The thing is, during this pandemic, there seems to have been a shift in my parenting style. No longer operating like a mother on speed, I now move as if in a pool of thick quick sand. I step through the house quietly, inching my way at a snail’s pace from one room to the next. These days, there’s little whirling bustle from my children, no summer camp activity to rush off to. Often, everyone is asleep or typing away on their computers, maybe reading a book. I no longer catch myself shouting up or down the stairs with directives. I’ll just wait to say whatever I need to tell them in an hour or two when they emerge from their bedrooms – if I remember.
I barely accomplish three things on any given day. There are the usual chores: preparing meals, washing clothes and dishes, walking the dogs, grocery shopping for our family or my recently widowed mother-in-law. I complete my chores mindfully. I slow my breathing. Inhale. Pause. Exhale. Pause. Sometimes I day dream. Sometimes, I wander around my home with no other intention than just feeling how my bare feet contact the cold stone floor.
When I’m not writing for various work projects, I have time to do things for and by myself: yoga, reading, gardening, socially distanced walks with friends, my own writing. In many respects, the pandemic is working out for me. An obnoxious thing to write perhaps. I mean, I worry that I may never see my parents again. The last time we visited in person was at Christmas. I think about how Christmas this year will be different. Dad is eighty-one. He had a heart attack several years ago. I could drive all the way to New Hampshire, meet with my folks in their condo parking lot, air hug and chat for a few hours, then drive back home to Jersey so I don’t have to stay in a hotel. I could do that, right?
Twice, we were scared that Scott had Covid. He cropped a fever out of the blue in mid-May and then again six weeks later. Scott’s never sick. I can count on one hand the times he’s fallen ill since we’ve been married these twenty-four years. The tests were negative, both times. We were lucky.
There are bad days, times when I feel completely overwhelmed and unaccomplished, trying to sit with the discomfort of not knowing. Just not knowing anything about tomorrow or the next day. No plans. Moving through quicksand is slow going. I snail-trudge along and continue my deep breathing.
Despite the bad, I catch myself feeling good for a few moments almost every day. I look out the four large windows of our bedroom, which is also my home office and private yoga studio. I find comfort in knowing which same vista I’ll see out each window. From one window, there are the backyard trees and train tracks beyond. I always look for movement in the trees’ branches, which might indicate a breeze. Towards the end of day, the sunlight streams through the western facing windows and geometric patterns sprawl across my walls. I have time now to pause and watch as the shimmering sunlight makes the shapes move in a dance. I like the show.
My kids appear happier as the pace of our household has slowed. Each child creates their own space to just be, molding their personal routines with little intervention from me. While virtual college, high school, and elementary school were still in session, the children adapted well. Chloe was pleased to finish her third semester of sophomore year at Northwestern from home. She found it easier to deal with her anxiety about grades and “What’s my major going to be?” here, with us, rather than on campus, where she often shifted into “competitive overdrive.”
Charlie The Kid enjoyed finishing his sophomore year of high school online. He got more sleep. He ate full breakfasts and lunches he cooked himself. In addition to his online learning, he had more time to take YouTube tutorials on whatever subject he desired. He also had space to play and compose music on guitar and piano, to paint and sketch portraits, to build his own website, to write a screenplay, to watch all five seasons of “Breaking Bad.”
Gigi smoothly handled her last few months of fifth grade online, self-managing the entire process. Occasionally, she came to us in a panic about uploading a homework document, but, for the most part, we didn’t get involved. Gigi became accustomed to her self-directed world of online learning. When we suddenly instituted limitations to her use of electronics at the start of summer, she objected loudly. Soon, however, she began a biking regimen and remembered how fun the escape of a good book could be.
Since the pandemic began, I’ve been making Gigi’s lunch – usually Campbell’s Homestyle Chicken Soup with cinnamon toast on the side. There’s a ritual to this lunch making and eating which I’ve enjoyed, even when Gigi is bossy about some of the steps. “Let the butter melt into the toast all the way before you spread the jam, Mom. Don’t rush it.”
Don’t rush it.
Is it the influence of yoga that has kept me calmer and moving more slowly than I might have expected during this time of corona virus? The kids are older now and maybe that has helped me let go of my usual director role, instead allowing the gifted actors to move about the stage in choreographed sequences of their own making. Maybe I am so overwhelmed by this pandemic and the state of our country and world that I’ve been forced to ignore the everyday mundane details. People are dying. They can’t breathe. Details seem a frivolous waste of time now. Besides, rushing from here to there requires logistical problem solving that’s too much for me. I crave stillness and slow, deep breaths.
In yoga, through asana practice (poses), meditation, pranayama (regulated breathing), and stillness, the practitioner is invited to be with what is, to embrace imperfection, and to find gifts and learning in moments of discomfort and failure. A yogi learns to recognize the blessing and power of forgiveness, and how beautiful the act of forgiving others, and most importantly yourself, can be. In moments of forgiveness, is love.
Much of what I have learned in my yoga practice, especially while completing my yoga teacher training, has helped me to sit with the discomfort of this worldwide pandemic and the horrific racial injustices that have been exposed. Uncomfortably, I sit with the knowledge that systemic racism exists, and that I am guilty of racism because I am part of the system. Painfully, I sit with the failure of this nation’s current administration to lead and inspire in the face of these crises, and I feel angry and hopeless.
Then, I apply the salve of yoga. I breathe into all the deep places in my mind and body that are locked tight from fear and anger. I find the space to let go, pushing aside nagging thoughts, loosening hardened muscles. The pandemic has allowed me time to find more space for myself and to refine my yoga teaching skills to help others find space too. Even as evil and fear swirl around us while we go about our lives, we can practice making space for hope, for light, for forgiveness, for love.
Six weeks ago, while the pandemic raged, Max, our twenty-two-year-old son, returned home to live in New Jersey. He and his girlfriend packed up a U-Haul, and with their German Shepard squeezed between them in the cab of their rental truck, they drove across country. They are currently living in our basement while searching for a place of their own nearby. When Max ran away from home at age 17, I dared to hope for his return to us one day.
This pandemic has been good to me. My mothering style is changing for the better. I move more slowly, sometimes in quicksand, but more often in a moving meditation. I practice my yoga teaching, trying to guide students in how to find more space so they can let go, allow, forgive, love. I watch sunlight dance on my walls. I try not to rush it when I butter the cinnamon toast. I get to hug my children, and since they’ve been quarantined with me for what seems like forever, I can embrace them without wearing a mask. Now that he has returned, I even get to hold my oldest son. Max lets me do that now. Forgiveness is pure love.