Two Voices

In today’s world, do you sometimes feel like you have two voices in your head? One is practical and grateful. It says things like:

  • Of course, we need to stay inside to keep ourselves and our families healthy. The death toll is at a scary all-time high.
  • Of course, we should have a slow transition back to life once the governors deem conditions safe enough to do so.
  • Of course, it’s not difficult to stay at home on our couches – we’re lucky if that’s the worst thing we’re faced with. Other people are putting their lives on the line working in stores and doctor’s offices and hospitals every day. We’re lucky to be healthy with our biggest challenge being managing kids, homeschool and work – other people are suffering badly with COVID-19. People are in the hospital and can’t see their loved ones. Others are at home sick, trying to take care of their kids. And many are struggling to pay their bills.
  • Of course, I’m grateful the boys are older, understand the situation and are handling it so well. It must be so difficult to have young kids during this crazy time. The other day when Ryan asked about timing for the end of the quarantine, I told him I had just heard on the news that for our county to open, the total number of cases need to be at an average of 30 per day, or a total of 415 new cases over a 14-day period. Jordan replied, “Good! We need to wait until it’s safe – our governor is smart!” The 16-year-old voice of reason.
  • Of course, I’m grateful to the teachers who quickly moved to an online curriculum, to our synagogue clergy who bring our congregation together virtually for Shabbat and Havdalah on the Friday and Saturday nights, and the many other organizations trying to keep everyone connected.
  • And of course, it’s nice to have this quiet time with our kids – dinner together, no running around to activities. I think one of the best things that came out of this is the boys ask each other about their days. It started out as a social skills assignment for Ryan and has turned into a regular dinnertime activity. And the weekends can be nice. Sometimes I like having nothing planned for the weekends. I’m honestly not sure where the time goes – TV, books, walks, online scrabble, reading endless articles about COVID-19, trying to ignore the endless articles about COVID-19, cleaning out closets, etc. I said to Dan the other day, “When we go back to whatever normal is, it will be a big adjustment to not have all this free time!”

And yet, there’s the other voice – the sad and anxious one – which says things like:

  • I want my !&?@#!#%&! life back soon! (summer would be nice – I really want to go on our planned vacation to Hawaii!) and wish there was a crystal ball to tell us when that point will be – mainly for Ryan who asks me about it every single day, multiple times. I hear him walking down the hall to my room at 7:45 every weekday morning and know the first words out of his mouth are going to be “Mom, let’s talk about summer. What’s going to happen?” Argh!!! And the endless discussions begin.
  • I miss family and friends – zoom and facetime are nice but not nearly the same as in person hugs and conversations. I worry about them getting sick and getting stuck alone at a hospital.  
  • I’m sad for my boys who only have a few years left of school and should be experiencing them with other kids. I’m sad they may not have a traditional summer vacation with camps, pools and the beach, because all too soon they’ll be in the working world and will never get to experience childhood summers again.
  • I’m anxious for Ryan who learns and focuses better face to face and has limited time to get ready for whatever direction his future takes him. Employability skills are a big part of his curriculum and you can only do so much virtually. He needs work experience. He needs his teachers in the room with him.
  • And I’m worried about what will happen when we finally go back to a new version of life and wave 2 of the virus hits.  

I saw a tweet that says, “The quarantine state of mind is having 3 solid days where you feel pretty well adjusted, followed by a sudden, unexpected dip into what we call “the hell zone.” Then the individual added below, “The hell zone is an anxious, semi-agitated state where you’re just sorta “off” for the whole day and time flows like you’re wading through chili – and your hell zone will NEVER synch up with other people’s hell zones and that’ll always make you feel weird and stressed out.” So true!

I’ve had insomnia on and off for most of my life. Last week, I found myself wide awake every night. I called the doctor on Friday to see if she could help. My doctor had left for the day, so this was another one at the practice whom I didn’t know.

We had a video chat and she asked, “Is there something that’s making you anxious?” I was about to burst out laughing but saw she was serious, looking at me earnestly.

“Umm…the state of the world?” I replied, somewhat sarcastically. With alerts to the latest news articles pinging phones all day long and regular local and national live updates, how can you not be anxious? There must be tons of people with insomnia out there.

“I meant,” she clarified, “Did anything new happen in your life recently?”

Our lives are essentially Groundhog Day, with no changes in sight. Status quo. We’re still healthy. We can pay the bills. We can talk to family and friends whenever we want. The kids can access school assignments and we can access work. There’s endless Netflix, Hulu and Prime shows to keep us busy. We have good neighbors and can take walks outside and wave to them from a distance.

“No,” I said. “Nothing new has happened. And I’m grateful for that.”

Take a Deep Breath

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It’s hard to believe my last blog was about air travel – ahh the good old days when you could just hop on a plane and go visit friends for a long weekend. Seems like a year ago when it was only five weeks.

Like me, your social media feeds are probably flooded with COVID-19 articles, news reports, and predictions from experts and those who think they’re experts, along with the more fun videos, memes (I just love the Memes), personal posts and opinions, and photos showing how people are spending their days. While all of the media can be a little (well…sometimes extremely) overwhelming, it’s incredible how people are coming together online to share what’s working as they balance work and family, homeschool their kids, and experience the outdoors while maintaining social distancing. And it’s comforting how so many in person activities we’ve taken for granted such as Shabbat services and Confirmation class events, The Friendship Circle, and voice lessons have quickly mobilized to an online environment.

A little over a week ago when we learned all PA schools would be closed for two weeks, Ryan was not a happy camper. While he was excited for a break from school, he overheard us talking about how the closing would likely go beyond the 30th. He wanted to know exactly what his schedule would be and when school would reopen. We didn’t know what to tell him. The school sent over some enrichment links but was not planning to formally teach during the two weeks. (they said if the closures go beyond that, distance learning will begin). Ryan spent the better part Friday, 3/13 whining about what he would do all week and when would school open again. He also wanted to know if he would go back to track in time for the meets – he had just started Unified Track at school and really enjoyed the two practices they had.

We spent time that first weekend creating a detailed schedule which I put in Google sheets for Dan, Ryan and me to access. His teacher had sent links to websites he could visit to maintain his skills, so I blocked his days off in small chunks and included a combination of:

  • Independent work (eg math – go to Khan Academy; English – go to Newsela.com or ducksters.com),
  • Skills he learned through his community-based jobs (alphabetizing, office skills, etc.) with a family member
  • Independent living skills (eg cooking, cleaning the house, laundry).
  • Outdoor time – walking, taking pictures of nature
  • Free time

It was amazing to see the anxiety on Ryan’s face disappear as he went through and likely memorized the schedule. This is a kid who needs structure and we gave him that.  The question was – would he follow through with it?

To our delight, yes! Given there was no need for him to be up early, breakfast was scheduled for him to make and clean up independently from 9-9:30, which he did every day. Then, there were 30 minutes slots throughout the day of independent work on his computer – whenever I came to check on him, he was working away. But he really preferred and looked forward to the time with family and surprisingly got into cleaning the house with Dan! He and I took a few walks together and I was amazed at how quickly he now walks – I had to work to keep up with him, the boy who used to lag behind all of us when we went anywhere. (One of us would always be calling “Ryan, let’s go, you need to walk faster!”) He will be great at track one day.

I cannot imagine this working at all a few years ago and am very grateful how independent Ryan has becomes since starting high school.

Then there’s Jordan. I saw on GMA that even if your high schoolers are independent, it’s important to make sure they have somewhat of a schedule. Jordan scoffed at that.

“I’m fine. I’m keeping busy and I don’t need to account for every hour.”

I pressed him – “I don’t care about every hour. I just want to know what you’re keeping busy with. It needs to be more than your phone.”

I texted him ideas from my basement office as they came to me. He could:

  • Study for his learner’s permit exam (who knows when he’ll actually have the chance to take it – but hey, he’ll be ready!).
  • Prepare for the SATs – we’ll order a book from Amazon and by the time the Fall exam rolls around, he’ll crush it.
  • Sign up for a free screenwriting class online through futurelearn. Jordan recently expressed an interest in taking screenwriting at college and I’d like to make sure he knows what it is and really likes it before picking a college because of that specific major.
  • Write a musical about COVID-19.

“You’re throwing a lot of stuff at me,” he texted back (to be fair, I threw these great ideas out over the course of 24 hours. It’s not like they were rapid fire things to do.)

Guess which one he chose? If you know Jordan at all, you guessed right – he is writing a musical about a school whose show gets cancelled because of COVID-19 (art mirroring life!). He’s been composing music and writing dialogue. (Anyone have a contact on Broadway?) Surprisingly, I also found him doing some optional schoolwork every now and then. As the opposite of Ryan, this is the kid who doesn’t need a schedule and is happiest when he can just be and figure it out as he goes.

While I am grateful for Ryan’s independence, the anxiety around the unknown means Ryan asks more questions than usual. In fact, he asks them All. Day. Long.

Ryan – “When will school open again? In April?

Me – “I don’t know.”

Ryan – “In May?”

Me – “I don’t know. This has never happened before, Ry. We just have to be flexible and see.”

Ryan – “Are we going back at all? What if we never go back? Can’t you call someone to find out?”

Me – “RY….” (Sigh)

Ryan – “What will we do for my birthday? (early April) Can the family come over? What about the Seder?

Me – “We can facetime them and we can make a cake and order from wherever you want. I don’t know about the Seder. Dad thinks we could do it on Zoom.”

Ryan – “Can’t just one family member come over? Will we be stuck in the house for Dad’s birthday, too? (May) Will we be stuck inside for your birthday?? Will we get to go on our vacation to Hawaii?” (both in Aug.)

“Oh Ryan,” I thought. There aren’t enough bottles of wine to deal with my feelings if we are still here in August.”

I think the unknown is what’s most difficult for many people, not just Ryan. I was talking to my aunt about this the other night, and we both agreed if we knew this would end, say, on May 1 – there would be a date to work towards. I would think – ok, this sucks that we can’t see anyone or go anywhere for the next five+ weeks, but it’s a finite point in time and we can start a countdown. When you read articles saying this could go well into the summer, it’s just hard.

Earlier last week, I was having some trouble catching my breath – I had to breathe frequently and deeply – and was afraid I had caught the virus. I kept checking my temperature, which was normal.

“You’re fine,” Dan said, trying to reassure me. “You have no other symptoms.”

He was right – no cough, no fever, no weakness.

“But people are walking around with the virus and don’t even know it. What if I have it with this one symptom?” This was on Wednesday, right after I cut my power walk short because the need to breathe deeply made it too difficult to continue. (I’d been enjoying the beautiful sunny afternoon for 20 minutes while reading COVID-19 articles on my phone.) This was the same two mile walk I’ve been taking in my development for 17 years, and I was a little worried.

On Thursday, I realized I’d gotten through the whole day without feeling the need to breathe deeply. I was busy on conference calls most of the day and hadn’t seen Ryan as much. When I saw him later, he jumped into his questions.

“Mom, will I have to repeat sophomore year?” “Will we have my track meets? “What happens if I don’t go back to school in June?” “Will we have ESY (Extended School Year)? “What about camp? Will my camp open?” “Will Jordan’s camp open?” “If we don’t go to Hawaii, what will we do?” Will school open in September?”

And just like that, my chest got tight and I had to take several deep, cleansing breaths. Ryan’s questions and not being able to answer them. The barrage of media. The unknown. It was all causing a physical reaction.

When I caught my breath again, I replied, “Ryan, I can’t answer your questions. I just. don’t. know. No one knows, and I get that it’s scary for you to not have answers. I promise you when I do know anything, I’ll tell you. But please stop asking questions right now. Ok?”

“Ok,” he said. (He stuck to that agreement for the rest of the night.)

We hear day after day how these are unprecedented times. Everyone is going to react and be affected differently. However you feel and respond – it’s ok. I think it’s important to give yourself permission to feel how you feel. You may have a physical reaction. You might cry. Or become angry. Or worry constantly. And if you need to take a break from the media and the ‘what ifs’ to clear your head and feel better, it’s more than ok.

Over the weekend, we took that break. We participated in virtual Shabbat services with our clergy and other congregants through Facebook live. Dan made pancakes and waffles. We ordered in dinners from a few different places. We caught up on TV and Netflix and talked on the phone with family. We made a card for a little girl in our development who turned two. (a suggestion on the development FB page – to make cards for those stuck in the house on their birthdays) We facetimed with my Mom-mom and Aunt Sue, so they could join us for virtual Havdalah with our clergy and congregants on Sat. night. I cleaned out my office and am thrilled the clutter is gone. I organized our wine collection. And I took two very long walks around the development while listening to uplifting music – and had absolutely no trouble breathing.