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By Helene Perrucci, Lead Teacher at Shanthi Project
As schools across the country started to close, I quickly transformed my home into a Pinterest-worthy homeschool; walls adorned with the alphabet, printed out daily schedules, weekly schedules with art and school supplies neatly organized. I wanted my kid’s “new classrooms” to be inviting, creative, and beautiful just like I wanted their remote learning experience to be. The truth is I love decorating and organizing spaces so this task gave somewhere to put my energy during this time of uncertainty. It was the perfect distraction for me to avoid confronting my feelings of anxiety, fear, and stress that were bubbling below the surface.
The first day of remote learning seemed to be plagued with meltdowns and tears, myself included. While my intentions were good, my expectations were higher than me and my family could reach. I started to wonder how we would be able to get through weeks of this if we couldn’t even get through day one. I became short and irritated with my kids and wondered why this was so hard.
For a second I wasn’t sure what to do and then I remembered to practice what I preach – mindfulness. I started to pay attention to my breath and became curious about my emotions, my physical sensations, and my thoughts. I noticed feelings of failure, anxiety, and control; trying to grasp onto routines and schedules was making me feel stable and have a sense of normalcy for myself and my family. Images of beautiful Instagram posts that spoke of simple homeschooling schedules flashed through my head. My chest was tight, and my jaw was clenched while I realized the expectations of what I thought homeschooling should look like for us and this was not it. Dropping inward, I started to create space and acknowledge the emotions I tried so hard to dodge. I had to lean in and feel the fear, anxiety, and stress that was lurking within. Just paying attention to the experience I was having in this moment allowed me to detach from them, becoming an observer instead of an active participant.
We are not what we can accomplish, we are not just results and outcomes, nor are our children.
One of my colleagues used to discuss how we live in a culture of doing instead of being; how we are valued by our performances and accomplishments and I felt that even more now being home with my kids. Even though I have no training to be a kindergarten teacher, I thought I would nail it. That programming to keep up the pace even during this stay-at-home order is still in the forefront of our thoughts causing more stress on top of the stress of the pandemic itself.
What I have realized in these past couples of months is that this pace, for any of us, is unsustainable. We are not what we can accomplish, we are not just results and outcomes, nor are our children. How can I take this time to teach myself and my children how to just be? There is no normalcy right now and maybe striving for that is just another way for us to try to avoid being vulnerable in front of our families, our co-workers, our bosses. In this moment and going forward, I must extend the compassion I have for others to myself as well. I need to be gentle on myself, we all do. There is no right way to be right now, there are no perfect schedules to keep us productive and maybe there is an opportunity for all of us to accept our experience, whatever it is in these fragile moments.
For my own mental health, I need to lower the bar of my expectations to a height we can all easily step right over. Allowing time for rest and reflection, being honest with my needs, and creating a home that feels safe for myself and my family.
With all that being said, I know there are people out there who are not feeling safe and supported during this time but know there are resources for you at this time and always. Please reach out if you feel you need support during this pandemic, hotlines and resources in Lehigh Valley include NAMI Lehigh Valley at nami-lv.org, Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services at dhs.pa.gov, and 211 in Pennsylvania at pa211east.