survival instincts



This quarantine started with tears for me. Grief over what I sensed instinctively was coming, particularly for my high school senior. Worry over knowing that very difficult days were ahead with a couple of children in particular who desperately need the structure, the relative anonymity, and the resources of a public school. Disappointment over knowing that the best parts of the school year were now gone for all of them. Frustration over a lost family vacation. I was sad, but I was determined to make the best of it. The first Monday, we started with a bang. Everyone worked on their schoolwork, and then I sent them out for recess while I met with my therapist over Facetime. She gave me some tasks to work on, and like the good student I am, I immediately got to work. Two days later, after three different friends had contacted me for advice on mental health for them and their kids, I thought: oh hey. Maybe I have something to give here. I can do these tasks for myself and encourage others to do the same things. I proceeded to write a whole series about surviving a pandemic. Like you do. This isn’t a post to say I was wrong. I absolutely stand by that series. It is a fairly comprehensive list of the right things that most people need to do to get through this. It’s just that I expected more. I thought if I followed those seven practices: hydration, nutrition, exercise, sleep, rhythm, community, grace, well, I thought things would look different by now. I thought if I did those things (and I am doing pretty well with most of them), that then my life would feel normal. It would feel manageable. If I were surviving this quarantine, I would then have space to have fun and better myself and work on some projects and contemplate my inner being. I would redecorate my house and manufacture a new family that just loved spending time together all of the time. I would make this time at home Mean Something. Here I am, almost 40 days in, and I am just surviving. That’s it. I wouldn’t say I’m thriving. I wouldn’t say I’ve bettered myself. I wouldn’t even say I’m surviving this well.


This morning, I embarrassed myself by completely losing my crap with one of my children. I’m sure the others would tell you that this was true for more than one of them, but let’s just say that one interaction was far worse than the others. I escorted her upstairs, none too gently, mind you, and told her not to come back down at all. I came downstairs, yelled at some more people, and then sat at my desk and tried to take some breaths. I tried. I just couldn’t fill my body with air the way I needed. I poured some water and decided to work on my morning rhythms. I cried through my morning readings. I cried through a couple of songs. I cried through my meditation. Only then did I even start to breathe a little bit easy. I went on a long walk without my children and started to feel a little bit more like myself when I returned. By the end, I could breathe deeper, and I could apologize. I wish I could tell you that using my survival techniques gave a different ending where all that was wrong was made right, where I felt absolutely differently about this situation and my children, and where I never will make the same mistake again. That just didn’t happen. All that happened is that both I and my children survived.


I’m seeing the same quarantine memes you are. “Make today count.” “This quarantine is what you make it.” “This might be the best thing that has ever happened to you and your family.” “Don’t be stressed out - your children are going to remember only the play and the backyard campfires and the game nights.” On and on. Truth is, yes, this time is what we make it. But what if we can’t make it “matter”? What if we can’t make it the most special time in our children’s lives? What if there isn’t a deeper meaning to this for all of us? Sure, I think my children will remember good and fun stuff - how we played games more often, how we watched Survivor together on actual live television, how they camped in the backyard. But I also think they’re going to remember bad stuff too. How scary it felt. How sad it felt. How everyone, including their mama, struggled to treat others in our house with kindness and grace. Here’s some extra stuff that I hope they remember: I hope they remember I cried. I hope they remember how I tried to take time to care for myself. I hope they remember that I forgave them quickly. I hope they remember that I said I’m sorry with frequency. I think it’s important they remember that this was hard. For them, for me, for everyone. I don’t think they need to remember this as the most magical time in their childhoods. This a crisis. Pretending it’s not doesn’t do anyone any good. I want them to remember this is the moment when our world changed. We aren’t going back to the old normal. There will be a new normal now, and it comes with tremendous loss. It’s ok if we recognize that, if we allow our children to recognize that. I don’t want them to remember just the good. I want them to remember all of it. I want them to remember that it was hard, and that we survived. I do think there’s good to be found here. There is hope. There is beauty. There is goodness and kindness and love. It’s also hard. It’s sad and scary and we’re all grieving and lonely. Both can be true. Maybe the space I imagined I would be creating for my family and myself didn’t materialize the way I wanted it to. It’s possible our family won’t be closer after this. It’s possible that I won’t come out of this a better person or with a better knowledge of myself. Or “forever changed” in any kind of way that I desire. Maybe there’s nothing more to this than what it is right now. Right here, right now, we are surviving. That’s enough.

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