I need to stay busy doing. Planning, dreaming, doing something, anything. When I have free time I usually think I need to do something productive, usually in the vein of something goal oriented, like self-improvement or working on the next book.
When lockdown started 23 days ago in France, I felt an immediate sense of self-imposed pressure to do or accomplish something monumental. I began mentally forming a quarantine to-do list. My brain on repeat: Do something epic. You can’t squander this gift of free time.
Write that book. Practice yoga
everyday twice a day. Study French and bring your level up to a solid B1. Study the French Driving Code and master 2,300 practice questions. Facetime friends back home daily. Paint the walls in the new house. Cross off upcoming continuing education classes off the list. Tackle your business plan. And come up with another business while you’re at it. Update the blog, every SINGLE day. Work with the kids so they leave quarantine with a complex French vocabulary. Read a stack of books together as a family. Finally, get to that book those books of my own that I’ve been meaning to read.
I started stressing out big time. What if I waste this unexpected gift of free time at home? After all, I am the homeschooling mom who is
never very rarely at home with her kids because I love to be out exploring the world with them.
But then I saw a friend share a poem on Facebook, With this Open Time by Emma Zeck, and I felt relief wash over me.
I could use this time to just be.
I could allow myself to rest and get good sleep. I could spend time curled up on the couch with my kids and introduce them to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (and drive my kids nuts by singing along to Will Smith’s intro “In West Philadelphia, Born and Raised…“).
I didn’t need to use this time to paint the walls of the new house or improve my French.
And so, I consciously decided to let go of my very deeply embedded need to do. In the midst of a pandemic, being for myself and being for my children, offering calmness and comfort, is enough to do.
Staying safe at home, respecting confinement orders and the wishes of medical personnel to #restezchezvous is enough to do. Checking on loved ones and waiving hellos to the new neighbors across the road is enough to do. Coping with waves of grief or missing contact with people is enough to do. Helping my children through moments of sadness or loss of normalcy and canceled events is enough to do.
This time in quarantine isn’t the time to put additional pressure on yourself
It’s not the time when you must learn new skills, build a new business, learn new languages, or expect the same of your children because all of a sudden you have free time. There are motivational messages floating around social media telling people to use quarantine time to do epic sh$t, like lose weight or start new businesses, and if they don’t they have themselves to blame, as apparently they lack motivation or self-discipline.
There are no prizes at the end of quarantine for overachievers. There are no medals or ribbons for super moms. There are no trophies for most improved during the global pandemic.
This is the time to be.
The time to be kind, sensitive, compassionate, and to be supportive.
It’s the time to be understanding that simply getting through this deadly pandemic is a lot to handle.
It is a lot to handle for people quarantined with an abuser, coping with job loss, failing businesses, or poverty, sick with COVID-19 or other illness or disease. It is a lot to handle for people in the groups most vulnerable to getting Coronavirus, people working from home with or without children, people separated from loved ones, people struggling with relationships or on the brink of divorce, and people trying to manage depression or mental illness alone.
Getting through this pandemic day by day is also a lot to handle for people who still have jobs or must get up and go to work each day and say goodbye to their children, like for medical professionals and essential workers.
Quarantine isn’t the time to add pressure or wild new expectations on ourselves.
It’s definitely not the time or place to add stress to our children who are trying to cope with major changes to childhood normalcy, such as routines, family stability, or newly arisen insecurities about the fragility of life.
Whether quarantine lasts days, weeks, or months, you don’t need to do more or learn something new, even if celebrities, your spouse, or your parents suggest you should. If you choose to do something, it should be because you want to because you want to, not because of any external pressure to take advantage of or maximize this ‘free’ time.
Quarantine is the time to stay healthy and alive. It is the time to appreciate what we have, and who we have in our lives.
It is the time to hold onto hope, keep perspective, and find reasons to smile and laugh–even when we have to dig deep.
In this uncertain period of quarantine, that is doing plenty.