The world has turned upside down. I have so many thoughts crashing around in my head I barely know where to start. I keep exchanging the same words with people—what a strange time we are living in. So unsettling, so fraught with unknowns and misinformation and fear. And for those of us single parenting, there is a whole other level of concern. It’s a lot scarier facing this virus when you’re “it” at your house. When illness hits a family, it sure is easier when you can tag-team. When someone can cover for you if you get sick. When you don’t have to carry the weight of the work and worry by yourself. Whether you are widowed, divorced, don’t have a partner—doesn’t matter. You are “it” for your kids, and that comes with an extra dose of unease.
And OH, the DISAPPOINTMENT! This past week, all of us conscientious parents have been playing the heartbreaking game of “how do I keep my kids safe/what should I still allow them to do.” All these kids with now-cancelled performances, competitions, games, events, travel. These kids who have worked for weeks and months in rehearsals and on teams and preparing for opportunities that may not come again. We have to try and explain to them what we can barely understand and explain to ourselves. I certainly do not envy the job of our school board and administrators as they slash and cut the things these kids hold dear. Our hearts break for these kids, even as we do what we know needs doing.
There are so many things to feel about this pandemic, and I’ve been trying to sort out my thoughts about it as much as I can. What I have been craving for weeks (months? Since my husband’s death in July?) is a day, or a few days, where NOTHING happens. Where things are just simple, easy, normal feeling. But here we are, and that clearly isn’t in the cards for any of us.
I keep coming back to the idea of simplifying. Perhaps the closing of schools and the “stay-at-home” advice can allow us time to simplify things. It will certainly force us to slow down. Rest. Take stock. Focus on basic needs and self-care. Perhaps turn to some home-bound projects that have been waiting on the back burner. Try to get the worry and fear to fizzle away as we just take some time to step away from responsibility and daily stress (or make a conscious decision to re-evaluate our responsibilities and decide what stresses we can let go of?)
There are so many big-picture worries that want to sneak in. What happens to all the working parents who have nowhere for their kids to go when they aren’t in school? What happens to the small businesses and vendors and caterers that rely on tourism and conventions and events to make their living? What happens to all the hourly employees who possibly won’t be needed until things take a turn? What happens to all the children who rely on free breakfast and lunch at school to eat? What happens to the isolated, out-of-touch elderly people who are afraid to leave home and don’t have help? It is staggering, and in times like these it becomes all too apparent how much we actually rely on each other to keep our communities thriving.
And sadly, when we fear, we panic and hoard and blame. We storm the stores, we fight over supplies, we blame our government. We isolate ourselves, and for many this becomes an “I need to take care of my own” situation. I am hopeful this isn’t the case. I am hopeful that even as we worry and wait, we look around us and figure out how we can help those in need. Support those who are on their own. Help with childcare so others can go to work. Make sure no one is going hungry in our neighborhood. Check in with each other. Share toilet paper and hand sanitizer. I’m hopeful that perhaps we can see some of the best of our humanity come out of this global pandemic. And I’m hopeful that we can start putting aside the blame, stop making this a partisan issue, and just realize that what we need is cooperation and solutions. We won’t get anywhere if we are steeped in negativity.
And so I am drinking up the positive stories that roll in. Strangers buying groceries for elderly people who are too afraid to walk into a store to shop. Messages around the neighborhoods of people offering to buy food for any family in need. People rallying to write letters and give care packages to our isolated assisted living and nursing home communities. People dropping off supplies on doorsteps. People offering to bring basic school supplies to families that are struggling. People sharing resources and online learning opportunities. People digging deep to find creative, fun ways for their families to bond during these scary times. These are the stories I want to hear. Let history record that we were there for each other, that we came together as a community and knew that we could lean on and show up for each other.
When the first humorous COVID-19 memes started to flood Facebook, I was a little taken aback. How can we make light of this? How can we possibly be so insensitive to those who are battling this virus or have already lost loved ones to it? But really, what else can we do. If the humor lifts us just a little, if it lightens the fear and allows us to breathe easier for just a moment, then maybe it’s a good thing. They say that grief manifests itself in many forms—I think that holds true for fear and worry as well. I don’t think anyone is making jokes or creating/sharing memes because they want to offend or be insensitive. They are restless and worried. They don’t know what to do, and they are reaching out through social media to have a shared bit of experience and humor with friends and family that are in the same frightened space. We are desperate to hold each other up and be held up by those we care about.
So, let’s stay in touch. Let’s voice our needs and concerns and not be afraid to reach out. Let’s be respectful and kind, realizing that we are ALL in this and we will succeed or fail together. Let’s make sure we balance the lows with some highs. Let’s learn from this. Let’s hold our heads high and show our kids what our communities are made of—to ensure THAT is what they remember as they grow older. Sure, they will remember the heartbreak of the missed choir competition and the missed prom and the missed travel. But let’s show them that we rallied, that we shared, that we held each other up. Let’s show them that hard choices can be made with grace and received with forgiveness. If there was ever a time to “be the change,” this is it.
—Heather (Siemsen) Farha