Fantastic Friday: Up Close—Finding calm in a panicked world

The world is under stress. The news is grim. Panic is contagious.

I, like many parents, am finding that I now have to work from home and watch my little ones full time. Though I am saving commute time, overall I find less downtime, less time for me. This can be frazzling, especially for an introvert like me.

So this week I have tried to focus on finding joy in the moment. I find it’s best to get through times of uncertainty one day at a time. If I try to plan out too far into the future, I lose my mind. After all, we can only control our reactions to situations, not necessarily the situations themselves. At least, not situations of this magnitude.

So today, I thought I’d celebrate this state of mind by sharing some of the moments I was able to capture with my children.

The first is—sorry—a little gross if you’re not a bug-lover. I was taking the kids for a walk when my daughter discovered a muddy puddle from the rain the day before. She knelt down studying the puddle, and at first I felt the annoyance rising up in me. After all, children take forever to do anything, and I was trying to get our cardio in for the day. Stopping to stare at a puddle certainly does nothing for heart rate, right?

mitesBut then she started getting excited. “Look at those little things. Are they ants?”

I couldn’t even see what she was talking about. But indeed, there was something tiny in the puddle. The picture below is the best I could do with my phone (while trying to keep the toddler out of the road—in case a car did decide to come by). The whole collection would fit on less than half of a dime.

A Facebook quest among friends led me to later learn they are likely clover mites.

The whole incident reminded me how short-sighted our rushed lives are. There are amazing things happening all around us. Who knew a thing like clover mites exited, and could be observed by the casual eye?

For the next few days, including today, I tried to be more observant of my surroundings. Watching my young kids takes energy. They aren’t old enough for me to “tune out,” and the toddler certainly can’t be left alone for more than 30 seconds (with my back turned, he dumped out a bag of potato chips all over the table that had our mail on it, then dumped out a pretzel canister that was almost empty. One of my dogs ate the pile of salt from the carpet. All this while I was literally upstairs for 30 seconds getting my daughter’s water cup).

So during the hours that I must be vigilant about watching and interacting with my kids, I thought I’d look for the magic in the world.

In the process, I:

-saved a worm while filming a virtual lesson for my class (the worm was struggling to find its way off the pavement after the rain)

-observed a bird’s egg newly hatched on our lawn

-watched the way my dogs’ behavior changes from one hour to the next and detected patterns and quirks that will help make my next installment of Corgi Capers stronger

-Shared with my daughter the way bark from a chopped tree trunk peels off like pretend bacon (for playing pretend cooking) and how worm-trails, spider webs, and ants can be found on the bare wood. Such beauty in nature:

-discovered how everything seems more magical after a rain

-witnessed nature’s whimsical side, as an early-morning cloud and budding pear trees looked more like a winter landscape than a spring one. How easily the mind can switch the white buds with snow-laden branches.

-Watch the calming effect a small campfire can have on even the most rambunctious child

In some ways, these first few weeks of social distancing have made me feel like a Transcendentalist. Every time I studied the Transcendentalists with my students, I was a little jealous. I had never had, nor could I imagine having, the time and means to live the way they did, shutting themselves from society to find some sense of inner peace and connection with the universe.

And now, though the global circumstances are not pleasant, I find myself being thrust into a similar situation. I am having the time to de-clutter, to notice details, and to strive for a sense of balance.

In the words of Thoreau: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

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