In last night’s dream, I found myself at a rural version of our Manhattan school. Due to the coronavirus, school wasn’t in session, but children with no place to go kept wandering in and sneakily doing relay races from our canceled Field Day, hoping no authorities would notice. I was wheeling a dolly down the hall with a particularly smelly load. Turns out I was the new custodian managing pest control and porta-potties. Excellent. At least I had a job!
Early the previous morning, I woke up from a nightmare in which I had forgotten to show up for my Kindergartener’s remote learning class two days in a row (first a call, then an in-person meeting) because we were at my older kids’ class meeting at a basketball court. So much for social distancing! I had somehow lost complete track of my three-year-old while chatting with another mom. And now I had a message coming through saying that I would need to make up lesson plans about “leech colors” for the Kindergarteners. I groggily googled it. Yep, leeches are those slimy little bloodsuckers. And in case you were wondering, their colors range from olive to maroon. Colorwheel meets science class?
My subconscious mind is doing crazy things right now.
Apparently, I’m not the only one experiencing pandemic dreams. One friend shared how she had dreamt of walking on train tracks after being forced to exit a commuter train heading toward Manhattan and ended up at a coffee meeting with coworkers at McDonalds. Another friend recounted a recent dream where she hugged someone in public, and everyone around gasped in horror.
My daughter just dreamt she shopped at Walmart with her quarantined friend. When they couldn’t find Dad, they swam in a pool tucked between two tables and proceeded to launch a nearby rocket ship to the moon. I guess if we’re stuck inside and can’t see friends, our minds will go on trips without us.
In our current reality where shopping is risqué and high fiving is unheard-of, our minds are bound to compensate when given the freedom to run wild at night. Hence, this spout of crazy vivid dreams that hint at our anxieties and desires.
Taking stock of these dreams has made me realize how important mental health is in a moment like this. Here’s how I’m mentally weathering the coronavirus while sheltering in place with my family of six.
1. Set an Alarm. No sleeping in. With so much out of our control, keep some semblance of normalcy to start the day. For me, this means exercising and meditating on scripture before “school” begins at 8 a.m. Sure, I could find pockets of time to stay physically and spiritually fit during the day. But juggling school Zooms and assignments for four kids leaves me bouncing from room to room and my mind scattered.
2. Stick to a Schedule. When schools shut down last month, we played for a week, spent the second week swamped in school work and new remote learning technology, tried for a better balance between screens and free play the third week, and have settled into a nice schedule here in week four. We hold a family morning meeting at 8 a.m. and then Google Meet with our teachers and complete academic work in the morning. That way, after lunch, we have the afternoon for independent quiet time, unstructured creativity, and an outdoor adventure before dinner and bedtime reading.
3. Get Fresh Air and Exercise. Take a walk, rain or shine. Do jumping jacks on your balcony. Throw a dance party with your kids. With gyms closed and dumbbells out of stock, my husband works his arm muscles with gallons of water. Join your kids for the exercise videos their gym teachers assign.
4. Mind Your Mind. To keep your mind active and peaceful, try sudokus, puzzles, card games, writing, riddles or math games. Don’t lose yourself in a black hole of news or social media. (Consider going on a media fast or setting a timer so hours don’t disappear while you scroll.) To help keep my mind from reeling and calm my anxiety over missing virtual meetings, (thanks, nightmare, for revealing this one to me!) I set up a magnetic whiteboard on my fridge where I jot down all our appointments for the week.
5. Phone Friends Daily. Yes, our phones can do more than text. I have loved the excuse to connect and catch up with friends and family spread all over the county. Check-in with each other and let your mind escape your four walls. If someone pops into your mind, make an effort to call them that day (or the next if you’re swamped). Try a Zoom happy hour with friends or family.
6. Rediscover Your Hobbies. What was missing from our first two weeks of homeschooling was time for mom to curl up with a real book and read. I had just finished my previous novel the day libraries closed, so I had gone without that cherished hobby for too long. My turning point was discovering a Little Free Library at the playground in New Hampshire the kids and I explored while my husband stocked up on groceries nearby. What a blessing to stumble upon that cupboard of books! Thanks to that discovery, I have carved out time daily to enjoy a quiet escape into the world of fiction, helping me regain a remnant of my regular life.
7. Plan Something to Look Forward To. Try hosting a virtual wine club, Cookie Thursday (because that’s when the school cafeteria served cookies), Shopping Trip Saturday, dinner prep dance parties, Family Game Night, or Dinner Doodles (Mo Willems suggests spreading out butcher paper tablecloth and putting a few crayons at each place setting). Rather than letting life devolve into a messy, dark blob, mark the passing of time with celebration and fun memories.
How are you working to stay sane these days?