Quirky Kid Quarantine
On Friday I picked up both my boys in the afternoon, and gathered all of their belongings - sheets, blankets, extra clothing, Tupperware from lunches, and art projects that had been gathering dust in their overflowing school mailboxes. It was announced that day that my older son's preschool would follow the shutdown of Michigan's public schools, beginning Monday, March 16th. Until now, my older son, T, had been in part-time preschool every day. Since moving into our home in Michigan in December, he and I had spent the afternoons doing occupational therapy, feeding therapy, play therapy, and listening therapy. And because doing all sorts of therapy is nearly impossible to do with a 15-month-old in tow - dividing the attention and knocking down magna-tiles - my younger son had been in full-time daycare during the days. But now, even though my baby's daycare is still open for the time being, we have decided to keep him out starting Monday. I just can't stomach the idea of D staying behind in a large daycare facility, where the babies can't "wash their hands while singing happy birthday", while I stay home to focus primarily on the child with higher needs.
Thus, beginning tomorrow, unexpectedly, I will be a full-time stay-at-home mom with two kids, one of them with special needs. With no indoor playgrounds, no trampoline parks, library, or visits to the local doughnut shop to pass the time. Their dad - who works for the State of Michigan - will be camped out in our upstairs bedroom, working on a new desk we ordered online, while I run an impromptu preschool downstairs. This is something I never imagined nor planned on, but life doesn't ask its inhabitants for permission when it throws everyone off course. And when I get thrown off course, I make lists and run through worst-case scenarios and play out resilient responses and survival outcomes in my head. Yes, I am an anxious person. But these are anxious times. And anxious times call for Excel spreadsheets.
Here is mine:
(I call this my "Pandemic Playbook" - a schedule to get through the week days)
A year ago, frankly, this quarantine situation would have felt not like a large inconvenience, but rather a brutal gauntlet that I would not know how to endure. At that time I was working full time and so was my husband. I had a five month old. My older son had severe behavioral problems that I didn't comprehend. As terrible as it sounds, my only respite was time away from home - at work, at a yoga studio, on the metro disappearing into a good book. And I had never willingly spent more than 24 hours alone with my kid, and when I did, it left me drained, exhausted, and resentful that my husband wasn't home. At that time, I had never even heard of things like "sensory input" or "regulation" or even "Sensory Processing Disorder". And I am sure that some of the moms and dads who now have to stay home are exactly where I would have been - bewildered at how they will pass the time with an often dysregulated kid, one who depends on routine and predictability just to get through a normal, pandemic-free day. Even more unfathomable if the parent who is care-taking is also expected to "work from home". Because parents of kids who are differently wired do not live in the land of "go play independently" or "come up with something to do while I get on this conference call".
And the influx of news stories about the coronavirus and dispatches via WhatsApp from good friends in Italy and Spain has made me continue to reflect on a few things. Just how damn lucky I am that my family can afford for me to stay home with the kids here in Michigan. That I am not trying to do this quarantine thing while also working full time. That I had the resources to stock up on some food and toilet paper from Costco a few weeks ago, and the extravagance to go out and spend money on things like a bike for my husband and art supplies for the days ahead. And further, that because my husband has a salaried job, he can work from home. And my heart goes out to all the people who can't work from home, who have kids with special needs no longer in school, without extra help, who have compromised immune systems or live with elderly parents or don't have the support of a spouse. To the health care workers, nurses, doctors, and first responders, who don't have the luxury of "working from home" and quarantining. And to all the rest of the people who need a little extra heart, who I'm not aware of, but are proliferating daily around the globe.
Thinking about my undeserved luck for the life I have gotten to live, helps me get back to basics. Beyond the dried beans and obsessive hand-washing, I am refocusing on a script that I started to say to T eight months ago - a useful one that has stayed with me. My job is to keep you safe and healthy. And so, as I prepare for uncertainty ahead, I remind myself that my only job is to keep the family healthy and safe. The rest is just icing on an already very full cake. So I will try to let go of the shoulds that I always fight with in my head, and let the screen time increase, the house devolve into a sterile, but very messy disaster zone, the food move from organic to traditional, and the sugar increase to a level that is not ideal.
This is not to say that I don't get butterflies in my stomach when I think about at least three weeks with both kids home, possibly more. But after going through what we did last summer with T, it has given me some perspective on the ability for any mother - even one who did not consider herself a natural, who didn't like to play, who didn't do well with unpredictable scenarios, and who wanted to have an ambitious career outside of the home - to make it through spending time with her kid. Even when she didn't want to. Even when she didn't understand his Sensory Processing Disorder and behavioral challenges. Even when there was nothing she liked less than dealing with meltdowns and defiance and coming up with games and playing peek-a-boo for hours at a time. But you can do it. You can breathe through it, even if your kid is screaming. And set boundaries that you didn't have to set before, and stick to them. I believe in you. Because literally, if this cerebral, book-and quiet conversation-loving person can learn to enjoy some playtime and activities at home with a kid that has the energy level of a hyena on meth, I think almost anyone can.
I hope that in light of this crisis, you feel your own strength and resilience bubbling up. That there are some silver linings and sweet moments with your children. And that you can take some time for self-care and strong drinks or steamy cups of tea and good Netflix after the kids go down. I will be here with you, writing when I can, muddling through, like always.
(Here is my quirky kid, showing his prowess with disinfecting wipes).