Chronicles of a Grant Writer in the Time of Social Distancing — Week 10

May 18

Yesterday I did a Google search regarding the supply chain and the availability of paper towels, which seem to be harder to find as the weeks go on, not easier. (At the moment we are fully stocked on the worst quality toilet paper on the market, which was all we could find last week, but we are dangerously low on paper towels.) I couldn’t find any news more than a few weeks old, but one nugget of information I found mentioned a trade dispute between the United States and Canada. Apparently Canadian forests are an important source of pulp for paper towel production.

In the grand scheme of things, paper towels don’t actually make the cut as a life and death necessity, but they are definitely second level on the hierarchy of needs for my family. If I had any influence in U.S.-Canada trade negotiations, I’d be groveling right now with the Canadians. Really, this is madness. (And, yes, I am privileged and wasteful, and I know there are alternatives to paper towels, but I like my Bounty full-sheets and someday I will have them again!)

And while we are at it, I continue to marvel at the greed and insatiability of the hoarders who put us in this situation. They must have basements and garages packed with paper products. Even if you were going to barricade yourself at home for a full year, how many paper towel rolls could you possibly need? It’s hard for me to fathom how it is possible to be that selfish.

As you can see, the scarcity of certain products, combined with limiting my shopping frequency, is starting to wear on me. And that’s not all. I’m worn out from the constant juggling act of working and schooling and social distancing. We need to get out, and have a little social distance from our immediate family members. I am starting to fantasize about sitting at my desk at work and being bored for an hour or so. At this point, that sounds like a vacation.

I am by nature a positive person, and I try to avoid complaining, but I felt today that I needed to vent some of my frustration, both to relieve my own stress, and to avoid painting a false façade of domestic tranquility. Even for those of us with the most fortunate circumstances right now, the little things in life are a whole lot more challenging than usual. I know this too shall pass, but not as quickly as I would like.

May 19

Shortly after writing yesterday’s post, I reached out to my sister for advice about paper-towel buying, and she told me she had recently ordered Amazon brand paper towels. I followed her lead, and should have a few rolls in my possession before the end of the week, and that knowledge has reduced my anxiety.

It’s really strange what we’re going through now, and how seemingly insignificant things can create so much frustration.

I’ve been lucky throughout this period of social distancing to be able to take my weekly ballet class through Zoom. (Shout out to Bodiography Center for Movement for being proactive in setting up virtual classes.) During normal times, when I have to get from home to the dance studio, I often run a few minutes late. I thought that with my commute shortened to a walk down the stairs I would be on time for class. But oh no, I am still frequently a couple of minutes late. This can be attributed to a lot of factors, not the least of which is my tendency to run late. But I realized today that there is something else at play.

With nowhere to go, and no break from our family members, we are missing the opportunity to have periods of transition throughout the day. When I drop my kids off at school in the morning, I typically have 5-10 minutes to myself before I arrive at work. This is time during which my mind can wander, and I sometimes think about items to add to my to-do list, or just have a breather to get myself into a work mindset, ready to tackle the tasks of my job.

During COVID-19, there is no time for transition. I go straight from giving my kids breakfast to answering work e-mails. One morning a few weeks ago, I took a solo walk around the block when I found it impossible to settle into my work day, but otherwise, my days are typically a blur of not only moving directly from one responsibility to another, but often handling more than one simultaneously. It’s exhausting.

I run late to ballet because there is no time buffer for travel from home to the studio, just as I have no time to organize my thoughts between settling my kids onto their Zoom lessons and hopping on to my own video calls.

My personal goal for the next few weeks is to create more transition times for myself (such as by taking more walks) so I have the headspace to handle my responsibilities more effectively, and to fortify myself emotionally so I am less impatient with my children. Wish me luck.

May 20

During this time when we are primarily at home, and when we don’t have access to many of our regular amusements, there is time to fill. Actually, I have been surprised by how little unfilled time I have had since work is as demanding as usual, and my kids need lots of attention. Still, with all that, there have been opportunities to do things we don’t usually have time to do.

Some people have embarked on baking projects (don’t we all have at least one social media contact who posts about their sourdough starter?), others have learned new skills, and others have tackled home improvement or bucket list projects.

I didn’t enter this time with any grandiose goals. I know from experience that “free” time is deceptive and is easy to squander, but it’s also surprising how much one can accomplish in little bits every day. On the other hand, with so much fear and anxiety attached to this time, I heeded the warnings that putting too much pressure on myself and my family could be psychologically damaging.

Like much of the back-and-forth about this trying time, there are strong opinions on opposing sides. (“Take on big goals” versus “just try to survive.”) True to my middle-of-the-road nature, our family made some progress toward modest goals, without adding too much pressure. Now that some of the fear is lifting, maybe we will conquer other goals.

I was moved by this blog post by Sarah Tuttle Singer, which one of my Facebook friends shared today. Ms. Singer’s writing is often raw and beautiful, and this particular blog post resonated deeply with me as it captured the gap between what we thought would come from this time, and what actually has happened in our home lives. She writes that she didn’t bake bread or do many of the things that characterized this time for others, but notes, in her poetic way, that she’s still here.

Unlike Ms. Singer, I did bake bread. On three occasions (so far), my daughter and I baked small batches of challah. We also baked blondies, muffins, cookies, and other treats. My kids both mastered riding their bikes, a long overdue goal. I spent some time reading books from my personal to-read list, though I’m a slow reader and haven’t had as much time as I expected for this goal. I also made modest progress in tackling some household clutter and doing a bit of gardening.

When I look back on this time, I may or may not remember those modest accomplishments. However, I think I will look back with pride on the relative feeling of normalcy in our home at this time. We have been so fortunate. This time has been sad and scary, but it has not been traumatizing for our children. They will rebound from their frustrations. They will have some catching up to do with academic subjects and readjusting to social dynamics, but they will be OK. They will still be here, ready to learn and embark on life’s adventures.

May 21

It’s been a long and busy week, and my kids’ tolerance for frustration is greatly diminished. As they tackled their school assignments today, one was resistant to even begin work, and the other worked so long and so hard that she was emotionally spent. Fortunately, the weather has been lovely and has been conducive to more outdoor time, which is exactly what we all needed.

I dragged my weeping daughter out of the house around 5:30 p.m., along with her reluctant brother, and we went for a longish walk. Along the way, they complained, taunted each other, and stalled repeatedly, but we got home with something closer to emotional equilibrium than when we left, and their moods at home afterward were more placid, so I will call that a win.

I read an article today about the severe lockdown in Spain, and the emotional toll it has placed on children who were not permitted to be outdoors for weeks. We are so fortunate that our “stay at home” order never had such stringencies. The ability to be outside is necessary for physical and mental health, though it’s often hard to convince our kids to go out. It’s clear that when they do go out, even for short bursts of activity, they feel better and ultimately sleep better at night. This is not rocket science, but sometimes as a parent, it’s good to be reminded not to just give into the inertia, but to continue pushing the kids out the door for everyone’s health and sanity.


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Susan Jablow, Free-lance Writer

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