Have you ever noticed that the straw that broke the camel’s back is small? It is just as small as all of the other straws before it. It wasn’t any different, larger, more annoying, or louder. It just was.
That’s what happened to me today. The last straw fell, and I found myself freaking out over something that I would have usually ignored and probably would have laughed at yesterday. And before I knew it I was in the bathroom hiding from my family.
Why? Because I couldn’t take one more straw!
What happened? Nothing really. What’s going on in my house is probably no different that what is going on in your house.
My children are missing their friends. They need more social interactions. We are slightly bribing them to do their school work with the reward of more interesting “school” work on the computer when they finish their required work. Tantrums ensue when one does not understand his work. Spouses become irritable when they don’t get enough exercise or alone time — for eight weeks.
And then there are the pet peeves. My husband’s is leaving drawers and cabinets open (so why did he marry, and stay married for 20-plus years, to a woman who constantly forgets to close cabinets).
Mine is leaving the front and back doors open and letting flies in. I gave birth to two children who seem incapable of closing a door without a reminder. During a family Zoom this weekend, my whole family laughed as I shouted at the boys to close both the front and back doors. The boys had disappeared without a trace!
And please don’t get us started on the background loop Pokémon commentary throughout our day.
After nine weeks, we are beginning to get on each other’s nerves.
But I hit the wall today over an innocuous action by my youngest child. He has been catching flies to feed their tadpole when they turn into frogs. This weekend they caught tadpoles and minnows in the creek and brought them home along with a 4-inch slug. Last weekend they found little salamanders. The weekend before, they petted a kingsnake on a hike.
I do love my little herpetologists — but I do not like flies.
Kellar came up to me quite distressed holding his hand out asking, “Mama, do you think he’s dead or just stunned?”
I looked down at that fly and grossly overreacted, “Dead. Throw him in the trash.”
“I caught him on the window, but I just think I stunned him because he’s not moving.”
“Dead. And wash your hands. Flies are nasty! Nasty! Nasty!”
The child then proceeded to poll every member of our family because he couldn’t trust his irrational mother who was still yelling at him to wash his hands.
And this is where our story ends today. With us, all of us, nine weeks of being apart from each other wondering how do I care for myself and my children? What do I need to do for myself so that I can remain calm and kind in order to be available when my child melts down or my significant other is stressed out? How do I stay present in the moment when I am worried about how long life will be like this?
Well, I’m sorry to say that I don’t have all of the answers. I’m figuring this out along with y’all. But I think there are three tricks to staying sane while at home with our family members:
Be Social (Appropriately)
During social distancing, we have lost our small, everyday, social interactions that are so vital for our mental and spiritual well-being. So we must make an effort now to have them.
We need to pick up the phone and call our friends. We can pick flowers and leave them on our neighbors’ porches. We can write letters to the children and elderly in our sphere. We can mail our children’s art work to their godparents and grandparents.
Mostly chat with someone again; it will do you some good!
We also lost our alone time and space. Everyone is always up in each other’s business unless they are on a Zoom call. I can’t be the only one who says I’m going to the potty and then hides in bathroom until someone notices I’ve been gone for 30 minutes.
Many of us don’t have down time from our children or our work. The separation is gone, and so is a chance for solitude. Solitude is the alone time that refreshes us.
We need to carve out time for solitude during our day. This can be journaling, taking a walk, sitting quietly under a tree, or enjoying our morning coffee and tea. The challenge is negotiating that solitude time with our family. Try it this week, and see how you feel.
This one is difficult for me. As the weeks progress, my to-do list grows along with my anxieties around COVID-19. However, to be fully present and in the moment, I must set aside whatever distractions are niggling me and fully engage in the present moment.
I have this wonderful opportunity to spend several months with my children and husband, but to be present, I need to stop worrying and planning. What do you need to do in order to be present in each moment?
I believe that if we practice these three things right now, they will also draw us closer to God. When we connect to others, we have the opportunity to seek and serve Christ in them. When we have solitude, we may hear the still, small voice of God.
And when we are fully present, we are also aware of God’s joyous creation and are actively engaging in it and with it. Much better than hiding in the bathroom reading the news or scrolling through Facebook.
May we all have a better week than the day I had.
— Allison Grisham is director of children, youth and family ministries at All Saints By-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Montecito, and chaplain at All Saints By-the-Sea Parish School. The opinions expressed are her own.