I am deeply grateful to get to stay at home during this pandemic. The fact that I can shelter-in-place in my house, working at my job, with my children and husband present and food to eat is a privilege – and absolutely not a given for so many right now.
There’s so much together time. So much, in fact, that there is no not-together time. We are intermingled during all waking hours, with zero moments of quiet and solitude — which, as any introvert can tell you, are the very things that GIVE US LIFE. And turns out I am an impatient and snippy homeschool teacher, housekeeper, short order cook and overall parental presence if I don’t get some time alone to recharge. So, since quarantine began, I’ve had to get creative and seek out this feeling of solitude in other ways, other places. Here’s what’s been helping me muddle through so far.
I stay up late.
I’m not actually a night owl, haven’t been since college. But these days I’m burning the midnight oil simply so that I can feel alone in my house. Do I spend this late-night time being super productive and catching up on work and emails? I do not. I just putter around in the stillness, and the productive thing I’m doing is FEELING ALONE. (OK, every so often I clean – but when else am I supposed to do that with all these people hanging around?) This late night sliver of time is bliss. I stand in the dimly-lit kitchen and listen to the clock tick and literally feel my brain relax and my breathing slow down. I’m getting less sleep but who cares, because that solitary time is restorative to my soul and deeply energizing. (Early morning is a great option, too; in our house, that’s my husband’s turf).
We’ve found ways to make our house (seem) bigger.
This means thinking about the spaces you have at your disposal and brainstorming which you can hack to make more useful in some way. For example, I’m in Los Angeles where the weather is good, so finding ways to make our front and back yards more usable seemed like the obvious way to go. So the first thing we did was buy a pack of these do-dads to act as standalone routers and extend our wifi to cover those outdoor spaces. Sometimes there are four distance-learning/ WFH screens going at once so we really needed a way to get away from each other! This investment has been a gamechanger. Now that we have use of those outdoor spaces, it feels like we gained extra rooms in our home. Next up, some comfy outdoor chairs.
So we’ve moved all our gatherings/ playdates/ happy hours/ dance classes to Zoom and FaceTime and all the rest. But Zoom exhaustion is real. Spending too much time connecting with people over a screen can be just as draining as over-socializing IRL (probably even more so since the digital experience is so… flat); it will max you out in all the same ways and then some. Use these connective tools sparingly. “Like a potent spice” as my improv teacher used to say.
So obvious, I know. But for real, force yourself to get out and walk each day, even if your plate is full with work, teaching common core math and cleaning up mealaftermealaftermeal. Because it’s not just your body that needs movement and space, it’s your poor little solitude-craving mind. In our house we have a quarantine penalty jar, and adults and kids have to pay $1/ $.25 respectively for skipping outdoor time. Penalties also apply for not being dressed in non-pajama clothing by 9am, cursing (me), etc.
Turn off your phone whenever you can.
You are allowed to do this! After all, your whole family is sitting right there in front of your face, so you don’t need to remain on-call every minute of the day like in non-Covid times. These days many of us are more digitally plugged in than ever; my phone blows up all day long with group texts and WhatsApps and teachers updating lesson links and my kids’ friends wanting to FaceTime and send emojis to each other. The dinging and buzzing and vibrating is constant, and even if you think you’re ignoring it, it is unraveling your brain. You can’t be at the mercy of that thing all the time. Unplug.
Find ways to be Together Yet Silent.
This is a new development that’s happened recently with my older kid (not my younger one, who is a constant stream of chatter from sun up until bedtime). Mostly this involves the two of us reading our own books together in my bed. Sometimes we bike. We have been known to sew. We spend time side by side together doing the things we love, but wordlessly, and no one has to be “on.” It’s lovely. Together Yet Silent. An introvert mom’s legit happy place.