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.