“Etta, I don’t think you’re supposed to lie down during meditation,” Otto remarked, with a sideways glance at me. He was clearly hoping I’d make her come out from under the kitchen table and do it RIGHT. Etta was sprawled on the floor, petting the dog, who was enthusiastically lapping up spilled popcorn and bits of mashed potato.
“Otto, I don’t think you’re supposed to sit like THAT,” Etta retorted, “you’re supposed to have your feet flat on the floor!”
I sighed. “Okay you two, just focus on yourselves. Don’t worry about each other.”
We were in week three of covid-19 lockdown and no school. During that first week, in a haze of shock, confusion, and disbelief that this was really happening, I strove mightily for some semblance of normalcy and structure for the kids. Being the chart-minded person that I am, I whipped out a white board and drew up a schedule that matched their regular school schedule as closely as possible. We would do science! Math! Art! PE! Music! Foreign languages! Social Studies! Spelling! ALL THE THINGS!
Never mind that I was overwhelmed, anxious, weepy, and exhausted, and still trying to keep up with my day job. Never mind that the kids were in shock themselves, worried about the virus, and missing their friends terribly. My children would be educated, dammit!
“Do we HAVE to? All my friends’ parents have given up and they just get to watch TV all day.”
Hmmm, perhaps a global pandemic is not the time to insist on a rigid schedule and business as usual.
Time for a different tack.
We shortened the “school” day. We decided to focus on what they’re most interested in— art and music for Etta, coding, game design, and drawing techniques for Otto. I tossed in some journal writing and Spanish lessons for both of them.
And mindfulness practice. Because let’s face it, we could all use some coping skills.
We used a practice called Be The Pond. We are the pond, and our feelings are fish swimming around. Sad fish, happy fish, bored fish, angry fish, excited fish … we simply notice which fish are there in the moment and observe them swimming around. We don’t have to do anything about the fish — just notice them. And if we feel like we’re becoming one of the fish (hello, anxiety fish!), we remind ourselves to be the pond.
After some more grumbling and fidgeting and poking each other, the kids settled down for our two-minute practice.
Afterwards we shared about our fish. Both kids noticed their bored and irritated fishes. Etta had an excited fish too, “for the art project we’re doing today!” Otto, in his typical highly aware, wise-beyond-his-years way, said he had a sad fish, but it was lurking behind a rock, because it didn’t want to be noticed.
It’s now quarantine week 4 (or 5? or maybe 38982? I’ve lost track). When we practice, the kids still report seeing sad and irritated and trapped-feeling fish. But they’re noticing other fish too: gratitude fish, for having food and health and a safe home. Entertained fish, after watching Pluto the Dog. Creative fish. Calm fish. Happy-to-have-less-schoolwork fish.
Slowing down and paying attention is helping the kids (and me) notice the smaller, more subtle fish that are sometimes hard to see behind that Great White Shark of Fear.
Today after mindfulness practice we drew our fish. Etta took grim pleasure in drawing an enormous shark of annoyance at Mama and Otto, which she made sure to point out to us:
feelings of fish
shark=varry anoyed at otto + mama
school of normal fish
tadpole = sad
tiger fish = mad
makerel = exsited\happy
I thought I was pretty aware of what was swimming around in my pond, but I found some surprises:
I’m grateful to be doing this practice with the kids. I’m glad they’re learning that we generally have a mixture of feelings swirling around—things are rarely all “good” or all “bad”, even though it can sometimes feel like that.
I’m grateful for the reminder that feelings, like all situations, are transitory. When it seems like the quarantine will last forever, that the kids will never go back to school, I remind myself that I am the pond.
This too shall pass.