I’ve really thrived in taking longer and longer fasts from social media. It’s been good for my soul to unplug and keep my eyes on what’s immediately in front of me– the temptation to covet the beauty all of you create and share in online spaces can sometimes be too much for my mental health to bear. BUT…as the world around us seems to have changed so drastically in such a short amount of time, I can’t help but want to feel connected, and to share my own sentiments that while we may all be self-isolating, isolated is the last thing any of us really needs to be feeling. So if you’re holding on in the stillness (or clustered chaos, in my case) of your own space, this is for you.
If you’ve followed my blog for any amount of time, you know I’m a planner. I get super excited about new adventures and my husband and I would absolutely categorize ourselves as adventurous people…but we plan every single detail of each of our adventures, usually to the most minute of details. We’ve recently moved across the country to the city we love more than anything, for an amazing and unexpected new job opportunity that truly came out of nowhere at exactly the right time. The problem is, that wasn’t part of the plan.
I’m pregnant right now with baby #6 for us. And this was one of those planned, “Hey, sweetheart, I know you’re on a business trip right now, but I’m ovulating so do you think you could cancel all that and come home?” kind of pregnancies. (Is that TMI? Sorry.) I’m getting older, we wanted to have at least one more baby, and I knew I’d be able to handle having a new baby when we’d wrapped up our homeschool and when our big kids could enjoy the beauty of a Michigan summer in our backyard without much supervision (I’m due in late May/early June). I was teaching in our homeschool group and planning on doing more in the fall, and that all seemed feasible if I had the summer to get situated with new baby.
Then our world went bananas. My husband’s job in Michigan was basically going to be dissolved or transferred to a major city where we absolutely didn’t want to move, and he started looking for other options. As an answer to prayers, something incredible became available in Salt Lake City, which is where we’d thought we’d wind up as part of our 5-10 year plan. In our wildest dreams we didn’t imagine getting here just 18 months after we left. (We lived in SLC for a little over a year in 2017 and our hearts ached for it from the moment we moved.) So even though it meant listing our house the week of Thanksgiving and trying to sell it through a Michigan winter, we leapt at the opportunity and dove in feet first.
Of course, the house didn’t sell. Not only didn’t it sell, it didn’t even get looked at. You guys, I wrote a blog series about profitable home investment. In 7 moves in 10 years I have NEVER had a house that didn’t sell in the first 30 days on the market. And there are lots of reasons for ours not moving, mostly where we bought, when we listed, and how much we invested in it among other things, but it still hurts. We moved into a 600 sq ft furnished basement apartment, expecting to have our house packed and moved to us when it sold. We brought suitcases with clothes we needed for the remainder of winter and a few summer things, and I shipped my car filled with basic kitchen tools and what we needed for homeschooling. I figured we’d be in this space for a month or two, and then we’d finalize the move with a home sale and a new house. Whoops.
As we worked with our realtor and talked through all the challenges of selling homes in Michigan, where the market just genuinely is much, much slower than in SLC, we put all our hope in the fact that home sales pick up in the spring. In our area, demand for housing starts picking up in the middle of March and really takes off in early April as families head for spring break. By our math, if we went under contract before the end of April, we’d still have the possibility of closing on a house here in Salt Lake before our baby gets here. And after so many moves, I felt confident I could get us unpacked and relatively settled within a week or two, just in time to welcome little miss. (Side note: this will also be my fourth home birth, so naturally I’m eager to have us settled if for nothing else than to give birth in my own space.)
But that was all before the coronavirus madness took over the world. And please hear me– I don’t mean to be insensitive to people who are sick or vulnerable. I know there are people who are afraid for their lives right now. As a pregnant person with asthma who’s gotten pneumonia in 5 out of 5 previous pregnancies, I’m definitely concerned about the health implications of this crisis. I’ve practiced self isolation with my family for ages as a way to stay healthy during cold and flu season and I get the challenges of staying well when it seems like everyone is sick. But…my day to day life is way more affected by all the other implications of what’s happening. Earlier this week, Michigan stopped all non-essential businesses, including real estate. Which means no showings of any homes and no activity on currently listed homes. No one can even look at our house until after the timeline that would allow us to get settled somewhere new. In addition to that, I’d planned on having the basic things I needed for baby and for the kids for spring and just some of our essentials that we left behind shipped to us, since living out of a suitcase indefinitely is a bit tricky in changing seasons. But with everyone in Michigan under a shelter-in-place order, no one can go to my house to pack and ship what we need. Some of those things, like cloth diapers, would make a difference for a family like ours who is currently paying two house payments and would also just genuinely love not venturing out to fight other moms at Target over the last boxes of diapers and wipes.
Whew. Does that sound like I’m whining? Okay. I am. It’s true. This is a really hard time to be in transition. And this isn’t what transition typically looks like for this family who seems to always be in transition. And as I sat, sobbing at the breakfast table I bought to fit in my little 8×10 kitchen, I realized that our family has been in transition for as long as I’ve been having children, which is fourteen years. We are better equipped to handle this than most. When I had my oldest daughter, my first husband and I were living with my parents. I gave birth to my second daughter while on spring break my senior year of college, and immediately went back to school, and then started a new, hugely demanding job the day after I graduated. When my third baby was born, we’d been living in Nashville for less than a year, and six months later were living with my in-laws while we looked for houses in Atlanta. It was during that in-between time that I got pregnant with baby #4, and after his birth I quit my job, withdrew my girls from public school, and started homeschooling (literally two days after he was born). We suffered a miscarriage while living with my parents again after selling our Atlanta house and before moving to SLC. And then, during my pregnancy with baby #5 we sold our house in Salt Lake and moved to Michigan, where we bought and fully renovated a family home. And here we are, pregnant again, and planning to have baby #6 in this little 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom Airbnb, under the fear of a scary respiratory illness and orders to leave home only in dire circumstances. Whew.
But what has been consistent through all of this: we’ve had good, reliable jobs, and we’ve had each other. Those are really big things that not everyone has. That’s not lost on me. In the midst of all this transition, the actual hardest month for me was the month my husband worked in Salt Lake and I stayed behind with our family in Detroit. We didn’t know about all the challenges that would be coming, but I can still say that facing every day by myself without the support of my genuinely amazing partner nearly broke me. And looking back, I’d still take this situation over that one. Having the big perfect house I got to design means absolutely nothing when I stand it next to keeping our family together.
I know that right now so many families are looking at really scary realities. As we look at how we’ll pay two house payments and how long we can sustain that in our budget, I think of the families who are affected by business closures and layoffs. The friends who are engaged and can’t get married when they planned. The moms who are about to give birth, many of them alone without partners, in hospitals that have become a lot scarier than the home birth I have planned. The loved ones who can’t say goodbye as funerals are halted and nursing homes are under lockdown. And the ones who’ve never had to spend all day, every day, with their children and are going through what I went through that first year as a homeschool mom- critiquing their own parenting, giving in to frustration and then the guilt that comes after it, and dying a little every time they want to take a break but can’t. These are really, really hard things.
But as a mom who’s been through lots of these things in stages in the past, and one who admittedly battles serious mental health ups and downs in the midst of mega-motherhood, I want to tell you, every day can still have wins. The fear and anxiety and exhaustion and frustration don’t have to win. Taking small steps to fight for your joy and the happiness of your family can make all the difference when the rest of the world seems to be coming to an end. I won’t tell you to stay home and keep people safe because God knows you have enough people already telling you that. But I will tell you how this mom, who struggles to drive more than 10 miles in a month, handles being at home (even a 600 sq ft one!) with 4 small children when going outside and doing big adventures just isn’t an option.
Don’t just binge on television. Okay. I’ve talked a lot about how we limit screen time, and in our current situation we don’t even have a TV, so this isn’t an option for us anyway. But…staying plugged in to your TV the entire day is genuinely the fastest way to feel like you haven’t accomplished anything, which, when you’re stuck at home for what feels like forever only feeds the anxiety that you’re not doing anything and you’re missing out on life. So by all means pick some things to watch over the course of self-isolation, but don’t let that be your whole game plan. Think about projects to tackle, new skills to learn, and things you’ve been waiting to do when you had the time.
Definitely make a game plan. Given the nightmare that is a grocery store right now, go ahead and give meal planning a try. Make a plan for your days and for the week as a whole, include a goal for each day and what you’ll be eating. Look at foods you’d like to learn to cook, or let this be the time you make healthier meal choices! Every time we’ve hit the grocery store, the dry foods have been completely wiped out, but the produce is still as full as ever. So I’ve made a goal to fit at least two salads into my day each day, and to introduce a new fruit or vegetable to my kids every week. Having a plan helps. It takes the stress out of figuring out what to eat when you can’t just run to the store for those few ingredients you need and when takeout lines are wrapping around the building. When you plan ahead you waste less time, money, and resources, plus you’ll feel more in control of what your day looks like.
Give yourself a cultural bucket list. Tons of amazing organizations are making content available online for free right now. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra has made all its concerts available online for free, and it’s searchable by composer and music period (a homeschooler’s dream!). Fernbank Natural History Museum in Atlanta has amazing content on their Facebook page for science learning. Sir Patrick Stewart is reading a Shakespeare sonnet on Twitter every day during quarantine, literally a balm to my homeschool mama heart. Check out learning a new instrument or foreign language or literally anything on any topic online and be amazed at how much you can grow your brain when you have time and interest on your side.
Read, read, read. The median number of books read per year by American adults is five. FIVE. As a working mom, I read far less than that per year, and what I did read was usually some intelligence-insulting drivel read while sunbathing at the beach. Now as a homeschool mom I’ve had the incredible opportunity to revisit a lot of classics I neglected in my own school days, and it’s been wonderful. Check out apps like Libby, Overdrive, Hoopla, and Audible to find the best fit for you, and make a reading list! We’ve been reading Anne of Green Gables aloud as a family every night, and are about to tackle The Railway Children. I love reading aloud to my family in character- it lets my inner stage actor out- but if you hate it, don’t be afraid to just enjoy an audio book together. Listening to Little Women or Stuart Little or middle school faves like The Giver and Where the Red Fern Grows can be such good medicine when you just need to be transported to somewhere else. Not sure where to start? Check out the book lists available on listchallenges.com and you’ll be sure to find something. Many of these are available for free as ebooks from your library! And if you don’t have that option, consider signing up for Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program- you can cancel at any time and use the app on your phone.
Stay active! We are so fortunate that our kid’s amazing karate school here is offering their classes via Zoom meeting, and is posting all their training videos to our private Facebook group. With no backyard and three boys under 6, I can’t imagine how things would be if we didn’t have a physical activity to do every day. And as part of my regular routine, I swear by Yoga with Adriene as my home-workout of choice. She has literally hundreds of yoga videos for every ability level and for topics like anxiety, sciatica, pregnancy, losing weight, and more. Not into yoga? Check out other YouTube workout options. There are limitless options out there, not to mention tons of workout videos available to watch on Amazon Prime Video. And if you can, even going for a walk is great activity that can be done without getting too close to others. The vitamin D will do you good, too. 🙂
Brave that budget. If you’ve never done it before (or really, even if you have), now might be a great time to look at your budget and really assess where your money is going. It may be depressing, especially if this crisis has hit you financially, but it will also relieve so much stress when you’ve gotten a handle on where you can spend and where you can save. Plus it will save you from lots of tears when that MasterCard statement comes in April and tells you that you really shouldn’t have splurged on all that takeout and those Amazon and iTunes purchases. Not sure where to start? Check out Dave Ramsey’s podcast, or search budgeting podcasts on your favorite listening app. There are tons of really great ones out there that can fit just about any lifestyle or budget need.
Stick together. Right. We’re not supposed to be together. But you know what I mean. Lean on your support systems: use FaceTime and Marco Polo and whatever other means you have to get face-to-face connection with the people you love and miss. Chat with that coworker who always has a joke for you, check on that neighbor whose dog always gets into your yard, tell your kid’s teacher how much you value what they do. Ask your pastor how he/she’s holding up. Be honest with how hard it is for you. Talk to your kids about how hard things happen even to adults, but that we can live through them all to see the other side. It makes things easier when we know we’re not alone.
I don’t know how long all of this is going to last. And I don’t mean just the “shelter in place” direction, or the fear of contracting a serious respiratory infection, or the economic fallout of closing millions of small businesses. I mean the feeling of “oh gosh, I didn’t plan for any of this. I have no idea what to do. We’re going crazy and I just want things to get back to normal.” I know that people are saying this marks the changing of the world as we know it, and that feels really scary. As a mom of young kids about to give birth again, it definitely feels scary. But every day, we wake up and we do very normal things. We eat breakfast. We brush our teeth. We do our homeschool. We talk. We fight. We make up. We hold hands and cry when things are hard. We jump and celebrate when we hear something exciting. We look forward to chats with friends and snacks that taste delicious and music that makes us dance and stories that give us life. We pray together for strength. And we pray for our friends and family and the world around us.
As I sat in a mental health crisis over where I’d have my next baby and when I’d have a normal life, not knowing what would happen just weeks later, I read “when you’re suffering, the only way out is to walk through it, and you can’t do that lying down.” That has gotten me through so much of what’s happened in the last few weeks. When we’re afraid, when life is upside down, when nothing seems right, sometimes the only thing to do is walk through it. Make each day a little more normal. Don’t stay down. Whether it’s leaning on your faith or leaning on the ones you love or some combination of those or something different entirely, find your partner(s) and walk through it. Make it through today, and then tomorrow, and then the next day. Keep going. The other side is always waiting just beyond where we think we can’t go anymore. Walking is good exercise. And walking through hardships, especially (even virtually) with the ones we love, is worth doing every time.
Hang in there friends.