Like many families, we’ve spent the past eight weeks working from home. I have a minor heart condition that puts me in a “high-risk” category, so we pulled our two young children out of day care early. Each morning we wake to Groundhog Day. We play inside, we play outside, we eat and we take turns working at a makeshift desk in the bedroom. Weekdays and weekends merge, as if the colours of an earlier life have blended to a monotone blur.
Just a few months ago, my husband and I wrote our goals for the year in a little moleskin book. We had our work, our physical health and our family objectives neatly lined up ready for accomplishment. Each morning I charged off to the office determined to make the day count.
It’s almost impossible to be productive with children aged 2 and 4 at my feet demanding attention. For a while, I worried about how little I’d done at the end of each day. I felt stressed and tired, and noticed my temper cord stretching shorter than before. And so the days continued.
I’m sure you’ve noticed how targets that seemed important a month ago don’t matter now. Everyone’s grand plans for 2020 have tumbled. This virus forced us to throw out the goals and focus on getting through each day.
Once I accepted that a lot of what I wanted to achieve this year isn’t going to happen, I started to relax. I found light in our little family bubble and joy in small things like watching my kids jump in puddles at the park. Life isn’t about achieving goals. It’s taken this reset for me to grasp that.
Give up feeling guilty
If a paediatrician examined our parenting for a day, the report would be far from perfect. I’ve caved on my no weekday screen restrictions, our children wrestle and sometimes bite each other, and the lounge room floor is a sea of plastic toys, washing, the odd fragment of uneaten fruit and a cubby house constructed from chairs and sheets that’s always half collapsed.
When we went into this “social distancing” period I imagined myself taking the opportunity to teach my four-year-old how to read. I’d planned activities for us to do together; we’d have fun. It took one day to shatter my vision. Working from home is hard in the company of two young kids whose wants and needs are almost opposite from my own.
At first, I felt guilty for turning on the television. I felt guilty when my four-year old burst into the room wanting to tell me something and I had to close the door because I was on a conference call. Then I realised that guilt is a wasted emotion: no good comes from it. We’re all doing our best, and our best is just fine.
Focus on the present
I’ve learnt to appreciate the preciousness of time. Each day, there are hours to play with children, a few hours when it’s my time to work and, when we’re lucky, an hour or two for my husband and I to spend together in the evening. Because the day is partitioned, I’ve learnt to be much more focused in each section. In my precious “work time” I try not to waste a second checking Facebook or news sites. And when I’m with the kids or hubby, it’s the same – every moment counts.
I’ve also noticed what I miss about life before. It isn’t the big things like achieving a business milestone or winning an award. It’s the everyday interactions with the guy at the cafe who makes my coffee and the woman at the gym who I wave to on the treadmill. It’s saying “hi” to other parents at daycare drop-off or chatting with a stranger on the train on my way into the city – all the people who add colour to my every day. I’ll never take those interactions for granted again.
Years ago, I learnt to meditate. The aim was always to be in the present, to be calm and to have perspective. I’d been practising trying to be present every morning and night as I sat repeating my mantra. But only now do I understand what it means. Being at home with nowhere to go, no plans to make and with two little companions who prevent me from being productive, all I can do is try to enjoy the moment. Going slow by force, not by choice, is much harder than I imagined.
I know I’m not the first to say that this virus is an awful situation. Some among us will lose so much more than I. I’m suggesting that when I look into my own isolated existence, there are some lessons I’ll take from the experience. I’ll make the most of each moment we have together as a family, and emerge on the other side with a fresh perspective.