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Weathering the Pandemic as a Family

September 23, 2020

As published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, September 23, 2020

COVID-19 continues to significantly reshape our daily lives. Mid-September marked the 6-month point since the World Health Organization declared – on March 11, 2020 – the novel coronavirus a global pandemic. The virus has caused nearly 200,000 deaths in the U.S., and projections for the coming months are beyond grim. The virus has fundamentally changed the social, cultural, economic, political and spiritual aspects of our daily lives in ways that most of us have never experienced.

In our personal and professional lives we increasingly cling to technology to keep us connected but since a Google search on “Zoom fatigue” produces more than 28 million results, it seems fair to say that technology alone is not the elixir for what currently ails us.

The need to individually and collectively adjust to our dire situation, including the seemingly never ending uncertainty about the future, has left us feeling that our lives are on hold. We steel ourselves and our families for what may come, while we anxiously await herd immunity and an effective vaccine, not to mention decisive leadership and a coherent national strategy aimed at achieving effective public health and economic solutions. 

While COVID-19 has heightened anxiety about our present and future lives, it has also presented a profound moment in which we can identify, and recommit ourselves to, the simple and meaningful activities that enrich our daily lives. As a family we recently leaned into this mindset while circled around the kitchen table, nourishing ourselves with homemade curried, potato-leek soup and warm bread, as the autumn equinox approached.

Zoe and Adam had both finished the first week of online middle school, only three short days, and were mentally preparing themselves for the first full week of Zoom-based learning. As their parents, Lori and I had been strategizing how best to support them this fall. We’d also been doing our best to support each other and find the strength to continue serving others through our professional roles.  

We started our family conversation by agreeing that we have fared well, individually and as a family, these past 6-months. Zoe rated the overall experience a 7 or 8, though Adam abstained from voting as he shoved another chunk of buttered bread into his mouth. Lori and I expressed gratitude for our gainful employment and our family’s health. 

Next, we discussed the strategies we used to maintain our well-being during these challenging and stressful times. Staying connected with friends and family, virtually and in-person, was at the top of our list. Second we noted that lots of outdoor time and physical activity was essential. This included many family walks, Zoe and Lori running together a few times each week, Adam tearing up and rebuilding forts and a mountain bike course in the backyard, and I trained for and completed a (virtual) triathlon. We sustained ourselves with lots of home-cooked, healthy food, including produce from our gardens and fruit trees, and a steady flow of Zoe’s baked treats and smoothie bowls!

Finally, we focused on what we could do to best maintain our well-being during the next 6-months. In general, we agreed we would continue with the daily and weekly routines that have become our new normal. Additionally, we noted that having at least one special activity or goal to bring us hope and joy for the days ahead was really important. Zoe is excited to have recently restarted team gymnastics for the first time since March and Adam just began a 10-week outdoor wilderness survival program that meets one day per week. Lori is delighted to be playing her guitar, often through Zoom with her father and brother Dan, and enjoying working from home part of the week where she can more readily help support Zoe and Adam with school. I’m inspired to continue my regular physical exercise, both because it makes me feel good and because it is an essential antidote to the largely sedentary and virtual nature of my work.

Mostly, though, I look forward to continuing to be active and connected as a family, in the best ways we can, despite the uncertainty and stress of these times. It’s the one thing we can control and the one thing that keeps us grateful for today and hopeful for tomorrow.

John Engel of Florence can be reached through his website fatherhoodjourney.com.

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