School is closed for at least the next two weeks because of the Covid-19 virus. I still don’t know anybody who has gotten it, so it all seems very surreal to me although I’m definitely not a conspiracy theorist. On Friday morning, as we prepared for the last day of in-person school for an indefinite amount of time, my children were bundles of emotions. They couldn’t help but be excited by the prospect of sleeping in and learning from home. But rather than cheerful exuberance, my youngest was a mean and grumpy mess. We tried joking with her but that just fanned the flame. Finally, I went over to her and gave her a big hug and said, “Hey, I know this is all very strange. The school is doing what they need to do to help stop the spread of the virus. You probably don’t know what to think. But we are safe, and we will all be together, and we will have some fun.”
She cried for a minute but then her mood changed completely and she was joking around and eating breakfast in good spirits.
Similarly, thousands of people have been stockpiling toilet paper. The memes are endless and the pictures of bare grocery shelves are everywhere. Why toilet paper? Covid-19 doesn’t give you diarrhea. It doesn’t make sense if you think about it. But clearly it isn’t just a handful of doomsdayers, and I refuse to believe that the majority of them are now selling toilet paper for $50 a roll on line (shame on those who are!). Still, every grocery store in my town has sold out, restocked, sold out again and on and on. This means that the average Joe is buying well more than a month's supply.
What does this have to do with my daughter’s breakdown? Control. People are feeling out of control so they are exerting control in places they can. They can't control the virus or the lockdown, but they sure as hell can stock their closets with toilet paper. This is an unprecedented situation and we are being bombarded by information and misinformation and convoluted messages. I’m an adult whose husband works in the medical field and I still can’t wrap my head around what’s going on and what’s the best course of action. My 8 year old daughter is hearing snippets of news and I’m sure she’s picking up on the universal anxiety that’s everywhere, but she doesn’t understand why her school is closing and why we are joking about a toilet paper shortage.
I’d argue that most of our problems come from a lack of control or a feeling of such. What can we control, after all? We can’t control the actions of others. We can’t control the weather. We can’t control the coronavirus. We can’t control whether or not somebody loves us. We can’t control corrupt politicians or the opinions of others or the actions of criminals or how long somebody lives. The only thing we can control is ourselves.
I’ve never understood people who seek out positions of power and greed for the sake of power and money. But while I am not wired that way, I think I’m starting to get it. It all comes back to control. If you are in a position of power, you have more control. If you are rich, money gives you control over a lot of things. Crime is all about control. In fact, I can’t think of a crime that isn’t about control of people or resources or money or government.
I don’t have an answer to this need for control that pushes humanity to start cults and bully each other and create toilet paper shortages. I think growing your own food and raising kids (or pets) and creating something (ie. making art, writing, baking, building) help give us some sense of satisfaction and control. I’ve been thinking about it a lot with at least 2 weeks of limited social activities ahead and here are some things I’m going to try and want to share with you.
Control in the Time of Covid-19:
If you have any other ideas about how to exert control in these uncertain and unprecedented times, please share. We will get through this.
My oldest daughter goes to middle school next year. Students in her elementary school have two public options: the default neighborhood school (School A) and a lottery-based choice school that has smaller classes and more traditional academics (School B). We visited both and my daughter chose the default school, which has a more hands-on and established STEM program.
The 5th grade class is split, most into three groups. Some are going to School A. Some got in to School B and some are on the waiting list for School B but will end up at School A if they don’t get in. Within Aleida’s little circle of friends, she has representatives from all three groups. Her best friend is on the waiting list for School B, and as you can imagine, my daughter is torn between wanting her friend to go to the school she wants and wanting to have her at School A with her. As a mom, I am proud of both of them for choosing the school that felt best suited rather than simply going where their best friends planned to go.
Still, this is an uncertain and scary time and the division of students adds to the high emotions. A couple of times, Aleida has come home upset, saying that the School A people and the School B people were talking trash (my term, not hers) to each other, each claiming that they had chosen the better school. It made me sad to think that their last couple months in elementary school would be tarnished by this rivalry, but it isn’t exactly surprising.
My daughter, who would truly prefer to stay in her sweet little elementary school, chose School A because after the information night, she was excited and energized. School B made her weepy, which said a lot to me about what gets her going about education. Still, they are both great options and on the other hand, they are both middle schools, so no matter which she chooses, she’ll still be going through the trying years of high hormones, friendship drama and emotional chaos. As she was coming to terms with her choice, she was trying to justify it to herself:
“School B doesn’t have a great STEM program and I’m really more of a STEM kid.”
“I heard School B gives out more homework.”
“School B doesn’t do as many projects. I like projects.”
“School B just seemed kinda…”
I stopped her there. “Look,” I said, “I know you are trying to convince yourself that you made the right choice. I’ve been doing it, too. I agree that School A is a better fit for you and your interests and your learning style. But School B doesn’t have to be a bad choice. They can both be good options and you can still be happy with the choice you made.”
Doesn’t this translate to any choice we make? How often do we try to villainize the alternative to justify ourselves? I see this (and have been guilty of this) in everything from parenting to politics. This is the basis of judgment. We get so attached to our way or our beliefs or our choice that we can’t see any other way of looking at it. We can’t accept that any other option is acceptable for somebody else. Or we feel insecure about our choice, uncertain about who we really are and what we want, so we try to make the choice more clear by seeing only the bad in the alternative.
My daughter is on the brink of middle school and trying to figure out how the world works and how she fits into all of it. It’s confusing and scary. She’s a pretty unaffected kid, but still, she doubts, she has lapses in confidence and struggles to make sense of it all. And all the kids around her are doing the same thing. Part of me knows that this is what it means to grow up. These tough decisions and strains on friendship are rites of passage. We all went through them and here we are...adult citizens of the world. But part of me mourns her loss of innocence. She’s seeing the world through increasingly knowing eyes and it changes things. Yes, the world is full of wonder and excitement, but it is also full of hard truths and contentious people. I don’t want her to be overwhelmed as her awareness increases and the balance shifts.
It’s been a couple weeks since Aleida has talked about the School A/School B kids rivalry. They have settled down now that most decisions have been made and kids are coming to terms with it. She has about two and a half months of elementary school left before her life changes in a pretty major way. I want her to be confident to make hard decisions and feel strong in her sense of self. I want her to be fair to other people and to allow for differences without judgment. I want to do this myself and be a model for her. I have started listening more closely for the inner voice around my decisions. I’m trying to hear the judgment and tame it. I’m trying to make sure that my choices are based on authentic motivation and not some skewed rationale.
The next time you make a choice, listen to your thoughts around it. Are you being fair? Are you villainizing the alternative? Did you choose from a place of authenticity? Can you make the decision and then sit with it peacefully? If not, perhaps you need to dig deeper and really get to know yourself and more importantly, be okay with it.