If someone were to tell me I could have several weeks at home with my whole family with hours of schedule-free time each day, I would normally exhale and smile for the opportunity to take a step off the chaotic conveyor belt of our busy lives.
During this time of quarantine, that is exactly what I’ve been granted: time. Time to hunker down at home and get to all the things I’ve been bemoaning for years that I don’t have time for. Time to learn how to bake bread, to take in nature, finish that book….or time to waste it all away on screen time and overeating. It’s a fine line.
I am so grateful to everyone who is on the front line taking care of business. It seems odd and selfish that my only service to society is to park my butt at home and check a few emails here and there to work remotely. My helper heart feels itchy to find ways to contribute, and I’m open to those ways as they reveal themselves.
Until then, life has slowed down, forcing me to focus closely on this path I’m on. It’s challenged me to push my ego aside and realize I can improve some things. The quarantine has afforded me the gift of time to take a step back from my life and view it as an onlooker, as someone who can hover as an observer and make some suggestions without being so caught up in it that I can’t see it in an objective way.
Learning is something I love and am always open to, so here are ten things I’ve learned so far in this odd time of quarantine:
1. We’re Ironically Inviting People into Our Homes Now More Than Ever
The lovely thing about this quarantine is that most Americans have been gathered onto the same boat–We are all stuck at home. This desperation for human interaction and having to work from home has led people to do video chats where colleagues and friends who might not otherwise come over, can see into our homes as our ornery kids run past the camera or dogs howl in the background. It’s a slice of authentic life that we typically try to tidy up and hide from everyone but now helps us see ourselves in each other.
Celebrities without makeup have been playing impromptu songs or reading stories on Instagram from their homes; parents are putting videos on social media of goofy dances in their living rooms with their kids. Gone is the fear of putting only perfect faces or performances into the world. The hunger for connection has helped us to have confidence in our voices and what we can contribute without self-editing. Such a unity and acknowledgment of our humanity has me grinning at these glimpses into people’s lives. A ray of authenticity has been shining over humans lately, and I love it. I hope it never goes away.
2. Life is Bigger Than Our Day Jobs
I’m super guilty of dwelling on wondering what my purpose in life is and feeling deflated that it seems to be nothing impressive. I’m lucky to have a day job I love, but my true purpose is the same as yours: to look out for each other. Whether we’re grocers, police officers or teachers, none of us is totally defined by who we are at our day job. What defines us is often the small things we do to connect to each other when we slow down and see each other.
I know this in “normal” life, but I don’t always acknowledge the truth of it because I’m so laser focused on the ladder I want to climb to prove my worth. I’m not out curing cancer or saving the world in my day job, but I cherish the connections I have with coworkers and people I serve every day. I can be pretty whiny about going to work, so it’s nice to be reminded to be grateful for my job and the great people I work with.
3. I Am an All-or-Nothing Kind of Person
My blended family has four kids, and my husband and I both work full time. I’ve gotten so used to being on a tight schedule of waking up at the crack of dawn and getting everything done that now that I have this wiggle room, I’m realizing I lack the discipline to get things done without the fire of a deadline.
I’ve been sleeping in and putting things off until tomorrow. I am learning to juggle the fact that it’s great to slow down and enjoy life, but if I’m honest, an over-eating, binge-watching version of me is lurking in the background, so I need to be on guard. I am making peace with this new discovery of my personality. Yesterday my kids played outside for a good six hours. Today they’ve been inside being lazy on this rainy day, each of us doing our own things in separate rooms. There tends to be very little middle ground of accomplishment and the pendulum swings wildly. I need to be okay with that sometimes as we find our rhythm in a new world.
4. Fear and Uncertainty Bring People Together
It’s a shame it takes a world pandemic to make people stop arguing over politics and focusing on “seeing” each other, but here we are. No one is immune to the scare of a pandemic, so instead of shutting down and hiding in fear, we are pitching in and asking who needs help. It’s a world I’ve envisioned in my head, and it’s breathtaking to see it come alive if only for this short while. We’re not concerned with what political party someone’s from or what their occupation is. We’re all working together to lift each other up for the most part. Humanity deserves a gold star right now. We needed this.
5. Watching TV Can Teach Us Some Things if We Let It
I am not a big tv watcher mostly because I lack the discipline to turn it off if I find something deliciously mindless to watch. Give me a Three’s Company marathon, and I can’t promise I’ll be very productive that day. I’ve been able to find a happy medium where I can watch a bit of tv and then remember living life is way more fulfilling than being sucked into the screen.
A show I let myself watch has been Top Chef, a reality show where amazing chefs compete in daily challenges. One thing I’ve learned while watching the show is that the nicest, most caring contestants win. Being nice can still mean being driven, but time and time again, the contestants who are negative and overly competitive by means of bad-mouthing others are the ones who ultimately lose. The ones who thrive are the hard-working chefs who put their heads down and work, stay out of the drama and lift others up. I’d like to think I am that type of person, but there’s a real pain in the butt who lives in me too who gets jealous and gossipy. I want to make a point to bring out more of the kind, driven person in me who lifts others up. Contrary to popular belief, that sort of person always wins.
6. There is Such a Thing as Too Much Together Time
My tendency is to be positive and grateful for all this time with my family, but this quarantine isn’t all kumbaya and baking bread. It’s a challenge to work from home with my husband also working from home with both of us being highly social people who love being around others and being active and we’re now forced to be isolated at home. My two kids and his two kids are here, ranging in age from 9 to 16 with all of us having different agendas. Never before have we spent so… much… time… together… at…home.
We have moments that make me tear up as I look at our blended family working and playing together, and those are the moments that give me hope, but I want to extend grace and patience when we are at each other’s throats too. When they are on my last nerve, I need to remember I’m probably on theirs as well.
People aren’t honest enough about the obstacles of blending kids from different upbringings and expectations into one family, so I want to be real and tell you it’s not a fairy tale. It leads to arguments about parenting and discipline, and arguments often end with having to agree to disagree without a solution. But anything worth doing is a challenge, so my husband and I openly acknowledge this.
This abundance of time together has forced us to bring some of our disagreements to the table, recover and move on. It sounds sadistic to be grateful for the time to argue more, but it means more practice in knowing how to hear and appreciate each other for challenging each other to be better people. Being able to build grit and have hard discussions in our relationship means we’re going deeper, and I’ll take that.
7. Learning New Things is the Best Way to Spend Time
We parents are in a mad dash to make sure our kids aren’t wasting the days away in front of a screen. We want them to be learning and doing, but I want us to remember this same desire for our kids to keep growing should also be applied to ourselves. I’m the best version of me when I’m learning and creating. When I let my brain go to mush from being stagnant, I am less patient, kind and loving.
I’ve pulled out my Spanish books to remind myself of a language I was once proficient in. My step-daughter was learning a song on the ukulele on the back porch the other day while I did yard work, and it was one of those moments where life is just good as it is. We all have a chance to feel life more by learning and being curious. We want our kids to do it. I want US to do it too.
8. I Want a Deeper Spiritual Life
I once heard a saying that keeps coming to mind as we go through this pandemic: “There are no atheists in foxholes” meaning in times of stress and fear, we suddenly turn to God and wanting to feel like there’s more than this. I am a lifelong seeker, so this is not new to me, and I don’t want to insinuate you should be on the same page. I know from experience, there’s nothing more uncomfortable than someone telling you how you should or should not feel about God. For me, I want more blind faith to override anxiety that admittedly camps out in my chest at night.
9. Slowing Down Has Done Wonders for My Attention Span
I have a horrible attention span. My brain is run by a rabid squirrel hopped up on espresso. When I’m at work, I have a million things going on at the same time, and I thrive in that atmosphere. I set a timer to challenge myself to stay on track and keep being productive, so the caffeinated squirrel doesn’t run off course. Now that I’m home without my comfortable routine, I’ve been forced to slow down. The crazy squirrel has been replaced with a rational sloth who likes to read the newspaper and listen to the cello. I worry I might be losing my sense of urgency a little with this slowing down, but being able to focus on a few things deeply rather than a million things on the surface has been amazing.
With being home all day, I’m starting to feel like a modern-day frontier woman who drinks spinach smoothies and does yoga. I am starting to feel more joy in everyday work rather than a skittish need to cross it off my list and move on to the next. The other day our whole family worked together to split wood and stack it. These simple moments have been right under my nose the whole time, but I’ve had the mindset of “let’s hurry up and get this done, so we can have fun” that I haven’t always seen that the work can be where the joy is too.
10. I Want to be More Self-Sufficient
I have an 82-year-old friend I emailed the other day to make sure she’s okay. She was so proud of herself because she had colored her own hair for the first time in over 20 years and her friends in her assisted living community kept complimenting her on it. I love these stories of realizing we can do more than we thought we could. Not being able to rely on others in person has given us the courage to trust in our own abilities.
I always lean towards wanting to be more self-sufficient, but that curiosity has grown even more lately. I don’t like having to rely on the grocery store to supply me with absolutely everything I need. Several times lately I have gone to the store yet again even when we didn’t need anything because I wanted to be sure we had enough food. It started to feel like an unhealthy obsession, and I can see now why my Depression-era grandparents held onto canned goods for so long.
I had a veggie garden last year, but this year, it will be bigger with me learning how to can and freeze vegetables. I have made it a point to teach my kids to cook, but I want to amp that up more when this is over. In America we don’t have the need to be self-sufficient, but being able to provide for my family from our own backyard makes me feel powerful and alive. My husband knows of my desire to do this, so this morning he asked, “Should we get chickens, so we can have our own eggs?” I answered, “Nah, the chicken poop that gets on the eggs makes me barf in my mouth.”
Okay, so maybe I’ve got a long way to go on the road to being self-sufficient, but this pandemic quarantine teaches me new things every day. I’m open to it–are you?
Rebecca Rine writes at RebeccaRine.com, where she focuses on being real about life’s imperfections. She is an opinion contributor to Dayton Daily News and has a podcast called “Real Life out Loud” on Spotify. Her book of essays, “What Waits Ahead is Way Better and Way Worse Than You Imagined” is due out this summer. Find her on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
Image courtesy of National Cancer Institute.