The Proverbial Cage

sun over the cyclone fence
Photo by Jimmy Chan on Pexels.com

Oh, big deep breaths.

I’ve started feeling like a caged animal this past week. It started when Monday morning rolled up, the only thing distinguishing it from any other day of the week was the barrage of emails from every direction dumping passwords and instructions and things to do. The impossibility of it all weighed down on me. I can’t be a remote teacher, homeschooling mother, waitress, cook, house cleaner, child entertainer, child wrangler, and try to squeeze crumbs of time for myself and stay sane in this pressure cooker reality…could I?

I got strep– again. I spent Tuesday night drifting in and out of sleep, throat swollen, stressing out about asking my dad to watch the kids the next morning so I could go to urgent care. The germs. Social distancing. Exposure.

Three weeks of being stuck in this worldwide pause.

Being an only parent is already isolating. Having the world shut down and being confined to your house feels like someone just sealed my coffin.

I hate it when people say, but your kids! You have three beautiful kids!

Yeah, AND I didn’t wish to be alone by myself with three kids.

I have three great kids, AND I also enjoy interacting with adults.

I have three special kids, AND I don’t derive my entire life fulfillment out of being a mother.

I have three nice kids, AND I’m tired of doing all of the work around here.

I’m thankful AND I’m weary.

I’m not sure why we’re not allowed to have the “and.”

It got me thinking about the idea of gratitude. Does it make you a bad person if you are thankful for many things in your life AND you also want other things?

I think it makes you human.

The week moved on, just as the weeks have been flying by in this quarantine– with days that feel shorter than ever, heavier, confusing. We started to pick up some sort of schedule, but things kept popping up and derailed my best laid plans. I keep saying maybe next week. Maybe next week we’ll have this under control. Maybe next week we’ll figure this out. But likely, maybe not.

We started a ritual of family walks before dinner.

I told the kids, “Let’s keep doing this even when we go back to school. Let’s do this even when it’s winter time and it gets dark before we get home.”

They agreed with me, but I don’t actually think they were listening. They don’t care about plans for next month or next year. They were too busy pretending to be on a magical quest. Peter with his fanny pack, Ethan with his bag slung across his chest, and Eloise carrying her backpack stylishly dangling off of one shoulder. They were looking for the gem of endless strength and magical flowers to fight lava monsters. It was clear that I was not part of this world they were playing in; I was okay with that.

Now we worry about securing masks for these stolen moments outside. Too many people outside now. Too many questions about COVID-19. Too many cases.

Today: 63 cases in my city. That they know of.

This is the week that I started to think all of this wasn’t going to be considerate enough to end before summer vacation. Oh no. This is something that might last through summer. Summer! The thing we wait all year for. The reality closed in on me like a noose around my neck. No trips. No swimming. No camping. No hiking. No splash pad. No theater. Nothing to look forward to. No, no, no.

Here I thought I could power through a lockdown, but now I feel worn down. These are first-world problems to be sure. Still, they are my problems.

I thought I paid my dues by pretty much being locked up with three kids for the past four years. Apparently there were other ways to lock me up even more.

And yet the answer to my wallowing is always the same: No choice. Keep moving. The alternative is to roll around on the ground in defeat.

I can’t choose that.

Earlier in this past week of meltdowns and anxiety and existential crises, I decided to watch Onward with the kids as I waited for antibiotics and Tylenol to kick in. I knew nothing about the movie before clicking my consent to pay $19.99.

Oh my gosh.

***spoiler***

It’s about these two boys who lost their dad at young ages. Through magic, they got him back for one day, but they messed it up and as the magic spell recreated their father from the feet up, it stopped at his waist. The teenagers spent almost the entire movie chasing after a solution to fix the spell with their dad’s pants in tow. The situation was urgent; that was their only chance to see their dad again. The youngest boy– who had absolutely no memories of his father– really had his heart set on doing certain things with his dad. He kept a list, and as the movie progressed he scratched off the ones that didn’t happen. None of them did.

But by the end of the movie, the main character realized that he actually did do everything on his list. Just not with his dad. He experienced them all with his older brother. There was a lot of love in his life growing up with his mom and brother. He had great memories and support. Although he had spent a lot of time fixating on what he didn’t have, he realized and appreciated what he did have.

The main character was sad and disappointed about not having his father, AND he was thankful for a great life with his mother and brother.

***end spoiler***

After the movie, Ethan said, “I’d take a day with my dad’s pants.”

Eloise nodded solemnly.

Peter Jack said the main character was just like him. They both didn’t have dads.

And then my kids ran off to play with the Lego city they were building. I heard laughing and fighting and the normal ruckus of kids living in a safe environment where they are loved and provided for and free to play and be their wild selves.

Right now we are all being forced to accept a different trajectory in our lives that we didn’t see coming.

The graduates who won’t have ceremonies.

Cancelled weddings.

Mothers giving birth in hospitals that won’t allow their partners to be there.

Senior citizens isolated from their families.

Memorials for the dead postponed.

Birthdays we can’t celebrate.

Vacation plans that won’t happen.

Job insecurity or loss.

Financial ruin.

Death.

I saw something recently about resilience being about looking for what is meaningful in an experience and using that wisdom to enhance your life. Finding meaning in the pain.

I like that explanation. It lets me keep my “and.”

These circumstances in my life are shit, AND I can still come out of this with more wisdom and perspective. It will help me become a better person. There are nuggets of truth in this crisis that I will carry inside of me as I pursue all of my future opportunities moving forward.

Going back to the Onward movie, the main character suffered a huge loss not having his father in his life. But because his dad passed away, his relationship with his older brother was especially strong and meaningful. He had a very devoted, loving mother. The family had great memories and deep love for each other. The main character was able to fulfill the quest by discovering his own strength and resilience, which gave him confidence and feelings of empowerment. His life began to improve in other ways– the ways he could control.

We can’t bring back the dead. We can’t wish COVID-19 away. But we can figure out what we learned by surviving these experiences and pivot that strength toward other domains in our lives.

I don’t know what this is teaching me right now. Right now I feel locked up in that cage with no promise of ever getting out. It has been a long four years locked up in this cage of mine. It feels like COVID-19 just put a blanket over the cage and delayed my hopes of ever getting out.

Right now I find myself using strategies that I leaned on when I first got shoved into this proverbial cage.

Daily exercise.

Writing.

Time with kids.

Music.

Reading poetry.

Focusing on a few things. Strategizing the baby steps I can take in a day toward improving those few things.

Journaling. Documenting. Analyzing. Reflecting. Dissecting thoughts and feelings.

Then one day when you look back at your notes, you realize, yes. It looked like a cage, but there was always a way out.

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