Parenting in a Shutdown

It’s been 3 weeks since schools shut down. For my 13 year old, life has been a dream. She has a little world of her own inside her room. Every corner, shelf, space is a collection of things she’s saved since she was a toddler. She’s almost a hoarder. She can stay in her room all day and if possible, have her meals there too. She’s pretty indifferent about going to school, and though she’s a diligent student she never really understood the purpose of physically going to another building to learn. Don’t get me wrong. She’s social enough and a great conversationalist. She has many friends and loves them dearly. But this new system of online classes, a chunk of assigned work, a few Zoom calls tucked in here and there, some accountability but without the rigmarole of a rushed morning routine and walking through crowded hallways while trying to balance an oversized binder and a Chromebook, seems refreshing to her. She has a check off list for herself, so every morning, she sets an alarm, gets ready, completes her schoolwork, has her meal and then she’s either perfecting her Minecraft skills, or researching the most unusual topics. She’s also been singing and playing her piano. Oh, and how can we forget TikTok? I have had zero problems with this child as I adjusted my expectations based on her abilities. I know she will take care of her schoolwork. I have also accepted that it takes her 20 minutes to understand why she needs to help me vacuum when she could be doing more important tasks such as rummaging through old boxes in the shed for her toys from when she was three. I have also accepted the fact that she is not like me, and as much as I hate to admit it, I think it might be a good thing, eventually.

My 17 year old had her finals the week we shut down and has since been free of academic bondage. So I gave her a list of chores to do like most mothers would — a carefully crafted list with visuals and words of affirmations, clear directions all in a table format demonstrating my high tech skills and meticulous planning style. That list, my friends, is a piece of art. But here’s a snippet. The girls each have a cupboard in addition to a walk-in closet. I truly believe that Marya’s cupboard contains her retired knick knacks but more importantly, it is a collection of items that have mysteriously disappeared from the house, such as my fancy pair of gold shoes, some jewelry that was borrowed for an event and lost, possibly a packet of socks that were bought but never found, blankets that have since gone missing… basically I am convinced that everything I am looking for since last year can be found there, hence my interest in cleaning it out. I asked Marya to clean that cupboard and I promise not to judge or utter a single word of reprimand, that I will gracefully put everything we find in there in the right place and erase it from my memory and will not say “see I told you it was there!” I will report back in a few days regarding the outcome. The thing with my kids is that just like all other kids, they are kids. When they go to bed, I take a deep breath and shift my thinking for a few minutes. I realize they are struggling with this new weird situation we’re in all of a sudden. We all are. As adults we feel responsible and hope we can make this shutdown productive so when they go back to school and resume normal life, they are still useful human beings who have retained their learning. We also want them to have a routine and not wile away this time. I am still teaching, be it in the most unusual manner, have a ton of professional development to accomplish and none of my daily chores seem to have gone away. I still cook and clean, in fact, clean a bit more than normal, I still do the gazillion other things we adults do, but I think I worry a bit too much as well. I don’t always model the kinds of behaviors I expect from my children. Like today, I told Marya we would take a break and do yoga at noon. At 1 pm she asked me if I was still going to spend time with her. It broke my heart.

Sometimes I get so absorbed in my own life that I forget my little ones have feelings too. Later, we talked at length about anxiety stemming from the unknown, and we talked about unspoken fears that have emanated from the happenings around us. Our kids like to see us as solid pillars with everflowing faith and security but seeing our vulnerable and imperfect side gives them compassion. We made a pact that we’d be more realistic and chalk out a plan together. We talked about how dad still has to go to work and as much as they stay 6 feet apart over there and washes his hands excessively, he has his own set of anxieties. And that maybe Sara was dealing with her anxiety by finding toys from her past. And that Marya needs to talk more to relieve her worries. And maybe if I didn’t spend so much time designing Pinterest worthy lists I could spend time actually helping my kido with her cupboard problems…and one day, she could help me with mine. We’re all together in this. And like everything else, this too shall pass.

The Serenity Prayer

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen.