curing the summertime blues

Let me reminisce of last summer, a different decade, a different time. I was but a determined Mom of three, with a pen, a calendar, and a plan. We would not go bored. We would fill up our time with playdates, town and county events, classes, fairs, camps. I dreaded those blank days which stood out from the calendar pinned to the wall by the washing machine: most of the days had places and times highlighted, but every once and a while a day would stay completely white and blank. Devoid of activity.

The empty days filled me with dread. A day of cabin fever and nothing planned seemed like the worst kind of punishment – a long hot day with nothing to look forward to, boredom reigning supreme.

Times have changed. The metamorphosis stuns me, still.

Now that calendar is blank, except for all the crossed out events I dutifully planned over the winter. Goodbye annual trip to my home state of Washington. My son’s second year of overnight sleep away camp was cancelled. Swimming lessons, street fairs, even the usual blow-out birthday bbq bash we throw for my son is no longer.

If I’d known a year ago how empty my calendar would be in 2020, I’d probably feel sorry for myself and put in a preemptive order of prozac for myself. Imagine this, though. I’m happy with my white spaces schedule. The days are blurring together in a set routine of nothing, and … it’s okay.

Really.

I’ve talked about boredom with my kids, before. This summer is amplifying the sentiment of “only boring people get bored”. Yes, there are plenty of times they whine at me. We may be falling into a habit of just a little too much screen time than I’m comfortable with, but my kids are also playing with each other in ways I’ve never seen before. Going out of the house is the exception to the rule, not the normal any longer.

Yesterday I took the three kids to Costco. It was the first full-family shopping trip we’ve taken together since February. Is this as exciting as a trip to a theme park or like traveling to a different state? Of course not. But to my kids who haven’t seen much beyond our four walls and the beach for the past several months, it was an adventure.

These are the moments I’m trying to appreciate, to notice. Routines can feel special. After a spring spent inside at home, we are well prepped for this long summer of nothing. Fall is coming, and what it brings is still a mystery to us. My daughter is supposed to start kindergarten and I’m starting nursing school. Will I have a 5th grader and kindergartener learning at home? Will I have to teach my daughter sight words all while learning remotely about dosages and nursing care plans?

I have learned over this pandemic that stressing about tomorrow does absolutely nothing good. I live in the moment, much like my kids do. We wear our masks like good boys and girls and do our best to stop the spread by staying home and staying isolated. And life is good.

So maybe the cure to my anxiety last summer was oddly enough a world changing tragedy. It makes me realize how lucky I am to be stuck at home and bored.

the boredom curve

I’m going to admit something that is going to make me sound like an inattentive mother. I’ve gotten exceptionally talented at ignoring my kids. No, no, hear me out. Like millions across America right now, I am home with my children. Unlike before, there is no out-of-home activities to cart the littles to. In the past, a great distraction in the day was a trip to the local park or the library. These days are no more.

So now my days are predictable and routine. Life revolves around snack time and meal time, and I prioritize my workout time (thank you, Peloton). Beyond that, there isn’t rules. My fourth grader is excellent at keeping to his school schedule, but the littles have free reign on the house.

I have learned a secret trick to parenting them. When they say they are “bored” and have nothing to do, if I just sort of ignore their cries and leave them be…. they find something to do. Luckily they have each other as playmates. So, without fail, within a few minutes, they distract themselves and play.

It seems like a revelation to me. How many lists and schedules and ideas are we sending to each other at this time, trying to fill this void of sheltering in place? And, for the most part, all this planning is for naught. Sure, I give the kids some direction, but for the most part, I can be totally hands off. There might be whining and a few tears, but they are very good at entertaining themselves. I don’t have to fight them, I don’t have to say platitudes like “Only boring people are bored”. I just let their cries wash over me and then watch the miracle of free play and creativity come out.

***

My neighbor and I had a pseudo-play date yesterday. It was gorgeous here in suburban New Jersey, and after a family bike ride we saw them in their front yard playing with sidewalk chalk. The kids did an excellent job of staying 6-feet-apart from one another, and I had some much needed, in person, adult communication. (for reference, my husband is currently out of state for training, he worked last week quite a bit, and wont return home until this weekend)

I admitted to her that my kids don’t seem bothered by all this societal change. Because, they don’t. They haven’t begged to leave the house beyond a bike ride or a walk in the neighborhood, and to them going in the backyard is just as great as a field trip to the park. The other day I had to force my eldest into the van with his father to get take out food, I assumed he’d miss riding in the car since it’d been 3+ weeks since his last outing, but he didn’t care.

My neighbor said the same thing. It made me think about all the distractions and events we are always carting our offspring to don’t really matter. The kids, at least my kids, are just as happy at home with us around all the time. We have a way of over scheduling and over stimulating our kids, and it might not matter. Maybe we are over complicating everything and this return to just sticking it out at home is good for us, like a juice cleanse for ourselves.

My eldest is sad about not seeing his friends. He misses school. My littles say they miss preschool as well, but, they just accept than they can’t go right now. The kids are handling this social change much better than I am, and most adults I know. They are so amazing at just living in the moment, not looking into the past or future, and this life outlook is something I try to keep during these “troubled times” (as they say).

Life is slower right now, but we all have our health. We are happy in our self-appointed quarantine and have everything we need right now. Our boredom is a privilege and as my kids show me every single day, boredom isn’t something than needs fixing. If I’m feeling anxious or like acting out, if I just let the emotion ride and then dismiss it as quickly as it comes, I too am on to the next thing.

journey to the front lines

I’m really good at sheltering in place. For the most part, my life isn’t that different from before the ‘rona hit. I’m patriotic just by never leaving my house, except for our daily walks around the neighborhood, which are patriotic in their own way… neighbors popping out to chat from their front door (we stay on the sidewalk, well within social distancing guidelines).

But, after two weeks at home, my fridge got low and few days ago, and I had to make the Costco run. The first Costco run since our state (New Jersey) put all the official restrictions in place. In a matter of 14 days, the idea of leaving my bubble caused anxiety. My husband has been working, flying around the states, but I’ve been quarantined and the prospect of a routine shopping trip suddenly felt like a big deal.

Something so simple and basic, all of the sudden, daunting. I didn’t know what to expect.

The whole drive there I felt that nervous energy. The steady stream of thoughts went something like this: Will I encounter friendly people, or aggressive jerks? Will I find items I need? Is there an item limit? What if people yell at me for shopping, for buying so much? The last time I’d gone to Costco (the day after the official Oval Office broadcast from our president) there’d been armed cops in the toilet paper aisle.

I’m generally not an anxious person. I’m outgoing, yet as I age I do find myself more weary with crowds and closed in environments. And since I’ve become such a shut-in, this tendency to fear crowds really lit up.

I purposefully went to Costco in the late afternoon, knowing I was possibly missing out on some items, but hoping to avoid long lines.

Luckily, there were no lines. I walked right in. The staff was the same efficient, busy workers they always were. I tried to remind myself to stay 6-feet away from everyone, which is kind of hard in aisles. I took my time and found everything I needed. Sure, eye contact was minimal, and most people had masks or plastic gloves on, but otherwise it felt normal. I made small talk with a few customers and employees, my first in person communication with strangers in weeks.

I needed that.

I think I’ve been spending so much time wrapped up in my little hovel, consuming news, isolated from real world experiences, and because of this a simple routine task became suddenly something to conquer.

It makes me a little nervous for when life becomes normal again. Ever since the Colorado movie theater massacre, I can’t sit in a dark movie theater without a nagging worry. Am I going to have even more issues in crowds in the future? Will the practice of wearing masks in public eventually become the norm in American society? Back when I was a flight attendant, it wasn’t that uncommon to see tourists from Asian countries wearing masks, and this was a decade past SARS. Are we about to turn into a nation of OCD germaphobes?

It’s a fine line between awareness and paranoia. I have faith that we will get past this massive hurdle, this massive challenge. One day life will return to is chaotic mess. I know I need to lead by example for my kids, so I keep trying to take it one day at a time, and trying to get out of my own head and worries about the future. And if all I need to do to remind myself things will go back one day, and the world isn’t a scary place, is just a simple shopping trip every 14 days or so, so be it.