Two weeks ago, my daughter came home from school exhausted; a normal behaviour, given that she just started junior kindergarten. However, in the short period between dropping her bag at the door and attempting to wake her for dinner, she had developed a fever of 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and began grumbling about her stomach.
What felt like a mere moment later, we embarked on a sleepless nine-hour marathon, chock-full of vomiting, diarrhea and the inevitable flux of laundry that ensued. To make matters worse, she had a sudden infection break out on her foot.
I was being cautious and following the rules, but I had no reason to suspect that she had contracted “the” virus. I thought it was just that 24-hour stomach flu that seems to make the rounds at the start of each new school year. Concerned about the angry-looking infection on her toe, we took her to our doctor, who also had her tested for COVID-19.
Mistakes were made
Maybe it was the test, or the gear the medical staff were all wearing, or how sad, depleted and unwell my little girl looked lying on the examination table, but after that moment I became obsessed with the possibility that she could in fact be infected with the notorious virus. In an instant, I went from a calm, collected mother to an overly cautious crazy lady with the Lysol wipes.
To add to the chaos, she had only been in school for five days. Like many parents I know, I felt euphoric sending my kids back to school, after being home with them 24/7 for six months. I love them with all my heart, but those five glorious days suddenly felt like seconds. Clearly, the universe had teased me with but a glimpse of freedom, before sending them back to me with a devilish grin.
Having them home again and unwell, I suddenly felt the need to panic every time they didn’t wash properly, or sneeze without covering their mouth. I struggled with the rolling emotions of frustration, anger, resentment—all due to the multitude of fears circling in my head and threatening my productivity, the health of my family and my sanity at large.
Due to a surge in COVID tests, it took nine days to get her results. Negative. We were in the clear now, but let me be frank, mistakes were made. So, here are a few lessons I learned (around day eight) that may help families for which homeschooling is not a viable option.
5 lessons I learned
Disinfect without being a drill sergeant
While you may be justified in taking extreme cleaning measures at any time during a pandemic, you are not justified in sustaining expectations that everyone else (including your sick four-year-old) holds the same frame of mind.
If the constant quarrels on social media have not already alerted you to the fact that we are all experiencing and treating this pandemic differently, your family will make that abundantly clear when you get crazy-eyed because a child picked their nose and wiped it on the wall. If you need to create a holster for the Lysol wipes, perfect! You do you—but let go of the expectation that everyone else will jump on board.
Lead by example
As with any parenting tactic, most experts will tell you that if you want a behaviour to shift, start with leading by example. If your kids think that turning the tap on, wetting their hands and turning it off is a sufficient hand-washing procedure, don’t yell at them.
I know it’s a tempting knee-jerk response, but let’s be honest, has it ever worked? They’re kids.
First of all, playing Lego is way more important than cleanliness, and second, yelling the instructions from the hall isn’t helping. In fact, my kids have used this as an attention mechanism—and why wouldn’t they? They were with me for a solid six months, and now that it’s suddenly OK to head back to school, we are separated for nearly half the day.
Take the 30 seconds to head to the bathroom and help them do it right, calmly. Especially with younger kids. Think of it as another way to bond, while being the example they’ve been waiting for.
Indoor masks do not make you crazy
Guilty. For the first few months of this pandemic, whenever my spouse and I saw someone driving alone in their car while wearing a mask, we laughed, thinking they were ridiculous for wearing it with nobody else around.
Now, I see how ridiculous I was. In case you need to hear it: It’s OK to wear a mask indoors if you feel it’s right for you, especially when a family member is sick. I wore a mask inside for the first few days my daughter was sick, but I started to feel ridiculous, so I took it off. FYI, I got sick.
Everyone must know the plan
There are two plans you need to have in place: One to follow during healthy times, and one to follow when illness seeps in. Whatever they are, not only do you need to know them and follow them, but your family needs to be in on it, too. There’s nothing more awkward than blindsiding your partner after work in a hazmat suit.
Meditation is important
No pun intended here, but breathe. So long as you are healthy, please, for the love of your family, stop and take a few moments to breathe and relax your nervous system—multiple times each day. Five seconds in, a five-second hold and five seconds out: continue breathing for as long as it takes for your heart rate to sink back to a reasonable pulse.
I had a good chuckle the other day when I realized I had more patience while waiting for my surgery and its results when I had cancer, than I did while waiting for my daughter’s COVID-19 test. It’s understandable if your composure gets rattled when the health of your loved ones are at risk, but add the potential that your little angel could infect (or possibly kill) someone just by coughing, and you could easily get thrown into a frenzy the size of Aunt Em’s house just before it crushed the Wicked Witch of the East.
Mark Twain said, “Good judgment is the result of experience and experience the result of bad judgment.” Take it from me: It’s worth making a plan for your family, and when necessary, reclaiming your centre by letting go of everything outside your control and leading with compassionate awareness—your kids will thank you.
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