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I See My Family’s Quarantine As a Gift

quarantine as gift quarantine as gift

It’s been almost four weeks since we’ve been in quarantine, and, honestly, I could have cried at any time. At the ASPCA commercials that play on repeat during the news, in the empty bakery aisle of the market, at the thought that my little one will miss his so much of his DK (developmental kindergarten) year, as we rolled by our first “drive-through” birthday party. At all the things in this new normal.

But I didn’t.

I’m somewhere in between a glass half-full and glass half-empty type of person, but, during the past year, I’ve been working really hard to be an optimist. I meditate. I keep a gratitude journal. It’s been a priority. And that work has proven very helpful during this season in our lives. Instead of going too far down a path of regretting all that we’re missing, I’m redirecting my focus to all the things that we’re gaining. There have been many. Here are some of the most meaningful to me.

1. FAMILY DINNERS

I recently wondered if I should post a video copping to how infrequently we actually sit down to dinner as a family, how few nights a week I’m able to cook a “real” meal. As someone who creates videos about family-friendly cooking, I was starting to feel like I wasn’t being honest with my audience. The truth is that on any given night, you would typically find me at sports practice with one of my kids, sometimes a couple practices. Family dinners were happening at best once a week.

The Coronavirus has changed that. For the past 30 or so days, we have eaten three meals a day together, as a family. I’ve cooked dinner six nights a week (we support our favorite local restaurant by ordering in once a week). Sometimes it’s a simple salad, sometimes it’s homemade pizza. That’s 90 meals. We’re making up for lost time quickly and banking up memories for years. Will this be sustainable once the kids are back in school and on the field?  No. Can we get part way there, though? Maybe. But to me, that’s not the point. The point is that we will all remember this time of eating together. My kids have learned to keep their butts in the chairs for an entire meal. We’ve pivoted from our usual “High-Low-Unexpected” game (not much happens that we don’t all know about anymore) to a more positive “Looking Forward To” version. And my kids’ reaction time for cleaning up spills has improved significantly (practice makes perfect).

2. LIFE LESSONS

Online school throws a lot at you. All the teachers are working incredibly hard to give our kids a full experience. There are the usual math and language arts lessons, plus music and technology and science experiments (which require supervision and clean up!). So, after doing it all for a week, I decided we would actually look at each assignment and make a family judgment about whether it was worth doing. Most are, but some we replace with “Life Lessons.” My husband and I split these and man are they rewarding — and sometimes challenging — to teach. The kids can now all play chess. Friday night has become Poker Night (my 5-year-old cleaned up last week). They now know how credit cards work and all about the electoral college (all my husband). We can walk through the neighborhood and find everyone’s property line and shut off the water to the house (all me). They’re learning about life, beyond what they would ever have gotten just in a classroom or on a field.

Our family thrives on being “productive” (note the Family Dinner section above) and for the last few years we’ve judged our productivity by how many sports games we had on the weekend or how many projects we’d completed. At the same time, my husband and I would have frequent conversations about how we wished there was more time to teach our kids all the “other” stuff.  Well, we have the time now. It’s one of the greatest gifts this experience has given us. We have a list of Life Lessons to go through (checking things off makes you productive, duh) that will last us for months. Next up: how to use a plunger.

3. EXERCISE

I’m healthy, and, at this time, I’m particularly grateful for that. Before we were quarantined, I worked out consistently. Now that we’re cooped up, I work out religiously. I couldn’t care less how I look. However, I care so, so much how I feel. Exercise has allowed me to manage my anxiety and to retain my patience (teaching three kids under one roof is no joke). One night as I was tucking my 8-year-old into bed, he said “Mom, I noticed you’ve been really intense with your workouts.” It’s true. I’ve been running, trying out apps for pilates, yoga, HITT classes, and sometimes, my son even joins me. I explained that I had, in fact, been working out a little more, but that he was probably noticing because I usually work out when he’s at school. Then he said, “Well, Mom, I admire you.” And if you know my son, this is something so typical for him to say and, more importantly, to mean. And it meant so much to me. He could have gone his whole life not knowing that I work hard, just like him on the soccer field. I’m grateful he knows.

4. FRIENDS + FAMILY

I’m a definite introvert. But despite what the memes say, this quarantine is not what introverts have been waiting for their whole lives. At least not those of us with kids, for whom there is no longer a single second in the day to be alone with our thoughts. Yet despite my desire for some time alone, what I’m craving more than ever is human interaction (that’s not a request for ANOTHER snack). My phone is constantly buzzing (also grateful for that unlimited data plan I was grandfathered into!) with text chains, FaceTime calls, and WhatsApp messages. I have a group of girlfriends from college that texts all day long. Under normal circumstances, I would probably chat with them a few times a year. Now it’s multiple times a day and I feel closer to these friends than I have since college. What a gift. The DK moms have a WhatsApp chat. We commiserate, share information and exchange memes. These are women I barely knew last month and now I can’t wait to give them all a physical hug and thank them for lifting me up when the days were dragging me down. Individual relationships have strengthened, too (over text, socially-distant walks, and recipe sharing). There’s nothing like a crisis to encourage you to be honest and vulnerable with people (at least for an introvert) and those are the exact things that build a deep friendship.

And then there are the text chains with my family. Our way of coping has been humor, so there has been so much of that. But there have also been compliments (not typical in our family) and cheering each other on (my brother’s a nurse in a Cardiac Care unit, so really we mostly cheer for him). We’re a team in a more obvious way now. In a time when so many people are losing people they love, I appreciate every text I get from my family, daily reminders of how much love we have to hold onto.

There are more positives, too. Little things, like being able to walk the dog twice a day, finally planting an herb garden, getting to know my neighbors better (from 6 feet away). And I will work hard, every day, to acknowledge all of these gifts. It’s way more fun than crying.

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Meg is a Co-Founder of What's Up Moms and the mom to three kids (10, 8 and 5). She wishes her kids asked for caramelized brussel sprouts and wild salmon salad every night. But most of the time, you'll find her whipping up a kid-friendly pasta or a sweet treat with a healthy twist. Her motto is: everything in moderation... except coffee. Find her on Instagram @madewithmeg. {{Privy:Embed campaign=591322}}