I live in Bozeman, Montana about an hour away from Yellowstone National Park. We canceled my family’s spring break trip because of the Coronavirus outbreak. We then braced ourselves for a new normal of social distancing.
In lieu of spring break, I bragged to my girls that I would host a fun-filled, life affirming week of activities called “Mom Camp.” I would model it after my favorite TV show as a girl, Little House on the Prairie. It’s true that Laura didn’t grow up in Montana, but that didn’t stop me. As a little girl, all I knew is that Little House was the best thing on TV. My cousin and I spent hours in the backyard pretending we were on the prairie. I wanted to use this unexpected down time to create something special for my kids.
I talked a big game about “Mom Camp” to my girls, who were never fans of the Little House book series. I boasted about elaborate plans for sewing, cooking, and gardening. My girls asked, with biting teen sarcasm, if we would clean Pa’s gun and play with a pig bladder ballon like Laura details in her books. We did not, nor did we can vegetables or make our own clothes.
We did bake an apple pie and set up a composter. The kids also watched about 1,000 hours of YouTube. None of the shows were Little House reruns. Despite the fact I have survived some blizzards, “Mom Camp” made me face a difficult truth. I have nothing in common with my childhood hero, Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Nonetheless, here are five revelations social distancing has taught me:
1. I love composting.
We finished this activity during Mom Camp. My 14-year-old daughter helped me set up the basic composter. We placed it in the backyard in full sun. Every evening I make my daily pilgrimage to compost. I call the kitchen composting bin the “slop bucket” in attempt to sound more like Laura. Adding my greens and browns to the composter brings me such joy. Knowing that during this uncertain time that I’m doing something regenerative also lifts my spirits. My family knows that I don’t have a green thumb, which is why this new hobby makes us all giggle.
2. Virtual happy hours are keeping this extrovert sane.
Everyday I try to Skype or FaceTime for fun. Whether it be a family member or a friend, just 15 minutes of virtual interaction has helped me maintain my sense of humor. My younger daughter has been playing Dungeons & Dragons with friends on Google Hangouts. Netflix party, which allows multiple viewers to comment on a film in real time, has connected the kids with their friends. Everyday I look forward to the virtual chats and social time.
3. A daily walk reminds me to be grateful for health, nature, and community.
Spring usually begins in May out here in the Northern Rockies. I’ve made a pledge to bundle up and go outside everyday, but I am mindful about proper social distancing. We have the space in our community to spread out and enjoy. The family time walking around the block brings me a sense of quiet happiness and prompts me to focus on the moment.
4. Family front porch concerts have encouraged me to be creative and relax.
My husband’s high school friend started using Facebook Live to entertain family and friends. She hosted front porch concerts featuring her talented kids. We loved this idea and went for it. During our debut performance, my younger daughter cited Lewis Carroll’s The Jabberwocky and sang. I read Shel Silverstein. My husband and older daughter, introverts that they are, make special guest appearances now and then. Our family and friends around the world comment and laugh with us.
5. I have to unplug from the news.
Thank goodness for the Internet. Without this digital connection, the quarantine would be an even bigger challenge. That said, the news is often overwhelming. In a funny role reversal, my teens took my phone away. I was glued to twitter and following every update and press conference about the global pandemic. It wasn’t healthy. Putting down the phone on a regular basis is necessary to protect our collective mental health during this crisis.
I understand how incredibly lucky my family is to live in Montana. We also have access to excellent healthcare and have jobs that allow teleworking. As the devastating toll of Coronavirus unfolds, I am also reminded of how interconnected we are and how much we depend on one another.
I am no Laura Ingalls Wilder, but I admire Laura’s spirit. This quote sums up my experience social distancing:
“I am beginning to learn that it is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.”Laura Ingalls Wilder
These are strange times. The uncertainty of this global pandemic is confusing and scary. I am grateful for the medical professionals, the grocery workers, pharmacists and others on the front lines. Even with the heartbreak, disruption, and confusion, this time has taught me to embrace and celebrate the real moments of sweet simplicity.
Heather White is a nationally-recognized sustainability leader and nonprofit executive, and expert on conservation law and policy. She is the President & CEO of Heather White Strategies, LLC and former President and CEO of Yellowstone Forever, past Executive Director of EWG, and Senate staffer.