“Continuing to build our plane while we are already flying it”**
“After a meagre three days of being isolated inside the confines of my home with two young children, I’m ashamed to say I feel I’m losing my sanity. My role has expanded significantly, COVID-19 has given me something most people strive for in the workplace; a promotion with extra responsibilities attached. Thing is, I get nothing in return, no remuneration, no time to relax and no gratitude from the little people I am spending ALL my time with. But the responsibility doesn’t stop there! No, I’ve also become a teacher of fundamental sports skills and the Japanese language, and have transferred myself into a germ Nazi, personal shopper, crazy online shopper and round-the-clock caregiver for everyone I care about.”
Tuesday, March 24, diary entry
Don’t get me wrong, I understand my two children are my responsibility, this is 100 per cent understood. Yet the sensation of being pulled back and forth all day, every day, repeatedly, is like Groundhog Day, but not the kind I look forward to. Each day is the same. I wake up wondering if this is a bad dream (disappointment), get out of bed, run downstairs because I’ve slept too long, learning time with the kids is followed by lunch (my breakfast/ lunch) and more learning time with the kids. It’s exhausting, mind numbing and not positive for my own self-esteem. Adding more self-pressure, the perfectionist side of my ED comes through loud and strong for the entire time. ED knows he has hit the jackpot with this COVID-19. The more I try to be a decent educator for my young daughters, the more vulnerable and insecure I become.
By the end of each day, I’m feeling saddened, feeling I have let my girls down again, and am inadequately catering for their individual needs. I’m not even a close second to the teacher they have had at school and, at times, I can sense their frustration towards me, “You don’t explain things the same”, “I don’t understand”, are responses I have yelled at me on most days. This breaks my heart and my soul.
On a more personal note, this situation triggers memories of my own school days, if you’ve read my previous blogs, you will know this wasn’t a positive time. Not only was I living in a disrupted home, I found school difficult to navigate. I dreaded and struggled my way through every day and wished I could disappear (until later high school when something mysteriously changed, although, I still longed to disappear). Maybe this brings to light why I’m having a hard time taking on the responsibility of my own children’s education. I feel like the success or failure of their futures is in MY hands, yet I still feel like that schoolgirl, struggling to fit in and struggling to understand.
I can’t blame or resent my daughters for their attitude towards me, being young, living in extreme circumstances, being bombarded with COVID-19 induced anxiety, fear and frustration, all the while being unaware of my lifelong illness. My girls don’t know how words can be enough to trigger someone like myself on a spiral of relapse. Their immature and innocent minds are unable to understand what the heck is going on in the world, let alone the impact their harsh words can have on me. With every little criticism, part of my hard-won armor of protection is chipped away, and my feelings of inadequacy increase. As a mother, these are difficult feelings to deal with, but still, this is merely the icing on the cake.
Unable to see their friends and extended family, my children express anger and sadness. I overheard one of my daughters reciting the names of her friends she misses seeing. Heartbreaking. I feel the same about not seeing my friends, so I can only imagine what inaccurate stories are running wild inside my daughters’ immature but powerful minds. As a mother, I didn’t want this kind of childhood for them, I yearned for them to have the kind of childhood that I didn’t often experience. Normality.
Yet here we are, history repeating itself but on a much larger and scarier scale. They have the frightening and confusing task of navigating their way around a world full of adult discussions and concerns about disease, death and isolation. As we travel around in our car, the evidence is indisputably in our face, something is not right and they see it; everything is closed (they even joke about the toilet paper situation!), the streets are empty and those government advertisement referring to the COVID-19 virus are enough to have them running and weeping in my direction; the fear they hold inside is released in an instant. To them, the world is suddenly a place to be feared.
I believe my two young girls are way too young to have to deal with a devastating worldwide crisis, as I was when navigating my way through a childhood encompassed by eating disorders and the fear of losing someone I depended on. Every day I wonder, can my girls sense my deep feelings of distress and anxiety? Are they aware that their mum is reliving a version of her previous self, severe self-isolation, a constant sense of fear of the present and what might be in the future, and a debilitating sense of being stuck in a life with nowhere or no-one to turn to? As a child, such feelings taunted me every day, until I reached the point recently where I could say, ‘Those ED thoughts no longer hold overwhelming power over me’. Overriding this ‘wondering’ is a deep fear that my daughters, too, will end up with a life similar to mine; damaged goods, and I will have played a large role in contributing to another generation of mentally ill individuals.
Given this, I wonder, ‘What’s wrong with me?” I don’t see other mothers appearing to struggle like me. Why can’t I at least pretend that all is fine? And what of the people all over the world? Many mothers have been home-schooling and have been in lockdown for weeks, some for months, yet I am complaining after a measly three days! I cannot fathom how other parents are managing through this new reality! Even more confronting, how will I manage this enforced routine on long-term if this is required? The fear of the unknown rages within.
Take Home Messages
Yesterday, I read a quote from one of my children’s teachers which made me stop and think. I sat captivated by this quote for some time; something in it resonated and made sense to my world. I scribbled the quote down, sensing it would provide me with wisdom, insight or one of those light bulb moments that can hit out of nowhere. I continue to ponder over this quote. It seems important and I want to share it with you:
“continue building our plane while we are already flying it” **
I’m in the contemplative stage of digesting this quote, which seems simple, but I feel something deeper attached. In terms of this story, I feel the words are important. They speak to a part of myself that expects 100 per cent from myself regardless of what I’m doing. However, considering that I have no training in primary or elementary school education, and the current world is one that none of us have experienced and, shock horror, I’m actually not superwoman (despite what my children think!), is my expectation of doing everything perfectly, realistic?
If I apply this thinking to other people, regardless of their individual life experiences, education, general health and other circumstances, would I expect relentlessly high, non-forgiving standards? Not at all. I embrace mistakes, with my own children, I try turn mistakes around, transforming them into a valuable learning tool, rather than something to beat themselves up over. This is where it becomes contradictory, because if it were me, I (or my ED) would be self-attacking, putting myself down and criticizing my own abilities (or lack there-of) in a second. I’d be calling myself “useless and dumb”. Ironic really, ED’s promise to have my best interests at heart, to protect me no matter what, was revealed to be my worst enemy. ED reduced me to a ball of self-pity, ravaged self-esteem and the belief that every I did was inferior to everyone around me.
Back to my story, what can I do to alleviate my insecurities and fears in these uncertain times? I feel like the above quote provides insight here: “continue building our plane while we are already flying it”. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, I was in a process of actively learning a new way of life. I was adapting to this new way of living, whilst trying to persuade my mind to co-operate. The current situation is no different, only now the challenge for me and the whole world is to accommodate and adapt to the challenges and disparities presented with the COVID-19 crisis. We need to continue to learn and adapt to this new way of life, whilst in the process of living it. If we can’t do this, what’s the point? I can’t ask anymore of myself than this.
What does this mean that I need to do? Continue to find time to do things that make me feel good.
- Exercise with my amazing and uplifting trainer who always leaves me feeling 100 per cent better, physically and mentally (shout out to you Silvia!)
- Keep in contact with my support people (shout out to you June for constant support!) and friends
- When in doubt, ask for help (shout out to you Lisa for giving me ideas on how to educate my kids)
- Continue blogging out my feelings, insecurities and fears
- Continue to guide my children through the educational tasks provided by their school and find small, fun ways to bring in some incidental learning and truly enjoy the moment with them
- Operate with flexibility; if we can’t get a work task finished today, we always have tomorrow
- Acknowledge that despite appearances, I am not the only one struggling with this new way of living
- Find time to work on my photography and adapt to shooting in a different environment to what I’m used to (outside versus inside). Find ways to appreciate this opportunity and run with it; 30 minutes with my camera is all I need to experience the sense of freedom and lightness it offers. The Easter school holidays should provide viable time for this
For my children:
- Provide constant reassurance that we are okay
- Our home is our haven for now. Soon the world will be safe too
- Be their support person and give them lots of hugs
- Continue to talk to them about our current situation, but with less detail to avoid the strong sense of fear it brings (there are many good resources to help this)
- Turn off the news, turn off social media, it only serves to cause more fear
- Be in the moment with them, enjoy the opportunity to learn with them
- Remind them that our way of life will soon return to a sense of normality.
A significant consideration is that unlike many others, our livelihood has not been taken from us. Not only do we have our health to be thankful for, we continue to have the means to provide for ourselves and our family. We are one of the lucky families and I am thankful for this. Lastly, I feel a strong need to acknowledge that we are fortunate to live in a good country, granted, our democratically elected government may not always get it right, but we are treated with respect. In this time of struggle, some of these points may be a source of comfort for you as well as for me and my children.
**Anastasia P. Samaras, Mary Adams‐Legge, Deanna Breslin, Kavita Mittapalli, Jennifer Magaha O’Looney & Dawn Renee Wilcox (2007) Building a plane while flying it: reflections of teaching and learning self‐study, Reflective Practice, 8:4, 467-481, DOI: 10.1080/14623940701649696