It’s OK to cry.
I heard my daughter crying the other morning, and I could tell by the tone and how long it lasted that it was something different. This wasn’t about not getting dessert or her sister not sharing the screen when teleconferencing with friends. This was just sad. Just the night before, I had walked in on her telling her Oma how stressful it was not being in school (kindergarten). She took the play-by-play approach, but my summary is that she needs more structure and she needs the love and attention of her teacher. She loves her teacher. “I’m really frustrated” she said through her tears. I was so proud of her using her words and so thankful for the opportunity to say these critical words out loud to her, to myself, my wife, and my other daughter: “It’s OK to cry.”
Your parents don’t have any more experience with this than you do.
The “It’s OK to cry” line was quickly followed up with an opportunity for another critically important message and one I’ve always been committed to as a parent: I don’t have the answer and I can’t solve it. We are all just figuring this out together and doing our best. This my-parents-are-human perspective for a child likely makes a lot more sense in a pandemic than in the normal day-to-day. But, the message for really difficult personal and life situations is no different today than it was six months ago - or will be six years from now: I don’t have all the answers and I probably can’t solve it.
We are on the same team.
When we can’t control things - and we can actually admit it (something we can control) - it’s really important for us as a family to “be on the same team.” We have to work together. Of course, it’s natural for us to get frustrated or annoyed with each other. It’s natural for siblings to pick and prod and snipe at each other some. After all, they’ve been together in the last month probably more than they ever have before. But, it’s also important for them to see and hear and acknowledge what they are doing. That what they are doing is normal doesn’t necessarily make it OK. I asked my girls the other night what they would think if they heard me speak to their Mommy using the words and tone they had been speaking with to each other. They obviously didn’t like it and clearly were not comfortable with my thought experiment. The older later apologized, triggering something similar from the younger. The next day was markedly better.
Grief is a process.
We are all grieving to some degree in this odd, unknown, new experience. We are grieving a loss of freedom. My kids are grieving missing their friends and teachers and just a normal schedule. I am grieving for my children. We are grieving for our friends and family and elders whose lives are turned upside down, whose jobs are evaporating. We are grieving for over 30,000 people we don’t even know, grieving for their families, their children. We are grieving a quiet awareness that we’ve lost some degree of innocence. We will not be the same after this. Our grief will last awhile.
Laughter is healing.
I don’t even remember what happened the other night that got us all tickled. It’s likely I may have been making up some crazy song and singing in a terrible voice (my only option), possibly dancing. It’s equally likely that someone just farted. Either way, we all were laughing, cackling. And, it was clear we all needed that moment of joy. I felt that moment deeply as I looked at the sparkle in my kids’ eyes and their face-swallowing smiles. It felt like oxygen. It felt like a breath I haven’t taken in weeks.
You’ve gotta take care of yourself to take care of others.
We have to recognize when we aren’t taking care of ourselves and acknowledge that the impact is all around us. We each have to find ways, whether a quiet moment alone, a few minutes with a book, a few minutes walking the dog, exercising - whatever it is - to do something every day for ourselves, for a little bit of space and self care. As parents, this is not only about sustaining ourselves but modeling behaviors that our children can learn and internalize deeply in such a difficult time. My older daughter asked to read a kids yoga breathing book last night and commented on how different she felt after some deep, intentional breathing. I hope she always remembers this.
There is always beauty to be found.
I have never walked my dog in the middle of a work day. I have never taken a walk with my children in the middle of a work day. I have never walked with my dog and my children to get hot dogs and have a picnic during a workday. I have never had hot dogs customized with my children’s names on them during a workday, or ever. Lunch today was a gift.