A year ago this month, the world seemed to come to a sudden halt.
My kids peered out of our window to see the once-busy yellow ferry sitting still on the dock. Our streets were empty. Our offices and our schools closed as our Zoom offices and Zoom schools opened. Our families and our friends suddenly seemed so far away on our FaceTime screens. We woke up morning after morning only to rediscover the same truth: our communities had been ripped away from us.
In our dual career household with two demanding careers, we had been constantly racing. Racing out the door with backpacks, racing back in the door on a conference call while ordering in for dinner. Racing to make the presentation; racing to find a silly hat for hat day at school. Racing to make that flight; racing back the next day to celebrate my daughter's birthday.
We had been racing to be great leaders and racing to be great parents. In a race that seemed to have no finish line in sight. A race that had suddenly come to a screeching halt.
And in our home, as the race stopped, chaos erupted. Bursts of anger and angst. Sprinkles of giggles and gaggles here and there. A messy pile of tears and tantrums. These emotions spilled out like a tidal wave, at times drowning us, and at times lifting us high up for some much needed air. We were trying hard to recalibrate, reset, and restart how we were raising our kids in this new pandemic journey.
A year later, I am not sure if I am a better, enhanced, much improved, updated, or revamped version of the mother I used to be pre-pandemic. What I do know is that I feel like I won Survivor a few times over, did a few triathlons, and a competition or two of Tough Mudder in the span of 12 months.
While I am a bit bruised and a bit sore, I am still standing. And I am a stronger mother for it. Here's how I have changed as a mother during this pandemic.
I focus on the right details.
My children currently have the same favorite color: blue. However, my daughter's favorite color is light blue; my son's favorite color is dark blue. She still loves granola bars, and he still won't eat one even when we have run out of all other snack options. My daughter loves Peppa Pig, Curious George, and Paw Patrol. My son has moved on to being obsessed with all things Harry Potter. They laugh really, really loud when something is funny. They both hate coriander like their father, and they both enjoy Sunday mornings with chocolate chip pancakes with a good helping of syrup.
These are the details that matter to me right now.
I embrace timeouts.
Pre-pandemic, I felt guilty about giving timeouts. If the weekend was our family time together, I didn't want to be punishing the kids. I wanted them to promise me they wouldn't do it again (usually kicking or punching or pushing their sibling,) and move on to the next thing we needed to race to get done. Now I embrace timeouts. 10 minute, 15 minutes, 30 minutes, and sometimes 60 minutes.
And when I feel like I am about to lose it, I say "Mama needs a time out" and I escape to my room to flip on Bling Empire for an extended time out. For me.
I am a better cook than I thought.
Thank you Hello Fresh for reminding me that I can cook more than Tyson Chicken Frozen nuggets in the microwave. That I could do more than put Lunchables out on a plate and toss some string cheeses at my kids. The loss of my commute time has helped me reunite with our shiny pots and pans, dull knives, and barely used cheese grater.
While my kids always loved my mac and cheese (surprisingly not from the box, but made from scratch), it has been an opportunity to introduce them to different meals each week. And as their teachers so politely taught them to say: "Thank you, it's not my favorite, and I will finish what's on my plate."
I say "no" a lot more.
I am continuing to embrace the power of saying no and utilizing no with a rationale and a recommendation. I am saying no to prioritize time with my kids. And each time I say no I am ensuring that I am sticking to the promises I already made. I am fulfilling my commitments to all the other things I said yes to.
And when it comes to my kids, instead of shouting NO! at them and racing off to the next thing, I say: No, you can't watch a movie now. You need to clean up your toys, read a book, help set the table, and then we can think about a movie.
I appreciate the value of things.
Our on-the-go, on-demand lifestyle of getting what we want when we want and where we wanted to satisfy ourselves and pacify our children was a life that has unraveled. And in hindsight, a year into this pandemic, it's a life I no longer recognize. It's a life I am embarrassed of having led.
So I have been learning to re-appreciate the value of things. And teaching my kids to appreciate what they already have. We wait to order new books; we go through ones we haven't read in awhile. We support our local restaurants once a week when we have all had good behavior (that includes us parents too.) And when we don't like the snacks we have, we don't whine and complain. As my son says, "we get what we get and we don't get upset."
I don't negotiate.
No more negotiating. No more promising a lollipop to my daughter for keeping on her outfit inside out for "backwards" school day. No more telling my son I'll buy him more Pokémon cards if he stops teasing his sister. No more telling them that they can't have more screen time when they ask for an additional 30 minutes. And then caving and saying, "Okay 15 more minutes, and that's it." No more bribing, no more bargaining, no more haggling, no more debating, no more negotiating.
I am the parent, my rules, my house (and yes, I sound like all of our parents.) And I am still in the process of reclaiming our home.
I make time for play.
I wrestle on the floor. I transform empty Amazon boxes into space ships. I play Barbie cafe (I am somehow always the customer.) I turn rocks into butterflies, ladybugs and bumble bees. I play freeze dance. I play, play, and play some more. I play until I need a quick nap on the couch, a refill of coffee or until I have to run to my next Zoom call. I play for my kids and with my kids. I also use moments of play as an opportunity to refuel, recalibrate and recharge myself.
For the last year, our lives had been slowing down to slowly start up again. As we start up again, I'll be holding on tight to all of the pandemic lessons that have made me a strong mother.