By Elizabeth Mechem
When our governor first issued the directive to shelter in place, limiting our movements to home and essential travel only, I thought not much was changing for me. I’ve been at home for two years in various states of employment/unemployment, as well as being an at-home mom to my teens. Being home was not new to me. If anyone could handle it, I could. I was made for this. It was relatively easy when nobody else was home. I had a schedule and very few distractions. But having everyone at home and my travel limited has disrupted my flow in unexpected ways.
First, as always, there are the children. They were on Spring Break when the order came, and they have continued that laid-back attitude. The kids have online classes, and two of them have adapted very well to the new format. The middle kid attends but refuses to do any work. The school told them that grades counted until April 10th. After that, grades would only be counted if they improved between April 10th and May 23rd. Since the middle child received A’s in all the classes, she has written off the rest of the year, despite being expected to take two Advanced Placement tests. It’s been a real struggle trying to explain how we are not sending her to school to get grades, but to get an education. She has also taken to trying to stay up too late and convincing me to hang out until 2 A.M.
Secondly, my husband is now working from home. He teaches at the local university and does much of that online. Now instead of doing whatever I need to do and not worrying about how loudly I’m doing it, I have to be quiet at certain times, disrupting my normal schedule. It really is difficult for me to change gears in an instant. It took a few months to get a schedule going, after quitting my outside job, in the first place.
Lastly, I had way more outside connections than I realized. I miss them. Among other connections, my dog Minnie and I would go to the dog park and meet friends on at least a weekly basis. There was a local Scrabble club that I attended that can’t meet. Unfortunately, neither the dog park friends nor the Scrabble friends use social media. That really puts a kink in the works.
Over the past month, all this has left me feeling pretty down. I had to do something to improve my situation. So, I’ve decided to adjust a bit to the new reality, and let go of the old one. Letting go of many expectations has been extremely helpful.
I’ve let go of the educational expectations with that middle child. She is a junior in high school, and her educational responsibility is not all on our shoulders. She should be expected to bear that responsibility, as well as suffer the consequences of not studying. Her teachers don’t call home every night to nag her to do her work. It’s not my job to do so, either. Anyway, it turns out that she is quite prepared for the AP tests, except Calculus. Her dad can help with Calculus if needed. It’s not like I was going to be any help there. My math skills are atrocious, at best.
I’ve let the housework go. Except for crucial sanitation, if these people want to live like this, fine by me. I’ll pick up after myself, do the laundry, and make sure nothing gets too gross so we don’t get sick. Who cares if we live in a dust-bunny kingdom? It’s not as if we’ll be receiving any visitors, so it’s no big deal. (As it turns out, dust-bunnies are great listeners, keep secrets, and don’t pass judgment. They are some of the best friends I’ve ever had.)
I’ve let go of the idea that I have to be constantly doing something constructive. I noticed that my self-criticism was at an all-time high. I was really being a jerk to myself. I realized that everyone else in the world who could, was taking this time to relax, sleep in, stay up late, and go easy on themselves. Heck, I’m one of the few people I know not wearing sweatpants all day, every day. There is so much awful out there, why be awful to myself?
So I relaxed. Relaxing a bit is something we all need to do to cope with the stress of the COVID-19 situation, anyhow. I started letting the kiddo keep me up until 2 A.M., then sleeping in, and stopped worrying so much. Nobody is grading me, and my teen actually needs the comfort of sitting with me. She has a lot of anxiety about current events herself, and actually needs me to hang out with her.
Letting go of some things helped, but getting out and seeing people was another matter. So I’ve called my parents more often, reconnected with my younger sister via texting, as well as with old and new friends. Facebook, for as much criticism as it receives, is extremely valuable there. I spend more than my share of time on Facebook, but it’s because it provides those valuable connections to people and the outside world. It’s not perfect, and I sometimes overuse it, but it is an extremely critical connection tool when isolated.
I also have a podcast that I run with other bi folks. Since we do everything online, it’s been very easy to keep that going. However tempting it is to slack off, I’m glad we’ve been able to keep that going without missing a beat. It has provided a sense of the old normal for all of us and maintained that connection to one another and the bi+ community we all value so much.
Where the dog and I are concerned, we have begun exercising regularly. While we don’t go to the dog park, we have begun walking around the neighborhood. What was once a weekly walk has now expanded to three or more walks a week, each at least a mile in length.
That’s how I’ve adjusted to sheltering in place; learning to let go, learning new ways of connecting, and keeping myself mentally and physically healthy. I know that I am lucky to have the options I have. It’s hard to appreciate how much we have, sometimes. There is so much negativity in the world, it is so easy to get sucked into it. However, realizing what I have and working within that structure makes a huge difference. Sometimes you have to just stop the inner critic, look around, and work with what you have to adjust to a difficult situation.
Elizabeth Mechem lives in Lawrence, KS, with her three children, husband, dog, and three cats. She is the producer of the podcast bi+plus, providing content for the bi+ community.