the way we look, our expectations of each other and ourselves. We still don’t actually know what transition we are bracing for. Will we transition back gradually? Will we transition to prolonged online working and learning? Will we transition back to “normal?” There are some overarching themes that I think will help everyone adjust in each situation as well as provide a framework for helping others re-enter a changed world.
The first step is easy; EMPATHY. No matter who we interact with we must have empathy. Empathy requires us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Our rule of thumb MUST be – “Pay attention to what the behavior is telling you, not to the behavior itself.” This goes for interacting with your kids, yourselves, fellow parents, teachers and your colleagues. Behavior stems from emotions – whether we feel elated or vulnerable, angry or scared. In order to best behave and to respond to others’ behavior, we need to tap into trust. We have to trust ourselves to know our true essence and to not allow others’ challenging behavior to shake that essence, and we have to trust others – to afford a benefit of the doubt – that what they say and do comes from their own experiences in the world, not to blame or shame us.
Issues to Consider
Everyone is grappling with personal issues, fears and concerns. Parents may have fears about gaps in their child’s learning. Parents of older students may catastrophize and think about what this experience will do to their child’s future opportunities. There may be frantic feelings to ‘catch up’ or ‘make up for lost time.’ Undoubtedly teachers will find themselves in a defensive position. They may very well feel as though they don’t have the support they themselves need. Teachers must bear this in mind as they respond to parental queries.
Parents are probably also hoping for relief. They’ll finally have space and time to do their things whether it’s work or volunteer or whatever their “usual” represents. They are wishing that their kids will engage at school and feel excitement about interacting with peers face-to-face. But we have to consider reality. How is this going to happen? Parents must remember that their children are holding their own fears and doubts.
Students who used to learn in schools are no longer accustomed to learning while sitting in hard chairs and limited spaces. They haven’t had to wait to eat or had to engage in learning for hours each day. They haven’t had to jockey on the playground, the cafeteria or while standing in line. For previously homeschooled students, they lost their much-needed social safety net and it may feel weird trying to reintegrate.
Educators may have their own children to worry about and help transition. They may have serious concerns about welcoming new children to their on-line classroom (if we are still distance learning in the Fall) and attempting to foster a relationship via a screen. I fear parents are going to look to teachers to solve many problems. Remember, teachers are at home too, with their kids interrupting and needing them while they try to teach their students. Alternatively, I fear teachers will put too much pressure on parents to get their kids to “tow the line.” We all have to adjust expectations.
Embrace Your Lack of Control
There is only so much we can control. We can’t replace chairs with couches or install refrigerators in every classroom. We have to consider emotional and physical fatigue as major factors for our kids going back to school or remaining online. With all these worries if adults go back to work, they will also have fatigue and fear. Whether we admit it or not, we’ve all been compartmentalizing. We push away our thoughts or the ludicrousness of this situation in order to push forward and get the day done. We wake up, exhausted.
The entire world is going to suffer from PTSD from this experience. Every single person has worries we cannot imagine or begin to know. Whether for their health care self or relative, the elderly isolated parent, the time or money lost, the relationships that have waned or become non-existent, the list is endless.
Three for All
I am beginning to preach “Three for All.” It means to take (at least) three intentional breaths three times a day. Start your day with deep clarifying breaths. Set intentions or hopes for the day. Take another set midday, and again at night before going to bed. It seems simple but I think we need simplicity right now. Taking these three breaths at varying points of the day serves to reorient us, to become present and to afford ourselves pause in an otherwise frantic and frenzied day. The frantic and frenzy may just be the ongoing messages in your head.
We’ve seen the planet start to heal; pollution levels drop, animals more visible. It is as though Mother Nature is taking her own deep, cleaning breaths. My hope is that we honor the environment’s healing process and allow ourselves to heal too. But my guess is that people, especially those whose livelihoods have been compromised, are going to go full force and raise expectations to make up for time lost. I hope I’m wrong. I hope that employers and employees alike, teachers and students, parents and children all recognize the need for authentic and gradual re-connection. It is up to all of us to stand up for ourselves, be kind to ourselves, and cushion our re-entry. It is my hope that these lessons learned enter into our everyday lives once we transition back – whatever that transition back may be.