Finding silver linings while sheltering at home

Once upon a time, a woman complained to her rabbi that her mother-in-law, who had recently moved in with the woman’s family, was driving her crazy. “She tells me my food is inedible, I don’t clean right, that my kids are lazy brats. What can I do?” The rabbi paused before telling the woman to move her chickens into the house.

The next week, the woman told the rabbi things were worse. Her mother-in-law was still as mean as a snake and she now had to work harder than ever to keep the house clean with the chickens inside. The rabbi listened before telling the woman to also bring in her goat and the week after that, her cow.

Finally, a month after she’d first confided to the rabbi, he told the woman to move all the animals out the house. A week later, the rabbi asked the woman how she was doing. “Oh, my goodness, my life has never been better since the animals went back to the barn!”

Shelter-in-place laws have upended our lives. And while I don’t want to minimize the reality that some of us will lose loved ones to COVID-19, I try to look for the few lotuses growing in the middle of this muck.

I’ve read several articles on successfully coping through this time and have incorporated some of these ideas along with my own as we map out the new structure of our days. If there’s one take away, it’s this: Be gentle with yourself.

Homeschooling

I respect parents who commit to high-quality home education, but it’s never interested me. I want my children to go away for six-to-eight hours every weekday, which is now indefinitely impossible. Luckily, our heroes—the kids’ teachers—quickly generated at-home lessons.

Will students have the same rigorous education as if school had remained open? No. But will they learn other important things? Undoubtedly. And come May, I hope to build a chicken coop and purchase six bantam chicks. Boom! Spring homeschooling, check.

Food

Now is not the time to diet. No COVID-19 14-day weight loss programs, people. The stress we are all feeling is comparable to deep grief. Eating comfort foods has been shown to improve mood in uncertain times.

Potatoes are my most beloved comfort food—baked, mashed, roasted, fried. The first several days of shelter in place, I was nauseous by 2:30 each day. Once I limited my intake of daily news, my stomach improved, but until I did, salt-and-vinegar potato chips helped calm my roiling stomach.

Do your kids want frozen pizza every day? Or is pizza all you can manage to cook? Nobody will suffer long-term health consequences from eating pizza for a month. Most kids have a favorite fruit and veggie—for Lyra it’s broccoli and grapes, for Leif, it’s cucumbers and kiwis. With little preparation, daily servings of these favorites helps balance out the frozen pizzas.

Sleep

Everyone seems to need more sleep right now. Even my three adult sons are wiped out by 8 p.m. Again, it’s the ongoing undercurrent of stress that wears us down not just emotionally, but physically. Go ahead and sleep nine or 10 hours a night, it’s downtime we need and good for the immune system.

Hugo and Rutabaga

Adopt a dog or cat

There really isn’t a better time to adopt a pet. You’re stuck at home and lonely. You have more time than ever to train your new pet. And, especially if you adopt a dog, they will add needed structure to your day.

Most area animal rescue organizations remain open by appointment. You can preview animals online and then set up a time to meet them. My son Hugo adopted my first “granddogter” last weekend. He and Rutabaga, the cutest thing, now join my dogs and me on our daily walks.

Exercise

Ohio Department of Health director, Dr. Amy Acton (a.k.a. Wonder Woman) recommends walking outdoors while social distancing. Walking outdoors is always great for both mind and body, which we need now more than ever.

Walking with some dog buddies and their humans

On my daily walks at the Akron dog park off Memorial Parkway, I see many of the same people, but do not know their names. Instead I know them as the mom or dad of Karma, Bailey, Tony, Rosie, Tanner, Quinn, Snoopy, Reecey, Felix, Sabine, Freya, Buddy, Rocky, Pepper, Maura and Shadow, to name a few.

It’s been a lifeline to walk (six feet apart) with people I’ve come to know. We chitchat as our dogs romp, thereby filling, if just a little, the socializing void. Frequently, Leif and Lyra come too, with their bikes, which they ride up and down the trail with the dogs chasing after them.

Read

Take advantage of this break from our normally busy lives and read books. I am sending friends and family Rust: A Memoir of Steel and Grit, written by Eliese Goldbach who worked for three years in the Cleveland steel mills. In her nonfiction bildungsroman, Goldbach unflinchingly recounts episodes in her life that formed her into the woman she’s become.

Though she’s young enough to be my daughter, Goldbach and I studied for our MFAs in creative writing together more than a decade ago. From the first time I read one of her pieces, her talent floored me. With crisp prose, she pulls readers into the complexity of the mills and her life, while highlighting the resilience of Northeast Ohio’s working class citizens.

Stay calm, stay healthy and most importantly, be kind to yourself and others. When we are finally released from sheltering at home, may we, like the woman after her farm animals returned to the barn, find renewed appreciation for the many things we so recently took for granted.

This was first published in the Akron Beacon Journal on Sunday, April 6, 2020.

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