Recently I asked a homeschooling friend if she was tempted to gloat over all the mamas now homeschooling their kiddos for the first time. Her response was gracious: “I feel for you guys. I chose this path . . . but you all were thrown into it.”
Put One Foot in Front of the Other
For the first few weeks of quarantine, I did feel thrown into an ocean of endless days, unstructured hours, and never-ending needs. My friend was right: e-learning was not a path I would have chosen. But none of us would have chosen the current global situation in which we find ourselves, either. So, like the rest of the world, I’ve put one foot in front of the other and done the next thing that needed to be done.
I thrive on a schedule. So as expected, my first task was to order our homeschooling days by posting a simple schedule outlining academic, meal, and outdoor times on the wall in the kitchen. I think my older two children (ages 12 and 10) were optimistic that Mom would abandon the schedule after a few days. But to their disappointment, I needed it more than they did, and by week four, things began to feel at least predictable.
New Rhythms, New Joys
Much to my surprise, our new rhythms brought new joys. I may not have asked to become a homeschooling, short-order cook served up with a side of housekeeper and crisis manager, but I soon learned there’s always beauty to be found and gratitude to be had — no matter the situation.
I feel the need to pause for a moment and assure you that I am not one who must find the silver lining in every situation nor am I a rose-colored-glasses type of gal. Like the rest of the world, I’ve felt anxious. I do, after all, have a daughter in the “at risk” category. I also have a husband who hasn’t taken a day off work at the hospital and has continued to see patients despite the threat of COVID-19. To keep my anxiety in check, I’ve limited my time online and allow myself only one day a week to read the news.
Five Beautiful Surprises in Quarantine Living
In this global pandemic, my feelings do not have to be binary. They don’t have to be all good or all bad. We can find beauty and purpose while also feeling grief and fear. I want to share with you a few positives I’ve been fortunate to experience firsthand, and blessedly, pause to remember.
1. My children re-discovering themselves as each other’s playmates
There’s been belly-laughing in quarantine. I hear my older two conspiratorially whispering during “academic time.” While they’re trying to fall asleep upstairs, my husband and I often hear them chortling loudly at some story we cannot decipher. Before quarantine, they rarely shared space except for a few hours at the dinner table each night or during our stressful morning rush to get out the door. Weekends were spent with friends or at sporting events. Now they have endless hours together with few distractions.
They may laugh, but they also fight. What can I say? When the fight-to-laughter ratio slightly improves (as it has in quarantine), a mother rejoices.
2. Abandoning productivity to embrace connection
As a (mostly) stay-at-home mom, my days before quarantine were filled with long to-do lists. My best productivity occurred during school hours. Then came the cancelling of absolutely EVERYTHING and all productivity spiraled down the toilet.
In quarantine, the kitchen you just spent hours cleaning might stay tidy for only a few minutes. The bliss of sparkly counters might last for an hour (tops!), but only if you put tape on the floor to indicate a no-entry zone. The futility of chasing behind children to pick up their messes has led me to abandon such pursuits and lie on the floor instead. Tummy down on the carpet (a position my aging body finds quite distressing) with UNO cards in hand, I flat-out ignore the mess all around and instead, I play. It turns out that in quarantine, there’s time for both work and play.
Here’s a short list of delightful activities resurrected in quarantine with my children:
- Old Maid (those funny characters on each card!)
- I Spy (for an extra challenge try “something green” while outside)
- Running through the sprinkler in April (them, not me — it was too cold)
- Baking brownies from scratch
- Old-school Memory (remember the one with the generic pictures of the sun, pizza, and teddy bear?)
3. Teaching life skills
Miracle of miracles: I haven’t unloaded the dishwasher in five weeks! Seven days into quarantine I assessed the heights of my 12 and 10-year-old. Like a bolt of lightening, I realized, “Hey, you’re tall enough to reach the top shelves of the kitchen cabinets!” Thus ended the dishwasher’s decades-long tyranny over me.
Why did it take a global pandemic for me to realize my children’s deficiencies of life skills? For me, the answer is time. Before quarantine, life left me too worn out in the evenings to teach these. Once homework, dinner, and extra-curricular activities were complete, the path of least resistance was simply for me to just get chores done myself.
In quarantine, the messy aftermath of serving three meals a day has caused me to re-evaluate their ability to help around the house more. So, we’ve embarked together in learning how to clear the dinner table and how to load a dishwasher. The cups go on top, the plates go on the bottom. Ketchup goes in the fridge (debatable, I’m sure), and dressings go in the refrigerator door . . .
4. Time in nature
Currently, my Instagram feed is filled with images of the outdoors: waterfalls, rugged hikes, and campfires under the moonlight. COVID-19 is less of an outdoor threat as long as you socially distance and avoid bathrooms.
My family might look a little different than yours when it comes to time spent in nature. Our daughter has limited mobility and complicated sleeping patterns. This makes overnight camping trips and day hikes over uneven trails an impossibility. As a person who loves the outdoors, I sometimes feel envious of families able to head to a state park on a whim. I also realize that every family has their own story and their own set of unique restrictions. One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned on this disability journey is that willingness to adapt will open doors. And so, in this quarantine, our backyard has been our escape.
You do not have to go far to gaze up at the treetops or envision animal shapes in the clouds. Now being home all day, a hammock at two in the afternoon is the perfect place to hold my tiny humans and feel the weight of them as they drift off to sleep in my lap.
5. Rediscovering roles
You would think quarantine living might feel like second nature to a stay-at-home mom. Certainly, full-time childcare is a muscle I’ve flexed before. But here’s a little understood fact about stay-at-home moms: most of us play a variety of roles. We’re not only “stay-at-home” moms; we are artists, writers, athletes, side hustlers, and community volunteers. We head the PTO and organize charity campaigns. We are homemakers who single-handedly run household corporations. We build Instagram businesses and write essays. We lead Bible studies and minister to our neighbors. When quarantine came knocking, our various roles shut down, but our identities did not.
Cherished Roles I’m Missing
COVID living has helped me identify my most cherished roles, the things I long to return to when the world becomes safer, including:
- Writer. I miss my structured, disciplined time to write. Normally, I clock in and clock out to stay on track. While in my writer’s nook at the top of the stairs, I mark time in a simple (but now longed-for) way. I light a candle when I begin and blow it out when I’m finished.
- Hostess. I miss serving people at my table and speaking words of encouragement over the serving of soup. I miss listening to other people’s stories and holding their babies.
- Bible study participant/leader. I miss the in-person group sharing that always ends with my arm around a friend’s waist in a tight hug.
I know your family may look different from mine, and my quarantine musings may not resonate with you.
Yet I wonder, what will your family carry out of quarantine living? What beauty have you found in this vast ocean of quarantine days? As mothers we strongly feel the pain and suffering of others during this global crisis, but we can also shepherd our children to find good in these unusual days.