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COVID-19’s unprecedented confusion

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I have heard and used the word “unprecedented” more in the past 40 days than in the past 40-something years. But no other word better describes what is happening.

We have been under a stay-at-home order for more than six weeks now. My office started working from home two weeks before that. So roughly eight weeks of our lives changing abruptly and trying to figure out a new way of being amid a pandemic.

The situation is unprecedented because the people we would generally go to for help or support have no experience to share. Because no one has experienced anything like this, the entire globe essentially shut down, and no one knows what to expect when it reopens. Because no one has ever had to move the entire world onto a global communication and education platform, we have little guidance as to what effect that might have.

We learn from a young age to ask for help when we don’t know what is happening around us, or when a new skill proves hard to master. Someone has always had the experience we needed, and that fostered a feeling of safety and that what we were experiencing was a normal. When toddlers are learning to walk, they look for a grown-up to pick them up when they fall. When a preschooler is constantly asking “why,” he or she is relying on someone having the answer. Or when a teenager goes through that first break up, someone has gone through it before. Fast forward to COVID-19, and nobody has the answers we need for that feeling of safety to kick in.

Every day is different, confusing and just weird. Everyone is handling and managing things differently every day. Some days I have embraced the idea of stay at home and stay safe. Other days I have felt trapped. Some days have been extremely productive, and overdue projects have become complete. Other days I barely get out of bed. Some days work is efficient from home. Other days I can’t remember how to do simple tasks. Some days I have been a domestic goddess, cooking, cleaning and being content at home. Other days I am like a caged bird trying to escape. And the emotions are just as opposite: happy and sad, joy and sorrow, content and frustrated. Just living a bunch of opposites, not knowing which each day might bring.

The globe is also in a paradox. The economy is halted, but the ecology of the planet has improved. People are out of work, but communities are coming together for support. Children are out of school, but each day they are learning something new.

I have read countless articles about working from home in a pandemic, managing a team in a time of crisis, mindfulness for global trauma, and so on. All make some great points, and I take the suggestions and share them. But since no one knows how we get to the other side, it seems I am still looking for that safety and normal. We are all looking for the same answers, and all the questions start with “when.” When will this be over? When will we be back to our lives? When will the stores have toilet paper? We are grown-ups reverting to our preschool days of “why?” Because no one knows what to expect, we cannot find the answers we want right now.

I can’t even imagine being a parent of young children juggling work, homework and a global pandemic. Families are faced with the harder question of “how?” “How am I going to keep working if child care or school is still closed?” “How do I stay calm?” “How do I keep the kids entertained and learning?” Research and experience tell us children feel safe when they know what to expect, which is why limits, rules and routines are critical for emotional health. While in normal times, routines and schedules are relatively similar for most families with young children, we have found that whatever schedule or routine is safe for your family is OK. We can work to get back on society’s time when society figures out what that will look like.

While we cannot answer the “when” questions, the Partnership for Children of Johnston County can help with some of the “hows.” We have free resources for families to help find child care, provide one-on-one or group support, and many free activities that are both entertaining and educational that you can do at home. If you need help with the “how” questions, call us at 919-975-2515. We are here to help.

Humans are resilient and will manage to gain unprecedented knowledge and experience from this pandemic. But until that happens, until it is finally over, we can know that we are doing the best we can with the unknown.

Be kind to each other and stay well.

Beth Moore is coordinator of family services at the Partnership for Children. Reach her at BMoore@pfcjc.org.

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