March 30th, 2020
The stress rash on my chin was throbbing. I was confused by parent directions from my son’s teacher about online school and my work inbox was full of unanswered emails from the weekend. I could feel myself drift into feeling lost. Others shared that they too had been reduced to tears by last Monday. 3/30 was a firm reminder that comparisons are the thief of happiness and that I must be grounded in my own routine before I help others move forward with theirs.
A Drifting Advisor
I posted on social media about credits for public school children in Michigan. How do we best serve all students during the pandemic? I stewed and replied to so many questioning families with the want to be set straight themselves. I wanted to be in control. I wanted to give control. But instead, I drifted.
Routines and Buddies
Although none of us know exactly what the timing of our futures is right now, we do still know which direction we want to go. How do we stay focused on short and long term goals when we have come to expect our days to be broadsided with seemingly life changing news? We must be disciplined enough to have a routine and open enough to embrace a buddy system. Not profound, but I sure needed the reminder.
I have suddenly come to understand why both of my grandmothers always had a fully stocked pantry. My grandmom Carrie had my grandmother Jean beat per quantity, but then again Carrie designated a whole room to store food. Each lived through the depression, sent husbands to war while living through the financial fallout of unknowns, and owned responsibility for sustaining their own happiness.
Keep Calm and Grandma On
Both Carrie and Jean were methodical in facing life. Neither filtered opinions. They got on with what they could control and did not try to explain the rest, or let it get in the way of moving forward.
Anchors Against the Drift
These past three weeks I have revisited my grandmothers’ routines and felt closer to each as I suddenly realized the whys of their very different habits. They created their own cultures of normal that became depended upon to allow life to move forward anchored in a predicability which they oversaw.
As a high school coach, I depended on routine to unite, calm, and prepare. I also used to assign “psych up” buddies to each athlete. They might have left a note on a teammate’s locker or baked her a treat on game day. By mid-season, the team realized that they could depend on each other to check in with them and make sure that they were performing at their best both physically and mentally. They also knew they could be real with their team. Silly, serious, fun, sad, mad, questioning, nervous, confident, proud–all that it is to be human.
We all need a buddy system right now.
Super bowl champion and Good Morning America host Michael Strahan’s book Wake Up Happy is a playbook to get through these pandemic times and it comes complete with suggested music playlists. He owns how he faces fear and asserts that life is about changing behavior to reach goals. One of the lyrics he references is a Coldplay song which asks:
Am I a part of the cure? Or am I part of the disease?
Strahan has explained many times how he has learned to transform life through behavioral change and creating new routines as he focuses forward. I keep revisiting his advice as it fits our new normal perfectly. Adapting and finding happiness are goals all of us can seek together while we are apart.
I put a pin in the workday last Monday thinking about buddy systems and how I needed to build a new normal routine for our daily life. As my son and I went outside to play soccer in the wet cold gray early evening, my feet were on the ball, but my mind was on all the new invading our lives.
I fought the questions about thirty more days, online school and college deposits. A neighbor walked down her driveway and looked up. I thought about how everyone was acting so odd lately, but got back to our game. Once inside I checked my phone. A picture of a gorgeous eagle appeared from a group chat. That was why our neighbor was looking up!
Raised up by watching eagle’s wings
Off we went on a walk after an eagle. Guess who flew majestically across our path? We both pointed. We both stared. We both grinned. Suddenly I was full of energy, relaxed and elated in the moment of wonder!
We triumphantly drifted home and found a stream of gorgeous pictures texted by multiple neighbors of our inspiring shared buddy. I was giddy looking at the detail of its eyes, feathers and beak. Distracted by a stunning reminder of the power of being awed, I reset and allowed myself to feel joy, to feel strong, to feel connected.
Later, I texted a colleague. She had just finished a long day supporting students.
“We can’t be strong all the time…we can’t,” she typed.
Nope, buddy we can’t, but we can check in, take turns lifting each other up and stay anchored in our new routines.
Then I responded to another college admission friend about test optional updates. She answered with thanks, and cut right through to the latest news:
“Focus on not getting sick, that is the goal.”
I quickly replied, “Yes, yes” and continued to babble on about concerns for my applicants and like a true buddy, she responded:
“I hope that you are practicing self care.”
This is not a drill
We need to stay focused on what we can control, rely on a buddy system to keep us in check, and stay present in order to gain strength from the good. Routines, buddies and music offer ways to do this. We are in the midst of a pandemic. Even though it feels like a movie that we cannot walk out of, it is important to remind each other to stay anchored in fact-based calm. Our united mental health depends on it.
Students Still Soar
As Queen Elizabeth II said, we will meet again. We will celebrate the classes of 2020 and parents will be proud watching them take flight. I have been inspired by resilient students creating fulfilling routines to define their new normal (and revel as they can sleep in!) It has also been so refreshing to see buddy networks sprout up in neighborhoods, online, and even among bears in windows.
Anchored by routines and buddy systems, we can insure that the future is bright, and also take this time to relax and enjoy having the time to mentally drift. Yesterday morning, I blasted Dobie Gray’s Drifting Away (which Michael Strahan should add to his Wake Up Happy playlist stat!) My son half listened with a bemused look as I explained how his grandmother used to play it (on a record player!) hum along and bop around. He giggled and refused to dance as I sang off key and swayed along. I flashed back to photographs of my grandmothers grinning as they danced with their husbands and let myself drift, reassured by the anchors they, and my Dobie Gray fan mom, had dropped into my DNA decades ago through passed down routines.
Routine, buddies and allowing space to appreciate the good stuff will get us through this time. As my former boss, Detroit Country Day School retired headmaster Jerry Hansen used to quote in his blunt Midwestern style:
“It is our choice whether or not we have a good day.”
I will never forget how he pulled our school community together on 9/11 with honest emotion as he reacted to who had been lost a few hours earlier, and counseled 700 of us on how we must remain united in our moving forward together. Headmaster Hansen’s leadership offered timeless lessons on the need to remain resolute regardless of the situation.
Our students’ dreams remain intact as they impress us with their resilience. Our humanity is rising to the challenge to unify in support of changed behavior for the common good. We have got this Team Humanity! LET’S GO… as we stay anchored at home finding happiness in what we can control.