My local school district usually schedules 10 days for spring break.
As a working parent, I have always felt this was preposterously long.
The day before spring break 2020 was about to start, our district announced the break would extend to a full two weeks, just to be extra safe.
“Two weeks?!” I thought.
I swiftly changed my Thursday evening plans and rushed my two elementary-aged kids to the public library, instructing them to check out as many books as they could carry.
We left with 97 items, feeling like bank robbers, and we weren’t even wearing masks yet.
How naive I was to think 14 days at home was a significant length of time. I knew nothing. None of us did. And here we are now.
At the time of this writing, that library heist took place over eight weeks ago. We have been sheltering at home and battling cabin fever ever since.
Cabin fever, however, is the least of our worries as we learn to function in a world challenged by a shared contagious enemy and an economy built on unstable consumerism.
All families and individuals are dealing with disappointment that is specific to their circumstances. This is crucial to remember and to supportively remind each other as often as necessary.
I believe keeping this fact in mind and avoiding the inclination to compare our specific sufferings to others will help us as we go through this difficult time.
Here are the emotions and topics we are traversing in our household, as an American family of four.
There are days we feel like we have completely failed at parenting. There are no deescalating breaks or reset buttons, and there is so much our kids can’t understand.
We try to give our kids enough information to comprehend that history is happening right now and that all future trajectories are changing right now.
Yet, we struggle with how to give them accurate information while not scaring them.
Mondays are the hardest. “We have to do a whole week again?!”
I am either feeling guilty for not working enough or not pandemic schooling enough.
My self-awareness says, “It’s OK; treading water is the best we can do right now,” but I feel my insides cramp as failure floats through our house, dumping on various family members, usually while my spouse or I are on a work call – bonus points if it’s a video conference.
Skipping an 8th birthday party, school year chopped off at the knees, loneliness, canceled plans, not knowing if an upcoming event will be canceled or rescheduled, anticipated vacations detonated, rite-of-passage traditions dissolved, jobs lost, inadequate work-from-home technology, momentum vanished, sports and dance gone, funerals and weddings indefinitely postponed. The list could go on.
Grief in all of these is real and painful. Everyone is looking for the light at the end of the tunnel.
The sheer amount of loss is devastating, and then we have to guide our children through it? None of the pregnancy or parenting books prepared me for this.
I daily flash forward and wonder how many therapy sessions will begin with, “During the quarantine …”
I am amazed watching my kids navigate the technology they have been thrown into for online learning. I don’t mean to brag, but I may have been raising tech prodigies and am just now finding out.
Or maybe this generation is the first capable of transitioning to this type of connection. Who before our children could have “remotely” done this?
For the last decade, we have heard endless advice steering us to get off our phones and keep our kids’ screen time to a minimum. Those tables turned fast.
Overnight, these online tools are carrying us through our days and the “how much is too much” screen time discussions are a thing of the past.
Does anyone else feel extremely awkward when asked, “How are you?” In normal times, I aim to steer away from the inauthentic “I’m fine” and give a deeper, honest response.
However, right now, my answers are either a five-minute description that resembles an up-or-down graph of the current stock market or a meme that succinctly sums up my life.
I am here for the memes. Parody, situational, time capsule humor is carrying us through the endless roller coaster of emotions.
I haven’t had a complete thought in two months. My kids are moments away from tearing each other’s heads off over a charger cord.
I will attempt to referee while responding to work emails as we realize no one can remember if anyone fed the dog this morning.
Speak for me, memes. I need to laugh and I used up my words before 9 a.m.
Dear kids: None of us has ever done this before. We have been preparing you for a world we thought we understood, and this is no longer our reality. However, we have a chance to forge a new path together.
Dear fellow parents: We can allow our children to help us find the new normal or we can hold them back, trying to drag them into our status quo.
News flash: No generation has ever been interested in returning to the old ways of their parents. Our children will be no different. They will ride this wave whether we join them or not.
In my opinion, we have no choice but to keep going. I am daily budgeting my energy like the last drops of water in a canteen, so I’ve decided to embrace all the clichés.
I hereby accept every positive message offered. We are in this together. Just keep swimming.
Solidarity to you from six feet away. Hang in there. We can do this.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week for Mental Health Awareness Month. The previous articles in the series are:
How Coronavirus Affects Your Mental Health and What You Can Do | Cate Schilling
Kristyn Arnold is Community and Culture Manager at Anawim Housing, an affordable housing nonprofit, in Des Moines, Iowa.