There seems to be a moment, each day of late when the silver linings subside and the fear creeps in. I start to read and re-read statistics and my mind fills with worry about today, tomorrow, my mom in a nursing home. I’ve noticed myself trying to research my way out by arbitrarily finding some end-date or weirdly, death toll. A deep yearning to get delivery take out has emerged. I seem to be craving it regularly! I have yet to actually order more than twice a day… (thankfully.) And even that is rare but the craving remains. I notice myself wanting to find an excuse to go to the grocery store even though it adds risk to myself and in turn, my children. It’s as if I know the rules but I want to push them just a little so I have something to look forward to and some (false?) sense of control over my life. The phrase, “New normal” is being thrown around in the news, at work and in personal settings. But we haven’t arrived anywhere. We haven’t even passed the amount of time it takes to make a new habit. (66 days to be precise- I highly recommend the book Atomic Habits by James Clear where he digs into this further.)
What do children (and adults) crave? Routine, love (connection) and wonder. And what are we struggling with right now? A lack of all three.
In a recent workshop for parents, there were many questions about the weird things their children, “fight them” on. Why do they refuse to eat the meal they liked yesterday? Why do they run around in spaztic circles when they know it’s time for bath or bed? Why do they decide not to brush their teeth? Why? Because they too want control over their lives. Even at the ripe young age of 3.
Lack of Routine
We become what we repeatedly do.”―Sean Covey
Our children want to know what is coming next. They want to have a world that makes sense to them. They want to eat a certain number of things familiar to them and they want to make their own choices, some degree of autonomy. Surprisingly, (or not) we too are creatures of habit. We may complain about our jobs but they are what we know. Getting into our cars for a commute in traffic is what we’ve come to experience as our lives. Even our bodies feel when it’s time for a transition in our day. I notice during the time of day of my previous work transitions, I get antsy in my home “office” when working remotely with co-workers. We become what we repeatedly do, and we are starting from scratch, without many (or any) well-formed habits to fall back on.
Lack of Connection (Felt Love)
Our routines are upended, but more than that, our connection is upended. We are entering a space of forced disengagement.
When the people we love or with whom we have a deep connection stop caring, stop paying attention, stop investing, […] trust begins to slip away and hurt starts seeping in. Disengagement triggers shame and our greatest fears — the fears of being abandoned, unworthy, and unlovable. What can make this covert betrayal so much more dangerous than something like a lie or an affair is that we can’t point to the source of our pain — there’s no event, no obvious evidence of brokenness. It can feel crazy-making.Brené Brown, Daring Greatly pg 52.
This quote was swimming around in my mind as I was writing this because this new-normal is crazy-making, truly. Even if we get our social needs met by having wine over zoom, this is in no way normal. A sort of unsettled feeling creeps in and can become hard to shake. At least for me. And for my team at work. We saw, even through the computer screen every face on the zoom call looked…. exhausted. And no one honestly had a concrete reason why. It almost seems like there is no answer for this feeling. Nothing is quite, right.
Lack of Wonder
In times of crisis or intense stress, many of us go through what was coined by Daniel Goleman as “amygdala hijack,
“the amygdala triggers a sudden and intense unconscious emotional response that shuts off the cortex, making it hard for you to think clearly about the situation. As your brain triggers the release of stress hormones such as cortisol, you find it increasingly hard to problem solve and concentrate. This whole process takes a toll, and you may not recover to your original level of functioning for several hours.”
When we are overloaded by the barrage of new information and requests being made of us, it can be close to impossible to find time to settle and enjoy the beauty and simplicity of the world around us.
Inching Our Way Towards Acceptance
So where does that leave us? As we’re swimming in the disconnected universe or our own fears and worries? Interestingly- it leads us to only one place. Acceptance. Acceptance of what? All of it. The groundlessness, the pain and the wishy-washy.
“Because pain is the universal constant of life, the opportunities to grow from that pain are constant in life. All that is required is that we don’t numb it, that we don’t look away. All that is required is that we engage it and find the value and meaning in it.”Everything is F*cked, A Book About Hope by Mark Manson
Children have a beautiful way of living in a state of wonderment and presence. My girls appreciate the flickering light and deeply inhale the smells of a scented candle or of a flower when out on a walk. Children at school love setting a table with real glasses and cloth napkins. Add a placemat for even more “oooos and aahhhhs.” They marvel at the smallest things, so often overlooked by adults. Each and every child I know likes looking at the rain. I offer to open the door when it’s really coming down and we sit there watching the water fall from the sky, taking in the smell of wet dirt.
Maybe we won’t find ourselves dancing outside as the rain drops fall on our upturned faces, but what if we took the smallest moment to be here- with ourselves? Just took one full breath and let that emotional outburst or fear be there, like an old friend who was waiting to be acknowledged? Where would that leave us? Maybe for today, we could find one thing to be fully engrossed in and thankful for. Just one. That might allow us to, at least temporarily, get out of that hijacked place into a space within ourselves that is just beginning to look like acceptance.
And as for me and my new take out obsession, I think I have benefitted from asking myself what value or need I am trying to meet here. And I very quickly know the answer- comfort. I love warm deliciousness in all forms and right now I want to feel taken care of. So I look to the world around me to deliver comfort to my door. But after yesterday’s two meals that were not too kind to my stomach, I am writing a list of the delightful comforts I can find at home or comfort I can bring to others. And I’ll trying to space out those take out days out from now on. Aiming for once a week. Eek. I’ll let you know how it goes.