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Social Distancing Taught Me I Needed to Slow Down

By Elizabeth Christopher

Before the devasting coronavirus brought on social distancing, our kids were in motion seven days a week–busy with soccer, basketball, piano and bass lessons, art classes, rock climbing and school play rehearsals. How lucky they are to have these opportunities, I thought. How unlike my own childhood afternoons spent in front of the TV. Although, there always seemed to be plenty of time for inventing games in the playground or, later, as a teen, for lounging on the school ballfield with my girlfriends swapping stories.

I know I’m privileged in a way that my single mother was not when I was growing up: I have a job with health insurance that lets me work from home. My husband and I can afford to enroll our kids in the same extra-curricular activities that our middle-class neighbors do.

Before social distancing, my kids and I would wake up and consult the calendar on our refrigerator. I’d write down the day’s agenda on the white board as my kids filled their cereal bowls. I announced who has piano today; who has soccer. I did this out of necessity. This was the only way to keep up with the wheels we’d set in motion.

There was always something to do. Always a place to be. My kids seemed to take their busy schedules in stride, but I was constantly forgetting things; I constantly felt I was behind.

There was always something to do. Always a place to be… I constantly felt I was behind.

Anxiety in children, teens, and adults is rising in America. The reasons are many, and overscheduling is thought to be a contributor to parental stress.

It’s been over a week since our pace has slowed to a halt. First school was cancelled. Then soccer. Then basketball. No more art classes or rock climbing.

As activities dropped from calendar, my phone buzzed with text messages from moms wondering, understandably, how’d they occupy and educate their children at home.

Yet, as our calendar cleared, I exhaled. Social distancing was the antidote I think I needed to an overscheduled life.

It’s early spring and the weather has been mild. On Saturday, I took my two youngest children on a walk around Towners Pond. The water sparkled with sunlight. The kids skimmed rocks.

My children seem to be adjusting to a slower pace to life. The two youngest have embraced FYACS’ daily creative challenges, which has sparked a return to the arts and crafts drawers of clay, construction paper, and glitter glue that often is neglected. My 14-year-old finally fed up with screens went out for a bike ride, then rollerblading. The three of them have been playing basketball together.

It’s been far from smooth sailing: my children whined when they learned they’d still have to do schoolwork. Keeping my teen off screens and on task while trying to do my day job is nearly impossible. My daughter misses her friends. My three kids fight as much as they play together.

But I’ve noticed that our less-intensive schedule has given me more time to enjoy my family. We eat lunch together every day. We play board games. I’ve been able to write more—enabling me to clear my head. Perhaps most important: I’m not constantly barking at my children to hurry up.

More and more, I see families out walking. I see them biking. I can’t help but feel I’ve returned to my 1970s and 80s childhood when there was less to do and fewer places to be and when you could get bored and let your mind expand. I wonder if other parents have also felt this need to decelerate.

Everything could change tomorrow. I understand the seriousness of our circumstances. The virus is spreading and taking more lives every day. My mother is 75 and is at increased risk of getting sick. She feels isolated and anxious and my efforts to help feel inadequate. My husband owns a small business and is trying his best to keep his employees working.

There are many lessons we will learn from this crisis. One for me was how much I needed to slow down.

Elizabeth Christopher is the coordinator for the Writers Studio at FYACS.

Read more stories on Palette.

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