First place your big rocks in the jar. The essential things: family, friends, career, pets. Then you fill the jar with the non-essential pebbles. This exercise symbolizes that the things that are most important to you need to be included first, so you don’t fill your days and your years with less-important things.
What happens when ALL you have are your big rocks? What happens when you feel like you are stuck in the jar with all of your big rocks and you can’t get out because there’s this threat of a fatal illness taking over your country, one droplet at a time? I realized all of those little pebbles were actually nice little distractions from the big rocks. The pebbles were our temporary magic carpet rides away from the big rocks. And now the pebbles are gone.
This is quite the experiment, eh? This new world (for most people) of WFH without the normal tiny escapes is a roller coaster of mostly up. Just keep going uphill. Every day – new hills. Parents are faced with not only learning our own technology but also the technology of multiple grade levels. Parents are faced with the push and pull of yes and no and then are left to deal with the consequences. No babysitters, no grandparents, no school, and no friends but yes to Netflix and Messenger and candy and dance parties…and oh, can you stay quiet while I take this call?
Can you imagine what the pediatricians are talking about right now? They must be having daily zoom meetings to discuss new recommendations for screen time allotments: We recommend 2 hours a day, with the exception of social distancing, then we recommended that children have 5 hours of elearning, 1 hour of facetime with friends, 1 hour of video games, 1 hour of live zoo cams, and a 2 hour movie – which equals all waking hours. We’ll study the effects of this and let you know how Gen Z and Gen Alpha are doing in 20 years.
There are new norms. Figuring out how to get your job done in a really loose 12 hour window. Deciding when to ‘leave’ work with no commute. Realizing that meals and snacks sometimes have the same definition. Feeling bothered that laundry still exists even though it makes sense logically.
Conversations with your big rocks matter deeply at this time. I try to explain to my kids why we are doing this. They look at me and say, So, can we have screen time? I try to explain to my dog why we are all here and he looks at me and seems to say, As long as I have you and my hourly naps, we’re good here. I try to explain to loved ones the importance of distance. I try to explain to myself that this will be better soon. I try to explain to my husband that ice cream delivery is both brilliant and underutilized.
Documentaries evoke thoughtful discussions about history, which I’ve found is best explained like a movie having both G-rated and R-rated parts. My partner and I say loving things to each other every day like, “I said I got this!” and “Go back to your thing” and “Who’s supervising lunch today?” Other words are important, too, like “You smell good” and “This meal tastes amazing” and “Thank you.” We’ve turned phone calls into more facetime, people-watching into a game (5 points if you spot a group more than 10!), and trivia night into a virtual conference call.
Nevertheless, I was up at 3am feeling restless, wide awake, and completely exhausted – all at the same time. I am a healthcare professional, but not on the frontline, and I feel guilty about it. I speak and write about work/life integration and I’m not sure I’m doing it all that well. I stop for frequent hugs and storytime and chess games and yet I feel that’s not enough. I’m under one roof yet I feel pulled to be in a thousand places. I love challenges yet wonder if my overwhelm can be heard in my voice. We’re getting fresh air every day yet it doesn’t revive everything. The connection I crave with my partner didn’t look like this. The family calendar, once filled with color coded events, has turned into empty black and white boxes.
It’s the worry for people’s lives that gets me in the gut. It’s the busy lonliness that hangs in the air. It’s the grief of a spring that we were all looking forward to. It’s the gift of family time mixed with the pressure to keep up. It’s the duty to protect my family combined with the fear of losing family. It’s feeling thankful for being home and having a partner at home. It’s the call to hang on, to figure this out, to make this work, so triumph will show up as parties and graduations and opened playgrounds.
We will all emerge from this long Spring as different humans navigating hygiene, careers, screens, kitchens, relationships, and education. Until then, I’m giving myself permission to relax routines, take one day at a time, and celebrate the smallest victory with over the top air hugs. I’m trying to remember – this WFH chapter is history in the making – and of course, it starts with the big rocks.