Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Virtual this, virtual that

Makeshift virtual school in session

I see another invitation to a virtual class on a Slack channel at work, this time it's on sketchnoting, whatever that is. (Clearly, I didn't attend that one.) This was one among many, many videos shared internally by well-meaning IBMers, who created them to help the rest of us stay positive, healthy, creative, you name it. I'm joining a kickboxing class tomorrow, led by the CMO of North America Marketing (how awesome is that?!) And I had a rare morning open (actually, I had to reschedule a meeting for this) and got to enjoy a virtual class on how to grow succulents successfully, taught by a guy who sat on my floor at work. (Note to self: need to check out the beautiful plants on his desk when we get back to the office.)

But when do we get back to the office? Million-dollar question indeed. Right now, they're projecting early June. My girls' school will delay opening to May 4th. But they've already moved that date three times. I suspect my 11-year-old will never have another class again in her beloved elementary school, and my heart breaks a little for her.

More weeks at home. More virtual this and virtual that. More digging into our well of positivity. (Won't it eventually run out?) We've got this, I announce and smile at my family, projecting a cheeriness I barely possess myself. But what choice do I have? We'll keep to our schedule, continue our daily walks, get our sunshine, find more ways to have fun, and stay connected. And do our best to remember gratitude and grace.

Daily family walk after lunch

Apparently, those are easier to follow when I had a manageable workload. Last week, when several projects appeared out of thin air and dropped deadlines from the sky, keeping my family's COVID-care routine became another burden. There are only so many hours in a day, but parenting doesn't yield to work deadlines. Or vice versa.

But something has to yield, right? Turns out, that something was me.

For someone who takes pride in getting shit done at work and at home, it hit me hard when I realized I was just not going to be able to do it all. I had to swallow my pride and force myself to ask for help at work. And I reluctantly pushed back on a deadline--something I almost never do. I also had to depend on my family to step into the parts I normally played at home.

And you know what? Everything turned out just fine.

It was an important realization for me that, when given the chance, others do show up for you. When given the opportunity to shine, they will, and they do so happily and brightly.

Not only were my coworkers not disappointed in me for admitting I might not be able to deliver, they jumped right in to share the burden. One even took it upon himself to complete my part of the project without my asking.

Unsurprisingly, my husband swooped right in and kept the family engine going. He prepared the meals and kept the girls on task. He kept me fed and hydrated. He kept me sane. And even seated ergonomically so my neck and wrists wouldn't hurt.

My girls would occasionally come by my desk and declare how proud they were of me just to cheer me on. Sometimes, they'd bring me candy. Because they're sweet like that.

It's the little things, they say, but they all add up. On a week like this, it meant the world to me.

* * *

What we're reading now.
I fell in love with Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, when I read it for a college class over 20 years ago. It felt like a good time to read it again, especially when the title so aptly describes these long days of social isolation.

Big Girl is enjoying every bit of her tweendom, especially now that I've allowed her to venture into teen and adult books--at least ones I've read and know she can handle. She's on the last book of the "To All the Boys I've Loved Before" YA series, right on the heels of the "Crazy Rich Asians" trilogy, which she devoured in a week.

She can go for hours

The little one is on book four of the Percy Jackson series. Thankfully, the once reluctant reader is voraciously tearing through those pages, giving us long stretches of quiet time throughout our day. Yes, it's definitely a positive outcome of this dreadful crisis.

What we're playing.
Thanks to a friend who introduced it to my family on a camping trip, we've been into Monopoly Deal these days. It moves a lot faster than regular Monopoly, and there's actual strategy involved. I'm not usually a fan of long, complicated strategy games. I already juggle several things in my head at once, I don't need something else forcing me to think. This game is just complex enough to be interesting, and short enough for post-dinner entertainment. Tonight, I finally won a round. And commemorate it I must. It's my blog, after all...

Someone's not too happy she didn't win, but look at all the properties I got! 

The highlight of our week.
Surviving each week of isolation from the world always feels like a win. But after an especially long, hard week a special treat was in order. We unanimously decided to drive 16 miles to pick up our favorite food from Taste of Ethiopia on South Congress. The deserted streets of a once-bustling city on a Saturday evening was not lost on us as we made our way past empty parking lots and shuttered stores to get our food from a shell of a restaurant. Then we (quickly) drove the 16 miles back, our mouths watering from the aroma of kitfo and key siga wot, our bodies tremulous from the excitement for our impending feast. All the while, grateful that this was still possible, yet fearful that our favorite place might not survive this harsh new economic reality.



Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Gratitude and grace in the time of COVID-19

Bluebonnet season in Texas

This is Week 3 of social distancing turned shelter in place to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Week 3 of working from home while parenting. Week 3 of homeschooling, as schools remain closed throughout the country. Many of us are navigating uncharted territory, but even then, I feel incredibly fortunate that we at least get to face these challenges together as a family, within the safety of our own home.

We are (knock on wood) healthy, and thanks to my geeky husband, we have all the technologies that allow us to work, learn, connect, and play. And although my 11-year-old will possibly miss her last months of elementary school before moving on to middle school, and my 8-year-old, who has more playdate invites than I have friends, will have to cope with a blank social calendar, my girls have been troopers. In fact, while this situation is far less than ideal, we're doing better than we thought we would. But it takes work to make it work for all of us.

Here's how we're dealing with the shelter-in-place mandate:

1. Remembering gratitude and grace 
I wrote two words on the fridge on day one: Gratitude and Grace. It was our theme for this crisis, and we discussed why they were important words for this time. We needed to be kinder to one another, gentler with ourselves, and more focused on what we do have, rather than what we don't.

I needed them to understand why we it's crucial to dial up our empathy and be more understanding. Why we need to let go of normal expectations and work with what we can control, rather than fight what we can't. "Why can't we have bow tie pasta with this dish like we usually do?" "Um. We're lucky we have any kind of pasta at all. The store had none." This conversations is SO ridiculous in so many levels at this time, but they're also kids. So I'll cut them some slack. Grace, remember?

2. Learning the facts
We also had to explain why we're confined to our homes. We shared facts about COVID-19 like the symptoms, statistics of those infected, the death toll, and most importantly, how we can prevent the spread. We put social distancing in the context of their own lives to help them really understand what happens if they make poor choices. Would they want to be the cause of 's death?
It may sound harsh, but we've always spoken honestly with them, and I'd much rather speak openly as a family than have them fear (or spread) distortions of the truth through hearsay. Besides, once they understood that they too had a critical part to play in "flattening the curve", they stopped asking about play dates and complaining about staying home. They get honesty. We get peace. It's a win-win.

3. Creating a structure
On the first day of "homeschooling" (in quotes because it's a reeeeeeally loose definition here), my rule-following, academically inclined firstborn prepared a schedule before I even had an inkling of what "learning at home" meant. So I let her run with it. Since her sister would do anything she does anyway, following this structure was a breeze. I only needed to show them the myriad online resources that their Principal and parenting groups shared, and they'd start every morning quietly tackling Math, Reading, and Science on their own while my husband and I took our calls in different parts of the house, uninterrupted. I would also provide a daily writing prompt so they can both capture their experience of this time and practice writing. This helped pass the time until lunch, and I admit, this does not suck.

From 2pm to 5pm they get free play, which means anything from online gaming with friends to playing outside with our neighbor's son, who they're "exclusive with" during this time. Meaning, they don't have any other playmates other than this one boy, and vice versa. Because coronavirus.

But sometimes I toss all that aside and give them a marathon reading day, which they love because they get to spend all day in their PJs, devouring delicious words. My 11yo can go for hours; in fact, we'd have to extricate her from her book. The little one gets antsy after a couple of hours. She's our maker, so she'll head to her crafts table and begin creating something with her hands instead--and that's pretty awesome too.

4. Easing screen-time restrictions
Screen-time rules made sense when we had a daily routine that involved a full day at school, homework and extra curricular activities. When we had teachers focused on educating our kids. When we could separate school/work/home life.

Now when both parents have to juggle a full-time job and parenting at the same time,  all those rules are out the window. Once they're done with the more structured part of their day, they're free to get on Facebook Messenger for Kids to chat and play games with their friends or play video games with our neighbor at his house.

As someone who recently made the decision to quit social media, it was difficult for me to allow them on Messenger. But since it's the only way they can socialize with their besties safely these days, I caved. Initially, I thought they'd spend more time watching TV, but I was wrong. They'd much rather hang out virtually with their besties. Considering how much time they spend with their peers when school's in session, this makes sense; being away from all their friends for this long has to be hard on them. (Plus it's fun for me to hear their sometimes hilarious conversations.)

Learning to make origami Pikachu from an online art class

5. Going outside
This is my favorite part. Every day, the four of us take a break and have lunch together to check in with one another. Then we go outside for a midday walk to get some sun and fresh air, not to mention a little exercise. Even pre-pandemic, I was a lunchtime walker, choosing to eat at my computer so I can spend my lunch hour getting my steps in to meet my daily goal of 10,000 steps. Now I just drag my family with me.

Knowing just how much good that does for our physical and mental well-being, I won't relent on this. Not only does it help my productivity immensely, I think it prevents us from wringing each other's neck a la Homer Simpson for being cooped up in the house for too long.

Plus we get to stop and smell the errr...take pictures with a neighbor's beautiful bluebonnets. It is springtime in Texas, after all. Everyone has to snap those bluebonnet pics.

Springtime sisters

My husband and I also take another walk together after dinner. This time without the girls. That's our chance to connect with no interruptions--and censorship. It helps that we really do love our neighborhood. Being out there, enjoying nature and seeing our neighbors, even if all we get to do is wave and speak from across the street, can be a balm to a really long day. And let's face it: every day can feel like a really long day these days.


I'd be lying if I said that the days go smoothly, everyone is compliant, and nobody ever protests. Hah! In my real world, nerves get frayed and patience gets tried plenty of times. But I have immense gratitude for all the things that do go right in our days, and I try to focus on them.

As for the rest of the time, I turn to grace.

Next: See how we're tackling virtual living.


Sunday, March 29, 2020

Social distancing virtually and IRL

The last time I blogged was in 2017. Since then, I'd always meant to write again, but life kept happening and so did carpal tunnel syndrome. It made it that much harder to get back to writing after an already long day at work, on my computer. Instagram and Facebook became convenient substitutes for memory keeping. Share pictures, write a quick caption, done.

And then coronavirus happened. So I guess it took a global pandemic for me to finally blog again. I decided to dust off these virtual blank pages to put some thoughts on them because I didn't trust that I would remember the minutia of our days 20, 30, 40 years down the road. Because right now, when we're forced into a togetherness like never before, it's the minutia that matters the most. When we're counting every hour, every minute until all this craziness passes. When we're forced to figure out how to pass this time of social distancing effectively, and--when I'm ambitious--even meaningfully. Or during those tough moments--and let's face it, there's going to many--how do we do it without killing each other?

What makes this more interesting for me is, at a time when everyone around me is practicing social distancing, I had chosen, two months prior to the COVID-19 restrictions, to avoid social media altogether. I deleted Facebook and Instagram from my phone and opted not to log in from my desktop as well.

It was part of my Self Care 2020 resolution. I decided that, after years of putting my family before me, focusing on raising my girls, it was the year that I would turn that focus on my own needs. I was certain I couldn't do that through the lens of social media, not when I couldn't scroll through my feed without a certain level of "I wish I could..." or "I should've..." or "If only..." or "It must be nice...". Turns out, I'm not immune to the ills of social media that psychologists warn us about, so I opted out altogether for self-preservation.

And you know what? It's been three months and counting, and I have to say, it was one of the best decisions I've made in a long time. Not to sound dramatic, but it felt like a spring cleaning of my soul. Don't get me wrong. I miss seeing my family and friends on my feed. I miss the convenience of being in touch virtually with people I care about. But I don't miss the clutter in my head and the self-doubt that had cast a weighted shadow on my life.

For those who had reached out, wondering about my quiet social media feed, thank you, and I'm happy to report that we're all healthy and safe. All things considered, we're all in a pretty good place, but I'll write more on my family later. For now, I'm still trying to figure out how to navigate this temporary normal. To Instagram or not to Instagram, at at time when our need for social connection is magnified by the mandate against it?

It's becoming exceedingly difficult to distance myself virtually when I also have to do it in real life. Even for an introvert like me, it's getting harder to not have regular contact with people outside my family. Not that I'm miserable, but misery loves company, as they say, so when we're going through the COVID crisis together, it seems only natural to crave a support network, even when they only appear on our phones.

Perhaps blogging is my compromise. Rather than scrolling through my feed looking for company every day, I can collect my thoughts and put them out into the world, hoping that some of these words may find its way to those who need it.

But I suspect that the one who needs these words the most is me. And maybe that's a good enough to start writing again.

We all need to find a way to cope. One way or another.

My posse on our daily walks together. Yes, Little Miss is no longer little.

See how our family is coping during the pandemic.