Tuesday, April 28, 2020

How Covid Saved my Husband

This is going to be a vulnerable post. Telling you what's happening now means telling you what happened before this, and that part was horrible. I lost my husband. Not his life - thank goodness - but I lost his heart to the point where we haven't been wearing our wedding rings for most of ten years, now.

Let me tell you our story. Nearly twenty-five years ago now I met Markus. We were introduced by our friend Chloe, because she said we were so similarly strange. Actually she coerced me to go meet him; I tried to refuse. But off we went to the bus station in Vancouver, where the bus from Victoria pulled in, and I sat complaining about the stupidity of a blind date, while watching the passengers get off the bus. One of them meekly stepped off towards the luggage, his head turned away from where we were sitting, and his long blonde hair tumbling over the brown leather jacket on his shoulders. I wanted to meet him before I saw his face. I wanted to meet him before I knew he was Markus. He walked over and shyly shook my hand, eyes lowered behind blonde lashes. It wasn't until a minute later that he braved a glance at my face; I saw his gentle green-blue-hazel eyes, and fell in love forever.

I knew in that first moment that he would be my friend for the rest of my life. Over the next few years we adventured together; we traveled and explored, and talked about everything interesting and zany in the world. We found we agreed about everything - even burning candles on our Christmas tree and how to decorate our home! Our Chloe was right: we were perfectly matched for each other in our apparent weirdness, and completely relieved to have each other to share such a fascinating world with. Everything was comfortable, and most things were easy.

After 4 years together, we got married. It was an amazing wedding, and although the idea had been mine, our families made the event so wonderful that it seemed to be a community event. It was a true bringing-together of our beautiful tribes. Then we left the city and moved to this house - the house I grew up in on this beautiful island I love. And Markus loved it too. He began telecommuting two days a week, and commuted to the city on the other three. And less than a year later we conceived our first child.

Our kids' early years were idyllic. There were times Markus couldn't telecommute, but mostly he managed to make it home in time to eat dinner with his children, and any distance that might have grown between us all during the week was mended on the weekend. We had such a rich and wonderful life, full of music sessions and parties, family adventures and fun. I loved being a stay-at-home mother, attachment-parenting my kids, and for the first time in my life I had lots of friends, and felt supported in a life I was creating for myself. We eventually decided to unschool our kids and discovered we agreed about even that! We thought we were doing really well for ourselves.

Then slowly there came the creeping feeling that something was wrong.

By our tenth wedding anniversary something was very wrong. I realized it had been years since we'd had a good conversation. I realized Markus had begun disappearing, both physically and mentally, on a regular basis. He would take the 4:30 ferry home, and instead of walking straight to his waiting family, arriving by about 5:30, he'd arrive at 6 or 7. Often I worried something terrible had befallen him, until I became used to it. He was usually just walking on the docks. When he was home he was usually drinking. Beer and whiskey in the evenings; coffee you could stand on all day. On weekends he'd sleep in until 10 and wake with such a raging headache that he was incapacitated all weekend.

I begged him to quit all the addictions, and he did. He's a good and loving husband, and wanted to do well by his children. We quit drinking together, and it seemed so easy (not to mention a huge financial advantage!) But we couldn't connect anymore. When we did talk he was often bitter; unhappy with who I was and unsatisfied with life. He was uninterested in our home and family, despite going through the motions of participation.

Don't bother trying to diagnose. I tried that. And when I realized his memory was disappearing, we involved the doctors. Sometimes he forgot important life events; sometimes he forgot what happened two minutes earlier. Constantly, he just couldn't. get. moving. He drove off the ferry at about one quarter the speed of the other cars, and it took him at least a minute to get up to speed. He took so long to answer the phone that it often went to the answering machine. He couldn't make sense of simple household tasks, even though he was simultaneously working full time as a software developer, raising two kids, and miraculously rebuilding our home on a relative shoestring and partially reclaimed materials. Despite being one of the cleverest, most interesting people I knew, his brain seemed awash with confusion. He said he lived in his "empty box". I noted that our problems began soon after we moved to this island, and asked him many times if he'd like to move back to Victoria; if maybe being nearer his parents would help, or in the city he had lived in before me. He had no interest. In anything. At my behest, he asked the doctor about his symptoms, underwent various tests including a CT scan. No cause of this misery was found.

For over ten years now, if I ask him what he thinks or feels, his answer is "I don't know". We've fought many times because this is so unbelievable to me. I've accused him of not caring; of being lazy with our relationship. But it has persisted. He says he loves me but he's just not there. The kids tease him about smiling because it happens so infrequently that it seems weird to see on his face. I wish I had been more gentle with him.

Then came this pandemic. He was reluctant to work from home, because for nearly two decades, now, from the day we moved to this island, he's been getting up at 5:30am at least three days a week and trekking into town. It's his routine. It's one of the few things that's normal to him. He has always said the lack of sleep doesn't bother him, and the morning walk to the ferry is nice. He goes to work like a zombie and wakes up by the time he's there in the city at 7:45. Also, how would he connect with his coworkers by virtual meetings? He feels connection at work is important (ironically, I thought, since we don't have much at home).

But he had to stay home, so he did. And the miracle happened. We didn't get covid; we just self-isolated. And eventually he even received a pay-cut from work. These aren't supposed to be miracle-inducing events. But here we are, one month into this isolation, and I have my husband back. He wakes up every day around seven or eight, and commutes one minute to work in the office of our home. Then he makes me breakfast and brings it to me in bed. I make him lunch and we sit on the porch and look out at the world together. Sometimes we walk down the hill to get the mail and we look at all that changes along the trail, on the way. We talk about everything. For the first time in twenty years, I can say he's my best friend again. I feel supported by his love, again. He has ideas. He has opinions. And he smiles.

And now we know: It wasn't addiction or lack of love, or depression or even illness that took my husband away from me. Those were all symptoms of lack of sleep. We know that sleep deprivation causes many terrible symptoms, including most of those experienced by Markus over the past couple of decades. He now sleeps eight to ten hours a night, and his symptoms are gone. But just in case this wasn't enough to convince me we'd found the root of the problem, we ended up going back to the mainland a few days ago. We woke up at 6:40 and drove in for a day of shopping - our first masked and gloved isolation shop. He drove off the ferry at the same speed as all the other traffic, and was helpful and thoughtful about our shopping! It was wonderful to feel in connection again - living life together for the first time in so many years! But he hadn't slept well the night before, and by the time we returned home in the late afternoon, he was exhausted. He walked around like a zombie. He couldn't understand what our evening plans with the children were, and my heart broke a little to see him so weak. It took him two days to return to the old normal. Two days to get my husband back again from one night of bad sleep.

Never again. Sure, we'll go to town again, and there will be sleepless nights. But this rift in our marriage - this long, slow tumbling off the cliff of mental wellness and family connection - this can't happen again. The life we were living - that so many of us have been living for so long - this can't go on. We can't do it. Our supposed future security isn't worth the loss of our present life, as we trudge along the conveyor belt of our society's life-plan. No way. By whatever means necessary, we're going to have to stop this conveyor belt, and build a new and better normal that affords us the fulfillment of a simple basic need: sleep. As much as food and shelter, we need sleep, and somehow our whole culture needs to build that into our expectations. We can do this! The pandemic situation is giving us impetus to develop new ways of working and socializing, and as an added bonus, we're already getting more sleep. I love this train that we're on. Let's keep it going.

*Note*  I never write about other people's struggles without their permission. Markus has read and approves of this sharing of his story. We both hope it brings some clarity to a world where most of us have been pushing ourselves too hard, and maybe we can use this isolation time as a new beginning.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Old Sour Ma's Singin' Saloon

Well hello there! Since we're documenting our family's recent theme nights, here's mine. 
Welcome to Old Sour Ma's Singin' Saloon!

Hi. I'm Ma! Anybody comin' off a train at the station outside my establishment is welcome here. Just introduce yourself at the door. I get most of what I need for the saloon out of Billy's out back. He's never there, but there's a good supply of useful things, there, and nobody ever complained. Except my potato liquor. I make that in my own still just down below the outhouse. Free with dinner. And dinner's also free. Likewise supper. And pie.

The place where you find yourself: in a land unknown and a time untold. Ma's.

This is Annie - she wouldn't give her last name, nor much else about herself, and we feared she was Annie Oakley until she let slip that she didn't have a gun. Got all kinds of fanciness about her, including that she's been to Canada! She went up there herself and just picked wheat after wheat after wheat up there before she come home! She says she lives "down the railroad track" but won't tell us where that is. She also has a lot of cash, which she says just "has ways of finding her". Mysterious lady.

Anybody walkin' in the door to Ma's gets dinner on the house. There's only one dinner. You get what gets put on your plate. Beef and biscuits, most of the time. Beef I found hangin' in Billy's giant larder right behind that big old jug of rye I steal borrow from. Pie after supper. I get the apples from a tree in Billy's yard.

Anybody willin' to play for us gets a bottle of store-bought root beer. This gentleman come in callin' hisself a lightnin' rod saleman, though he didn't appear to have any lighnin' rods on him. Said his name was Clark Withers, and he turned out to be quite the entertainer. So busy with playin' piano he didn't drink his store-bought until later while we were playin' poker.

This guy was a little bit worrisome. Said his name was Fred Likely, but we thought that was Unlikely. Also said he was a cat rustler, and I had to rescue my cats from him on more than one occasion. During the poker playin' we figured out where that Annie gets her load of cash. Now she has all of ours, too. Whether by bettin' or stealin' ... she's got it all.

When that Clark wasn't playin' for us we listened to a lot of music on the jukebox under the bar. A lady named Kitty Wells happened off the train here one evening and left us a heap of music records in return for dinner. Best paying customer I ever had. It was a good time, and Fred turned out to be a likely dancing partner for old Ma.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

After Planet of the Humans: Where Do We Go Now?

Yesterday was Earth Day, which we ignored for most of the day, since we were busy with a bunch of important things, among them my partner Markus' work where he makes software for various land-based companies. Some of them are supposedly environmental companies; some are resource extraction companies, and one even has plans to log our home. But never mind. It's a good solid job and gives him employment and financial security in a time where there's not much security to go around. The bosses even took huge pay-cuts to keep from having to lay off employees like Markus. And besides. We live in a wooden house with glass windows, appliances and a car, and we need those resource extraction companies to supply the raw materials for these things.

So last night at the end of Earth Day, Markus and I snuggled up in our cozy foam bed and down quilt, with a cup of imported fair-trade hot chocolate with instant factory milk, set our nifty black laptop on our knees, and watched the movie about humanity's demise. Planet of the Humans. Well Happy Earth Day to us. We're wrecking the place. Thanks, Jeff Gibbs and Michael Moore, for bursting our hot chocolate bubble.

This film has received a good chunk of criticism, mostly (that I've seen) for being biased, and for using some of the fossil fuel industry's tactics to demean green energy and economy. But some of the points they bring up are truths we actually need to face. Like that switching over to electric cars (which I covet endlessly despite this film) will still require far more resources than the earth has to spare. And more importantly, we need to face the fact that our consumption is simply not sustainable. Green tech is not going to save us; we have to make some sacrifices, and yes - we're capable.

What we already knew:
The problem isn't fossil fuels as much as it is overpopulation and over-consumption.

If we curbed the rate of human consumption, we could make a better go of long-term survival for our species. Like Markus' bumper sticker says: Save the Humans. We all know we'd be OK without tourism, commuting and global travel-for-work, imported foods, large homes, or all-the-stuff. The kind of consumption our species has become accustomed to is not necessary.

We want to do better by our planet and our future, but we're competing in a world where everybody is waiting for everybody else to change, and none of us is willing or able to make the first big jump to a new way of living.

We're competing. Did I mention that? School is a competition, financial markets are a competition, getting ahead in business and life is a competition, the rat-race is a competition. Hell, half the time even friendship turns out to be a competition. So in some deep-seeded way, our minds know that being the first person to jump off the train means losing the competition -- losing at life. It means our kids won't keep up with their friends; it means our kids will cry about being left out of Disneyland and Hawaii and Broadway musicals; our kids will badger us about why their friends have better computer systems and better cars and better, bigger houses, and why-can't-we?! It means the guy we sit beside at work has a better house or works out harder or just gets paid more. Being the first person to jump off the consumerism train means I will lose, and nobody wants to be that guy.

What we learned from this movie:
No, technology can't actually save us. There is no "green" technology. There is only green consumption... which means less consumption.

Most of the "green" or "ethical" products we buy or use are in fact not green at all. Most rely on fossil fuels - including solar power, wind power, and every. single. company. that claims to run only off of green energy. Hmph.

Electric cars, solar panels, and other green tech are just shiny destructive sink-holes for our hard-, rat-race-earned money. Second only to replacing rotten bits of our home, getting an electric vehicle has been our main goal. We realize now that driving a heap of metal and plastic around using electricity isn't going to save the world. We have to stop traveling. Period.

We've been deluded, and we don't want to be that guy.

What coronavirus isolation is teaching us:
Isolation has taught us that we are happier with less!!

Markus isn't traveling to work every day, and for the first time in about twenty years, he has energy for more than just work. He's building a chicken coop in his spare time. We have interesting and engaging conversations. Our relationship is renewing itself and we're discovering that we're still in love with each other's minds. I can't ever see us letting this go again, no matter how frightening it feels to be that family who stays in isolation when the world goes back to "normal".

Our kids are happy! Don't get me wrong - they're not at all happy about the chasm between them and their friends right now, but the lack of travel to and from town, along with the lack of pressure to do all kinds of activities means that for the first time in years they're well-rested and healthy. Their relationship with each other and with us has improved, as well. We're all finding ways to live authentically as a family and enjoy each other's company, when before we barely had time to sleep between outside engagements. We all are watching the need for all those outside engagements fall away, and discovering that most of what we needed was right here.

Hugs are more important than we realized. I really miss hugging the people I love. If we didn't live in such a globalized community, we could live in small isolated groups and hug each other more.

We don't need as much stuff/food/money as we thought we did. The first thing we did in this pandemic time is realize that our income was going to drop, and make adjustments. We quit buying more than the essentials. That hot chocolate we had last night? Yeah. The cocoa is finite, now, and suddenly we're all very very careful about consuming it. We have a hunk of cheese in the freezer that I keep offering to get out, and the kids decide they'd rather save it for very special occasions. We're doing just fine on (mostly) rice, lentils, oats, and veggies from our garden.

Growing our own food!! Like so many people out there it seems, we now have more time to commit to our food-growing, and it's very, very satisfying. Currently we're eating cauliflower, kale, and weeds from the garden, and next week we'll get a clutch of chicks to start our new flock of egg and meat birds. Around that time we should also get our first asparagus harvest.

I know we're very privileged to be able to say all this - not everybody is having a good or easy time of isolation. We have some land to use (not ours, but a very secure rental from my parents), and Markus' secure job, and the skills we've developed over the years to provide for ourselves without some of the usual conveniences. Additionally, unschooling gave us the confidence to see that change is possible. We can at least lean out the windows of the consumerism train and feel the wind on our faces, so all this change is less of a shock than it might have been.

What we can't change (yet): 
Land ownership. We can't afford to buy land, and we're going to have to make do without it. We acknowledge that moving to a much more isolated location would potentially give us the ability to own land, but that would mean leaving our family behind, and we don't want to do that. Additionally, land ownership can only happen if we borrow money from the industrial complex that we're hoping to put an end to. So that, too, is not an ethical choice. You might say that renting is still living on the same system, and it's true, but right now we have to accept it, because we don't know of an alternative.

Working for the complex. The transition to a more self-sufficient life can't happen instantly, so Markus plans to keep working, and hopefully keep earning enough to pay our rent and buy the things we need.

Fossil fuels. We can't yet source everything we need locally, although one day we hope we'll be able to. The more people are living a sustainable local life, the more we can trade within our community and provide for each other, but for now we're still going to need our vehicle to drive out to the valley and buy some farming supplies, grains that we can't grow ourselves, and other such things. Maybe once in a while a piece of local(ish) cheese or a new pair of farm boots, too.

Our kids' decisions. These are kids who have spent time at climate protests. There's no way they don't care about their future. But it's not our place to make decisions for them, and if they choose to keep going to town, the choice will be theirs. Their independence and freedom to choose will enable them to make sound decisions. As parents, we can lead by example better than by force. And besides, who knows -- with their open, creative minds and youthful courage, they might end up teaching us quite a bit! In many ways they already have.

Not being able to make all of the changes doesn't mean there's no point in starting. The more of us get on the bandwagon and live in supportive community, the easier the bigger changes will become.

What we can change now:

We can dream. I envision a day when we grow a field of oats. The oats will feed us (and to some extent, our chickens), and the hay from them will be bedding for the chickens, and then will become a fertilizer-rich additive to our vegetable garden (soil-building!) The chickens will give us eggs and meat and fertilizer for the garden. The garden will give us innumerable different foods: starches, greens, fruits and proteins. I see a cycle of life all around our beautiful home, with all household-members contributing because we're finally home often enough to do so.

We can make our dreams come true. Markus and I have made a massive commitment to carry on consuming less -- a LOT less. The pandemic isolation has shown us that we are capable of living a better, happier life while consuming a fraction of what we did before, and we plan to spend the next year working towards being mostly self-sufficient. By this time next year we'd like to have gotten through a winter on largely our own produce, and be well on our way to getting our energy-consumption (currently wood and electric) under control. Yep - we put a short timeline on our dreams, because otherwise it might be too easy to be waylayed by the rat-race.

And no more traveling. We're going to have to find our adventure locally. Entertainment-wise, that's not hard to do. I just walk out and look at the world around me, and I am endlessly entertained. Most devastatingly, though, no traveling means we might never see some of our European relatives again, and while that feels truly horrible, we are going to have to find other ways to connect. Globalism has to stop if we're going to have a livable globe.

We can share our dreams and struggles and successes, and I hope you will, too! Judging by the people who, over the years, have told me that this blog helped them make changes in their parenting or lifestyles, I think writing here may be the best thing I've done with my life. Sharing our story has apparently given confidence to others. Imagine if each of us took a bold step to make a change, and shared our story? It could spread like wildfire. It could spread like coronavirus. No, we don't all know what we're doing, but neither did I when I started this crazy unschooling journey. A while ago I asked Markus if he thought I'd changed in the time he knew me. He said that in the beginning I just tried stuff and wanted to know stuff. Now I know stuff, and I share what I know... and I keep learning. I think it was the biggest compliment of my life! If we can give each other the courage to jump, we'll be there to help each other figure out the details along the way.

We can love. I woke up this morning imagining that I was sitting back-to-back with my brother on my porch, just leaning into the love of him. Without sharing our moist speaking, we shared our breath, through the rhythm of our lungs, and the feeling of our bodies, together. I had "phone tea" with a few friends over the last while. I visited a couple of people from a long distance and I longed to hug them. I'm picking up some chicks for my heart's sister and am going to drop them off at her door, hug her from afar with my heart, and then we're going to go on the adventure of raising chickens together, as we keep each other up way too late on messenger, sharing our lives and laughing so much we wake our children. Love is not gone. We can always love.

Watch Planet of the Humans, and don't let it bring you down. Let it light a fire under you! Humanity can change! Please join me in figuring out a future that is sparing on consumption while abundant with life, love, and hope.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Isolation in Pseudo-Victorian Times!

Young lady Rhiannon hosted a party for us all. She instructed us to arrive attired in isolation-Victorian clothing, so we did our best. The afternoon began with tea and dainty little sandwiches in the sunshine...

...followed by some shooting of the bows.

Our photographer was among the quickest shots of the Victorian era.

We, the delighted party of revelers were also quick shots.

...some of us a little more determined than others...

Back at the manor there was parlour music to be enjoyed...

While the maid (she looked like Rhiannon but was NOT), served the first of an elegant meal: onion soup.

The soup was followed by a lovely appetizer of garden peas and buttered thyme, then a plate of citrus-baked salmon (imported from far away Canada!), and roast potatoes. Afterwards our tastebuds were delighted with a shaved citrus ice.

After dinner, the elders sat by the fire for a game of chess, where Emily ably dominated Markus until he achieved a checkmate, and won. Then: Ah! The dancing! Many waltzes were played, and the happy revelers took a small waltzing lesson from lady Rhiannon, and danced for a bit, before retiring for a traditional Victorian game of Goose.

Finally some chapters were read from Little Susy's Six Birthdays, a simply lovely little book that once belonged to lady Rhiannon's twice-great-grandmother, when she was a girl.

Really - our photographer was quite strange.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Outdoor Exploration Video Series

Linking you here to the Outdoor Exploration video series - exploring the home, local and suburban wilderness to see how we can get inspired during the season of isolation.

There are six videos at the moment, with topics ranging from edible weeds to where we dump our garbage to veggie gardening. Another video will be added every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. If you want to follow you can subscribe to the YouTube Channel and you'll receive notification of each new video.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Everything our Children are Losing in the Time of Coronavirus

Last night I sat beside my usually bright, positive, creative, and self-assured daughter as she cried over the loss of everything. And she wouldn't even let me hug her. A month ago she had her life neatly sorted out: On weekends she studied, worked, gardened, and created. On Thursdays and Fridays she attended a musical theatre program, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays she attended a self-directed highschool program, and on Mondays she worked a babysitting job in the morning, and then spent the afternoon with other youth, planning an annual theatre festival which would have happened this spring, if the pandemic hadn't swept it away. Coronavirus and the necessary social isolation swept everything away: her social time, her school, her source of income, even her ability to plan for her future. We haven't lost any family members to the disease yet, but our friends have, and we know it may just be a matter of time. We're all on edge, waiting to see what happens. Coronavirus isolation isn't just a time of boredom; it's a time of uncertainty and anxiety, bordering on abject fear, and loss of identity.

Imagine going for a snack, only to discover that the chips are gone and your parents don't plan to go shopping for... weeks! It's not that hard to imagine, right? We're all living the lack of convenience right now. And while that's a pretty mild inconvenience, such events are happening all day every day, in every aspect of our lives. Everything is different and uncertain. We're all living the loss of control of each day. We can reassure ourselves by remembering the things we can control: when we eat and sleep, how we interact or what we wear. Difficult though it might be, we can even imagine the future to some degree, assuming that in a few months things will go back to normal and we've seen normal before, and we know what it might look like. Our kids may find that future harder to imagine. Their parents, friends, and school are everything, and suddenly everything has changed. What's coming next? What can they even do to influence the future? They don't have control over their lives in the way that we do of ours. All they had was the security of knowing what was coming each week and each month, and that security has been taken away. They used to have the security of the predictability of a schedule. Now all plans are on hold. School, employment and entire industries are fizzling before their eyes. Some are losing family members to this pandemic, and all are losing contact with family members and friends. We can't reassure them that school will happen again next year, because we don't know. We can't reassure them that they'll be able to visit friends soon, because we don't know that either. We thought that time spent in nature could bandage the wound, but now the parks are closing. Many of us parents can't even promise that we'll be able to provide shelter or food in a few months because the pandemic puts our livelihoods into question. Of course, there are plenty of families who live with this uncertainty all the time, and it's only our middle-class privilege that makes this such a new source of anxiety for many of us. That doesn't make it any less frightening for our children.

Our children are suffering huge losses: Loss of independence, loss of freedom, loss of security of home, education and social network, loss of certainty about the future and often also loss of hope for the future. Loss of something to look forward to; loss of their dreams. We have systems in place in our homes, hearts, and communities for helping each other deal with loss. But right now everyone - including our children - is suffering multiple losses, and both the physical systems and our physiological systems are overwhelmed. This enormous loss can easily be a wormhole into depression for people of any age. At the very least it's hugely anxiety-provoking. It's terrifying to live without security or hope. We can't take away our children's fear, but perhaps in seeing and acknowledging it we can at least help them not to feel so alone.

I wish I had answers, but I don't even know what new concoction I'm going to make with all the dried lentils and chickpeas I bought, never mind how we're going to overcome these crippling feelings of loss and fear. I'm taking each part of each day at a time, relying on the satisfaction of creative problem-solving to distract me and keep my mind active. It turns out that for me, however annoying, having a rapidly-decreasing supply of ingredients and a LOT of lentils and chickpeas is a problem to be solved with creativity, so every afternoon I get creative with that. We're obviously doing all the curries and hummus and breads, but also blended sauces, lentil sprouts (fresh greens - YES!), and (fingers crossed) planting some lentils to grow our own! Creativity and problem-solving is my way of working through anxiety. It may not be everybody's.

Advice was the last thing my daughter wanted, last night, but she said that having some structure to her days might help, although she doesn't feel she can handle too many demands or deadlines right now. She decided she'd make herself a schedule each morning. We both went to bed still feeling the big sadness of this pandemic, but with the knowledge that we love each other, and we're in it together. Then she got up this morning and folded a heap of laundry, bringing mine to me in my bed before I even got up, myself. She tells me she made a schedule and put a half hour for laundry onto it, because she needed to do her laundry. Mine was still unfolded so she folded it. I had a roommate once who cleaned the house fastidiously every time she fought with her boyfriend. Maybe housekeeping is my daughter's way of working through anxiety, or maybe just having a schedule was the ticket, and laundry was a necessary job. It isn't for me to determine. Only to listen when she's willing to talk, open my arms for the unpredictable times that my affection is a poultice, and to accept her feelings and the cold truth of her pain when it presents itself. In this moment and maybe always, that's what love looks like.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Meltdowns? Your kids are de-schooling, and so are you!

Last week my son was being surly, expressing his anger about my intended 'family time' of watching Neil Young in isolation. I figured he could just do something else; he didn't have to make my screen-time miserable, but since he was there he should help make a happy evening. So I freaked out and yelled at him. Of course - because that makes sense, right? And then I ran away and had a mama-tantrum because I was so mad at everything. Mostly I was upset that my father has cancer and we're all in isolation with lack of money and I'm just scared, but I yelled at him about ruining my Neil Young moment. Because we're all home together all the time and why can't we just all enjoy watching Neil Young wash his hands and sing some songs?! Like a three year old who's overwhelmed at daycare, so she comes home and bites her mother. That was me. I'm telling you about my own meltdown because I forgave myself. I forgave myself because I'm de-schooling, and so is my son, and these things are going to happen.

De-schooling is simply the period of time in which families adjust to not being at school. It happens when families switch from schooling to home-schooling, but also just over school breaks, and... during the time of coronavirus, when school break ends and "school" becomes a never-before-experienced jumble of teachers online, free time, confusion, and curriculum you didn't know your kids had. Suddenly everybody is kind of homeschooling kids, without ever having intended to be a homeschooler in the first place, and possibly while newly trying to work from home, leaving the house to work in essential services, or struggling to maintain a household on a sudden lack of income. How in hell are you supposed to teach your kids or even keep them safe in this kind of situation?! This is some seriously stressful new experience for everybody in the house; we need time to decompress.

De-schooling is decompression. It's a time of adjustment. When I was a kid my father used to work in the bush - sometimes for a couple of weeks at a time - and we all had to adjust every time he left and every time he came home. I used to scavenge one of his work-shirts to sleep with when he was away. I missed him horribly, and was often angry with my Mum for missing him too. And when he came home, the excitement of picking him up from the airport or the ferry was a predictable highlight of my childhood... but then I felt angry with him for not having time to do things I wanted him to do; for not being the imaginary father I had while he was away; for having been away in the first place, and even for going back to work in his office in town. I guess we could have called it de-Pappa-ing? Adjustment is always difficult.

De-schooling on its own can be difficult, as experienced by so many families at the beginning of every summer, when Facebook fills up with memes about summer-can't-end-soon-enough, and parental countdowns to school getting back in. Right now we're even more challenged, since most were unprepared for this non-school time, and it also comes with social isolation, fear of disease and loss of loved ones, daily dead-counts on the news, an overwhelming feeling of having to become homemakers when we weren't, before, and for many of us a significant or total loss of income. On top of that, somehow we're supposed to provide "school" at home?! Oh, and if you want to really do this right, you'll be harvesting yeast from the wild, baking bread out of nothing at all, and dancing around the table with your delightful children while they produce amazing schoolwork in perfect harmony, and you pick up a Phd on the side.

Give yourself a break. You deserve one, just for having gotten through the first week and still loving your kids, despite the meltdowns. You deserve a meltdown, too.

I live in British Columbia, where the ministry of education announced that this year's grades will be based on the work done in the year before COVID-19. So if your kid had a B in science in term 2, and does nothing more for the rest of the year, they'll still have a B in science. If they had a frighteningly low grade in science, and want to improve it, the school will offer options for remote activities, with which they can improve their grade from home. They will not be behind in September. THANK YOU BC MINISTRY OF EDUCATION for giving us all a break!!! This means we can relax and deal with the emotional stress of this transition, before we get worried about academic success. We have some much-needed time to de-school, decompress and figure out how to live in the pandemic reality as a family. We can even have time to make that yeast bread if we really want to, and post photos on social media, where we all pretend everything is awesome. Whatever we need to do to keep ourselves and our kids sane, and find a way to thrive.

What to do while de-schooling?
As I wrote in a recent article about how to unschool during isolation: nothing. Just get through. This is early days, and de-schooling isn't a thing you do, but a time of disengagement of one thing in mental preparation for something new. Maybe you have some big project to work on, or a book waiting to be read, and these things can be wonderful as distractions, but they're not going to change the fact that the whole family is going through a big, confusing, overwhelming and scary adjustment. De-schooling is the time where we all give each other some space and forgiveness. It's when, as parents, we remind ourselves that our kids' seemingly ridiculous melt-downs are founded in legitimate feelings, and we catch them in our compassionate arms. Maybe we watch a movie. Maybe we go back to sleeping with them or we just sit watching the suddenly-quieter world go by, letting all our feelings just hang in the air. Maybe we tell ourselves it's OK to do nothing, and it's OK for them to do nothing.

Doing nothing looks different for different people. For many kids these days it looks like video games or sleeping - a lot. And that's OK. We have to give ourselves permission to do whatever nothing is or to not do whatever something is. Read some A.A. Milne.
“I’m not asking anybody,” said Eeyore. “I’m just telling everybody. We can look for the North Pole, or we can play ‘Here we go gathering Nuts in May’ with the end part of an ants’ nest. It’s all the same to me.”                   ~ Winnie the Pooh, Chapter 8.
What I'm saying is, it's OK. It's going to be OK. Some things won't be, but we'll get through this with love, even when love seems like not enough. Find what helps you make things feel OK and do it. Make school happen at home, start unschooling, or ignore this all entirely and watch TV until you stare blankly out the window, just to see something other than a screen. Go for a walk. Play 'Here we go gathering Nuts in May' (whatever that is!). Cry. Wrap your kids up in your arms and just love them. Leave them alone when they ask you to, or join them making inane TikToks. Whatever you need to do. It's going to be OK. You're de-schooling.