Thursday, April 2, 2020

Day by day

A while back, after I mentioned feeling overwhelmed by deadlines and other duties, my friend Amy loaned me an Anne Lamott book titled “Bird by Bird.” Lamott’s title is a nod to a childhood memory and a reminder to writers – to all of us, really – to tackle projects one step at a time: bird by bird. To not get overwhelmed by the whole, big picture, but to focus on each detail along the way.

I think a lot of people right now are feeling the crush of many things piling up, many unfamiliar responsibilities taken on necessarily and sometimes reluctantly, and the vastness of the unknown. While I am grateful that my now-schooling-at-home children are old enough to do much of their work without constant guidance from me, and that I have a job that allows me to work remotely, and a house large enough that we can spread out to our own work spaces – well, it’s still a lot to adjust to.

My mantra has become not bird by bird, but day by day. One day at a time. Because none of us knows how long we will remain in this weird limbo of staying mostly at home, trying to help teachers teach kids who are no longer allowed into the classroom, learning how to meet virtually with colleagues to carry on working, missing friends we won’t be able to gather with for who-knows-how-long.

I’ve taken to going for a walk every day with the dog and whichever of the kids wants to tag along. I go through our woods (another thing for which I am thankful, especially now) or along the backroads near home.

Sometimes my parents will come, too, and we’ll walk along together, a safe distance apart from each other. Sometimes my son brings a football to toss back and forth along the way. During a walk last week, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. Instead of exchanging a hug as we normally would have, we stood several feet apart and talked for a few minutes.

It was odd. Lots of things are odd now. The weirdness of nearly everything these days can be unsettling. In fact, I feel more unsettled than settled most days. I know I am not the only one.

We rarely leave the house other than by foot (or, occasionally, bike) these days, and it feels strange when we are in the car. A trip to the post office to collect the mail involves holding my breath before I step through the door, and quick hellos or distant waves rather than the normal catching up with neighbors. Grocery shopping, not my favorite task even before social distancing, is both awkward and worrying. We shoppers move along quickly and try to leave room, but there is only so much space for all of us to occupy.

And if someone accidentally sneezes in social distancing public, you can see everyone become immediately more tense.

My kids miss school and their friends and teachers – and the comfort of a familiar routine. Even with the extraordinary care and effort their teachers have put into it, having to all of a sudden do school remotely is stressful and confusing. Each of my children has had moments these last few weeks when they have become overwhelmed by the tasks at hand and by the strangeness of now.

All I can tell them is to tackle one task at a time, then move on to the next one. It’s what I’m telling myself, too. One thing at a time. One step at a time. Deep breaths as needed. All we can do is make our way through this day by day. 

Original content published by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul. This essay appears as Meghan's April 3, 2020 Close to Home column in the Littleton Record. 

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