I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a little bit tired of being told that this is the perfect time to bond with my family and learn to speak Mandarin. My son is a college freshman who was just hitting his stride when he was ejected from the dorm that had become his home, the classes that were challenging him in all the right ways, the friends who were becoming his family, and the girlfriend he adored. My daughter is a high school freshman whose lacrosse season was obliterated, whose first summer job is on hold, and who misses her routine and her friends.
We’ve bonded with these kids for decades. It’s not time for us to bond it’s time for them to learn to fly. So please don’t tell me to play board games or complete a 1,000 piece puzzle together.
And I suck at languages, and though I have a growth mindset and know that I could master Mandarin if I really, really, really put my mind to it, I have neither the time nor the interest.
With so much unsolicited advice out there, I thought it might be helpful for me to share the definitive guide to how to quarantine correctly. Now, I know this is a very bold claim but stick with me, because I think I’ve got it right.
Don’t judge your quarantine. For years I would say, “I suck at meditating,” which just points out how bad I was at it because rule number one is don’t judge your meditation. Over the years, as I’ve worked to develop what is still a fledgling meditation practice, I’ve become much better at not judging. Being present and accepting wherever I am that day. Quarantine is the same. Accept where you are right now and accept that each day — heck, each hour — may be different.
Don’t judge her quarantine. In much the same way that every one of your days will be different, every one of her days will be different. She might be mourning someone she loves. She might have a sister, a niece, or a son who is a nurse in an ICU. She may be facing scarcity in her pantry or a mounting pile of bills on her kitchen table. Now is not the time for judgment, now is the time for compassion.
Let go of expectations. When all of this started, I had big plans. I was in a frenzy to work harder than ever. Walk every day. Renovate the basement. Clean the garage. Learn to cook Thai food. Complete that 1,000 piece puzzle. But here’s what I’ve learned over the past few weeks (which I think we all probably already knew on some level), this is going to be a marathon, not a sprint, and we need to let go of any expectations around how we thought we were going to feel or what we thought we were going to accomplish.
Hold on to habits that serve you. My friend and colleague Jamie gets up every morning at the same time as always, works out, showers, gets dressed, and puts on a touch of makeup. This is the morning routine that grounds her, and she continues it. I have always kept a bottle of water on my desk, drink it, and refill it twice during the course of my day. These days that same water bottle sits on the kitchen table where I now work. Drink, refill. Drink, refill.
Keep an eye on the future, but don’t wish away today. My mother told me last week that she feels like she is marking time. Wishing away the days until this is over. I get that, truly I do. There are elements of my life “before” that I profoundly miss and so many things I was excited about that have been canceled. But. Time is marching forward and we won’t get these days back, so don’t wish them away. But. We also have to keep our eyes on the horizon and remember that this is a moment in time that will pass. We can’t entirely stop making plans, doing the work, taking the steps forward. It is a careful balance.
Consume just the right amount of news. This may be the trickiest of all. It is incumbent upon us all to stay informed. In a non-partisan, responsible way. You need to know the early warning signs of illness. You need to know the most current advice for the steps you can take to stay safe. You have to know the local, state, and national policies on everything from face coverings to travel. At the same time, you have to protect yourself from news overwhelm. The news is scary and unsettling and we can only handle so much at a time. Stay educated, but don’t obsess.
Err on the side of safety. What I want is to see my friends. What I want is to drive to the city and have lunch with my sister. What I want is to go to the grocery store just for the shredded cheese that will make tonight’s chili dinner better. What I want is to leave behind the face-covering that makes me claustrophobic. But I won’t do any of those things, and neither should you. Until we know more, until we are on the other side of this crisis, when faced with a choice, err on the side of safety.
That’s it. Well, of course there’s more that will likely make this better. Don’t self-medicate with too much crappy food or alcohol. Practice gratitude. Connect with the people you care about. Check on your neighbors. Help people in need in whatever ways you can. Reach out if you are one of those people in need. Binge-watch just the right amount of television. Clean out the pantry because that little bit of productivity will make you feel good. Support your local businesses in whatever ways you can. Move your body in whatever ways you can.
But at the heart of it is this: we haven’t been here before. This is hard and we are all doing the best we can.