Navigating a new reality: corona closures

I recently finished reading John Mark Comer’s book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. I could not put it down. Comer is a young-ish pastor in Portland, and he takes apart our culture of hyperactivity and makes a beautiful case for slowing down.

As this coronavirus situation evolves, I find myself thinking of all the things I should be doing and should have done … but I’m starting to wonder what it would be like if instead I respond by slowing down and being. I haven’t figured this out in the least, but I do want to reread the book and use this uneasy time to be more present at home … like my friend Bella the cat, who has mastered this practice.

That is what I had just written yesterday in a message to the Holy Yoga group I lead at church when I received the email announcing my son’s school would be closing at the end of the day. For the next six weeks.

Thankfully, I’d already been clearing my schedule as much as possible, stepping back from consulting work, etc. Still, talk about a game-changer … a goal-demolisher … a reminder of how easy it is to make God laugh — just tell Him your plans.

So now we continue on in a new reality, concerned about catching and/or carrying this disease but also about facing six weeks of … what? … social distancing? near isolation? As announcements of more and more cancellations and closures roll in — even the dining areas of our local burger chain — the planning begins. How will I keep our son busy for six weeks at home?

Wait, wait, wait. Is that my goal? What about Comer and his compelling case for slowing down?

Maybe the question I should be asking is, How will I help my son and myself be more present at home?

There’s a lot of advice flitting about social media on how to navigate this surprise school vacation, but here’s a list of six (possibly) achievable ideas that arrived in my inbox from Donna Kirchoff, MD, FAAP, a thoughtful, pragmatic doctor we used to see:

Now that most (if not all) schools in Oregon [and Washington] are closing doors as of Monday, I wanted to give you a few ideas that might help with the transition.  For children with developmental and behavioral differences, this change can have a bigger impact than it does on neurotypical kids – which of course translates into a bigger impact on their families.

1. Exercise every day (ideally outdoors – there is no bad weather, only bad gear!).  This could be a trip to the zoo or to the beach or to Mt Hood or to your local park or could just be walking to the grocery store instead of driving.  Exercise is helpful for mood, behavior, sleep, and immune function.  Ideally you would be exercising along with your kids, not just watching them!

2. Eat healthy foods – also helpful for mood and behavior and immune function.  The more fruits and vegetables as you can get everyone to eat, the better!  Variety is a good goal but not always possible with picky eaters.  Smoothies and pasta sauce are great vehicles for sneaking in pureed vegetables…. [Sarah here: For us the food thing is absolutely essential. To explore our journey on this front, visit my blog series, which begins here.]

3. Post a visual schedule of what will be happening for each day in a place that can be easily referenced (consider making copies for your kid(s) to carry around if desired).  You don’t have to commit to sticking to it – you can edit it as the day progresses as needed/desired – use words for readers, and pictures for non-readers.  Again, following the schedule is less important than posting it – make your best guess about how what the day will hold – you can edit it as needed.

4. Discuss being home together in a positive light – ie more “I know you will miss going to school and I will miss going to work but isn’t it great that we will get to sleep in and spend more time together?” and less “I can’t believe this is happening, this is so awful!”  Similarly, be mindful of what you say in front of your kids about all of this, it is very easy to fuel their fear/anger/anxiety by talking about your own fear/anger/anxiety – and if they are also anxious or angry, then you will have even more difficulty!

5. Every day. have something planned that everyone can look forward to at the end of the day that you do as a family – ideally not media-based but if everyone is tapped out by then and just needs a break, use your best judgement!  Think board game, family arts/crafts, volunteering, video calls to relatives (many grandparents are feeling very isolated right now!)

6. Try not to default to using screens to fill everyone’s time.  This will almost certainly increase general crankiness!  Put limits in place in advance rather than reacting in the moment to how many minutes/hours your child has spent on his/her screen in a given day, so they can budget their time in advance (or you can budget it for them using your handy visual schedule).

We actually drew up a visual schedule for part of today for practice … took our dog for a walk in the snow (a March surprise), ate some hearty food and even did some cleaning. The planned schedule has since broken down — but in a positive way: My guys ran to the library to pick up a few books, audiobooks and videos before it closes at the end of the day … for the next few weeks, of course.

I have no illusion that these next weeks will be easy, but I am curious. What might happen if we slow life down and focus on the essentials, taking care of each other and appreciating each day we stay healthy?

I’d love to hear others’ tips and experiences with navigating this odd new reality … feel free to share in the comments!

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Recipe bonus: Mom’s cozy lentil soup

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