Trepidation? You Bet.
For many of us, the end of summer is traditionally heralded by our kids' return to school, accompanied by the anticipation of a new beginning, a re-set, and a return (occasionally welcome) to routines that are known within a setting of the newness of another school year. This year, however, the return to school is anything but routine. How do I quell this mild sense of unease as my kids, after spending the last three months of the last school year learning from home, excitedly anticipate the return to school (that will look quite different), while I myself learn from home, and try to keep things as "normal" as possible (oh hello, masks, now a regular constituent of my laundry routine)? Perhaps holding on to the "knowns" that act as touchstones to my daily life will help - an impromptu dance party in the kitchen with my kids, a chuckle shared between friends, a beverage (fermented or carbonated, take your pick), or a snack (salty, sweet, or chocolatey) - and seeking solace in the comfort of sage words from those who are experiencing the same phenomena, in what feels like the four hundredth and eighty-sixth day of the pandemic, will help alleviate the anxiety that marks this period. Here, I offer a few thoughts, products of conversations I've had with friends over the last little while...
Just trying to figure a few things out...
To be (in school), or not to be (in school), that is the question...
Ah, this is not a small issue, as there are many factors at play here. I've always felt that being a teacher is one of the toughest jobs in the world, but teaching during a pandemic, with both online and in-person demands, adds an additional layer of complexity that compels teachers to deliver a Herculean effort to ensure that students continue to learn and feel secure amidst the distraction, disruption, potential risks, and frank craziness of the times. As families navigate the return to school, the unknowns of being in a relatively busy and populated environment, after months of recommendations to maintain physical distance, evoke anxiety - if someone in my child's class has the sniffles, what does this mean for my kid? For my family? For my kid's class? Going down this rabbit hole of unknowns can be overwhelming, therefore in an effort to keep my stress at bay, I take stock of the measures undertaken by my kids' school, ensure that these measures not only meet but exceed the standards recommended by the relevant authoritative bodies, and decide what works best for my family. In my mind, there is no arguing with science and facts, therefore measures need to be robust within the context of what is known about COVID-19. This does not negate the need for faith that the families whose children will be learning alongside my children will exercise the same due diligence and precautions that my family will undertake to ensure the safety of our children and their teachers. So, a gentle reminder: as I will constantly remind my kids to wash their hands, keep their distance, and wear their masks, please remind your kids, nieces, nephews, and grandkids to do the same. Let's all do our part so that our kids can learn in a safe place.
Hold on tight, everyone - we're in for one heckuva ride!
I came across this Sanskrit prayer that aims to "(create) harmony among the students and teacher" before studies and "(cultivate) a sense of enthusiasm and joy in learning" (Schmidt, L. February 7, 2020. "9 Powerful Mantras in Sanskrit and Gurmukhi." Retrieved from https://chopra.com/articles/9-powerful-mantras-in-sanskrit-and-gurmukhi).
Om Sahana Vavatu
Saha Nau Bhunaktu
Saha Viiryam Karavaavahai
Tejasvi Nau Adhiitam Astu
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti
Om, may the Divine protect both teacher and student.
Let us be nourished and protected.
May we work together with great energy.
May our studies be effective.
May we never hate or fight one another.
Om Peace, Peace, Peace.
I myself do not ascribe to any one religion, but I do believe in the power of positive thought and the existence of a greater being(s) or force (how else can one explain the magic of a perfect sunset?). Therefore yes, I will utter these words for our kids and their teachers, and support them as they work toward some semblance of normalcy.
One of my favourite places on earth - Tofino, B.C.
To see this, hear this, and just be in this?
Yes, something greater definitely exists. Just don't ask me to explain it.
Guilt? No thank you.
I am fortunate that my children attend a school where a smaller class size allows for a viable and relatively safe return to school. For families who are not able to send their children to school due to safety concerns and the reality of larger class sizes in physically-limited spaces, I sympathize with the tough decisions that need to be made that account for the safety of the family unit, the socio-emotional needs of the children, and the practical logistics of a pandemic whose culprit has yet to be contained (and which has yet to be fully understood with respect to its virulence). The added stress of distance learning, on both children and the caretakers on whose shoulders online learning continuity and accountability rest, is significant. While I cannot imagine these circumstances for myself, what I can offer is faith in your judgement, trust that you made the best decision for your family, and belief that like so many times before, you will get through - whether with grace or without. (When I talk myself through something, sometimes it sounds like this: "It wasn't pretty, but you made it." Sometimes the journey isn't all it's cracked up to be - sometimes you just want to survive and get where you want to go. And in spite of your best efforts to forego the zen of deriving meaning from a tough journey, you'll end up learning something about yourself and growing from the process. Oh, the irony...). Don't be hard on yourself, and definitely do not harbour any guilt - nobody can judge you for doing what you feel is right for your family.
Resilience? Yes please.
Sigh. Resilience does not just happen. Setbacks and challenges, and more importantly, the choice to continue in spite of these setbacks and challenges, occur when we repeatedly push ourselves to try new things, proceed with the knowledge that "success" is not guaranteed, and nurture a willingness to adapt when things don't go the way we hope. This period in time is frustrating, in that as we mourn the life we knew, we are being forced to create a new life on top of a foundation that is not stable. Nobody knows when a vaccine will be available, and nobody knows whether or not the vaccine will be efficacious. Throw in the upheaval of social unrest to global eco-political turmoil, and you have multiple compelling reasons to feel unsettled, if not defeated. I myself feel untethered - while the rhythm of making sure that my kids' world continues to go 'round anchors me somewhat, the pear-shaped proportions of the larger world throw me off-balance.
So perhaps the counterpart of resilience is kindness... to oneself. My upbringing was one of persistence and a lack of forgiveness for myself when I felt I did not fulfill expectation or adequately meet a challenge. After many years of school, working, and now raising children while returning to school, I am much more forgiving of myself (ok, maybe not all the time), which has surprisingly offered a measure of confidence - confidence in my ability to recover if I fall, because I now know that how hard I am on myself is not commensurate with my ability to overcome challenges. No need to undermine myself. Also, while being kind to and understanding of myself, I endeavour to be kind to and understanding of others, as I suspect that I am not the only one with less-than-sure-footing during this unprecedented time.
Ad Guray Namay,
Jugad Guray Namay,
Sad Guray Nameh,
Siri Guru Devay Nameh
I bow to the Primal Wisdom,
I bow to the Wisdom through the ages,
I bow to the True Wisdom,
I bow to the Great Divine Wisdom.
A Gurmukhi mantra for those who seek clarity and guidance.
There's no doubt in my mind that living in a pandemic is a big deal. Everybody is affected, some more so than others, therefore a little compassion goes a long way as we go about our days. As I try to be kind to myself and to others, I remind myself of the sage words of Winnie the Pooh's good friend, Christopher Robin:
"You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think..." A.A. Milne
Let's hold on to these words, comforted by the knowledge that we are not alone as we live this life of new normals, and that, whether through friends or health professionals, there is support for us. While I try to navigate my uncharted territory, I wish you all strength as you navigate yours.
"She stood in the storm and when the wind did not blow her away, she adjusted her sails." - Elizabeth Edwards
Until next time,