Cool, Calm, and Collected during COVID-19: A Strategy

One week ago today my colleagues and I sat around the circulation desk of my middle school library wondering if our district would close school on Monday for a “deep cleaning.”  We chuckled at the seeming futility of such an act to prevent a flu-like illness that is transported from human to human and is airborne. We considered the loveliness of getting to sleep in late on a Monday.  The weather was predicted to be beautiful that day! One of our primary concerns was whether or not this would count as an “unused snow day” and in turn shorten our Memorial Day break. We were thankful the school play, scheduled for that weekend, would still go on.  The kids worked so hard! I jokingly shared a story of a woman next to me at the grocery store the day before whose cart nearly fell over, it was stacked so high with canned goods and toilet paper. We guffawed, only a little nervously, and exclaimed, “people are nuts.”

Exactly one week later… things have changed.

As of today, Thursday, March 19, 2020, all schools in New York State are closed until April 1st.  All movie theaters, bars, fitness centers, casinos, and restaurants are closed (with the exception of take-out in some places).  Broadway has shut down all of it’s shows. Gatherings of 50 or more are prohibited. (My sons informed me that a group of women doing zumba in the town park were broken up by the police yesterday.)   Jones Beach has become a drive-up testing site for those suspecting they have contracted Covid-19, but only under certain circumstances as there is a shortage of tests. The Long Island Railroad has stopped cash payments as a means of deterring passengers from riding.  Supermarkets have restricted hours open only to the elderly and high risk individuals. All businesses for which it is humanly possible (or in some cases not) are encouraged to shut their doors and function remotely, from home.

On the horizon: Total home isolation for weeks to months…

Ok, breeeeaaathe… (Literally, stop reading, close your eyes, and take a long deep breath before continuing.)

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My simple strategies for coping through the first few days of what will undoubtedly be a historic event to generations to come, are what I intend to continue to practice.  First and foremost… REMAIN GRATEFUL.  I live in a modest apartment.  My oldest son has his own bedroom and my youngest sleeps in a converted den.  We have two full baths. My surrounding neighbors are quirky but lovely people who have already displayed their care and camaraderie during blackouts and Hurricane Sandy’s devastation.  We have stacks of unread books and board games collecting dust and itching to jump off their shelves. Our little patio overlooks a pond brimming with birds and wildlife. Just last night, on the eve of the vernal equinox, we heard the first froggy chirps through the windows (to my delight and my son’s chagrin).  Need I mention the greatest gift of all in times like these? Hello internet, social media, Netflix, and Hulu; some things will take grossly for granted.  

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If my brain even dares to go to the fact that we don’t have a full, finished basement with a pool table, I give myself a virtual slap across the consciousness and thank the powers that be for what I do have!  Working in a school with mixed demographics has made me keenly aware of the realities of home for different people with disadvantages and illnesses.  I won’t get into the details of the horrors that make up homelife for many Long Island children; children for whom the only place that feels safe, comfortable, or nurturing is school.

If the image of me slapping myself in any way didn’t make you chuckle or at least smirk, the memes circulating on social media right now will.  Coping strategy number two: FIND HUMOR!  Although I’ve taken a bit of a break from Facebook this year, during the past week I have found myself scrolling more than usual, as many have with this excess of time and the need to feel connected and informed.  A particular colleague of mine with a sense of humor that makes her a favorite among students and faculty alike has been posting a barrage of memes that have had me rolling! I informed her of the fact that my gut literally hurts from laughing at her posts and she simply replied, “That’s the point.”  I’m grateful for people like this who recognize that humor connects us and indeed heals us in times of fear and pain. Wish I could actually order a “Panic at the Costco” t-shirt! LOL!!

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My third strategy for coping with the realities of a global pandemic: PRACTICE SELF DISCIPLINE.  This means more than refraining from devouring food stores out of boredom.  One you’ve sufficiently scrolled through facebook memes and had your laugh, put the phone down…  These devices have already hijacked our brains during the best and busiest of times. Barring scheduled check-ins, I have had to consciously remove myself from my device.  Although it can entertain and keep me connected, incessantly checking the phone can work against me by fueling my fear. Although the ideas were swirling in my head for this very post, it took a lot for me to drop the phone and get typing.  I need to schedule time to write, be creative, meditate, and get physical.  For me, this means walking outside each day while that’s still an option (I’ve hiked miles and miles this week at various parks) or at least doing some yoga and stretching.  

So for now, remaining grateful, finding humor, and practicing self-discipline will be my primary strategies for pushing through these uncertain and rapidly-changing times.  I intend to follow up soon to share my experiences and strategies for facing parenting challenges as social distancing protocols affect my kids. In the meantime, I’d love your feedback via this blog or my email, themindfullibrarian@gmail.com.  Be well, readers.

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