As an American expat living in Japan, I've often joked about living in the future, and being 13 - 14 hours ahead of my parents in New Orleans, we pretty much are. But now I'm truly seeing what it's like to be ahead in time as the U.S. begins to face what we've been living with for weeks. Yes, I'm talking about the new Big C: COVID-19.
I've been pretty quiet about the pandemic on social media, choosing to focus on my virtual 5k, silly memes and thoughtful quotes. For one, it seemed enough people were speaking up already and if I said my piece, would I be contributing? Would I be helping in any way? The long and short of it is absolutely not. I'm not a doctor. I don't work for any government. I'm a wife and mother and have been for over twenty years.
I guess this makes right now my time to shine, because I can speak up and tell you what certain parts of your future will probably look like. I can share from the perspective of a parent adjusted to distance learning as my son goes into his third week of school at home. While I certainly don't have all the answers, I have practical knowledge on some things, and if I can offer reassurance in any way, make suggestions that can lessen what you feel weighs heaviest on you, then I'm glad to do my part.
At the end of February when the Prime Minister of Japan requested all schools across the nation close through the end of March, asking people to work remotely, you would have thought the end was nigh. In Japan, the idea of working from home is a foreign concept. They just don't do it. I was at Costco in Kawasaki when the run on toilet paper and sanitizers began. It's a now familiar scene to you all, you're experiencing it currently, I even had a cringe-worthy moment of sharing what the check-out line looked like. I regret that now because really, how did it help? It didn't.
But it didn't take long for things to settle. After the initial few days the hoarding craze dissipated. The city grew much quieter, subways grew emptier, festivals and celebrations were cancelled. In Japan, encouraged (not enforced) social distancing was put into effect, so I understand what you are seeing, what you are hearing, what you are experiencing. It's definitely not perfect here; we have our own issues to contend with and most begin with the giant letter "O" and end with "lympics", but it does feel better than it did a few weeks ago. Like grocery shopping, several areas of life have returned with a sense of normalcy, and we've been checking on one another, maintaining support, but continuing to be considerate in our day to day.
Oh yes, we're also still washing the heck out of our hands.
You will get there, too. People will begin to shop thoughtfully once more, you'll be able to spend time with friends in your home or a public place. Schools will resume. By nature, the Japanese are a community minded people, so it's not terribly surprising that gradually the rest of us also picked up on that calm, remembering we are also a part of that community even if it's for a brief time. But it was an important reminder that no matter where we are in this world we take care of one another by thinking of one another.
We've been doing that in different ways, and it began before our children's DLP's (distance learning plans) started. This is a big one and I empathize. With schools closing this will have its challenging moments. Single parents, environments where both parents work, children of varying ages, no one has a monopoly on who it's going to effect hardest because it will effect everyone. It will test you. Thankfully, over this past week we've seen a blessing of sources that are online and whether your school has a DLP in place or not, this is fantastic! Virtual museum explorations, art programs, online orchestral and operatic performances. The arts are being kept alive! Check out this link for many amazing virtual museum tours. It's a great way to explore the world from the comfort of your home.
There are also great templates for organizing your school day to keep your child-and yourself-calm and organized. I know those first few days will be the most challenging, but you will turn that corner. The most important thing you can do is to keep your child/children in the loop in regards to their days. Let them have input. This is a time where we feel we have no control over anything but that simply isn't true. How we choose to go through our new (and temporary) day to day is completely within our grasp. Check out this blog where it offers suggestions as to how you can organize the school days. It's dated, but still very much on point.
For academics, sites like Khan Academy, Prodigy, Explore Learning, Zearn have been used in the classroom for years and are still encouraged with distance learning. But don't forget one of the best classrooms, the outdoors! Get your children (and yourself) outside to work off some of that energy. Clear your mind, reset your body, have dance parties, do YouTube workouts. Your physical and mental health are important, and even 10 minutes outside in the fresh air or in a room by yourself will do wonders. Be sure to check in with your fellow distance learners, talk with your teachers online, but please be patient. Hard as it might be, we are all navigating these unprecedented waters at the same time. We're all in the same boat, let's do our best to keep it upright.
And now a gentle reminder from your friendly neighborhood expat.
Remember to step away from the news and Facebook. Turn them off and do something nurturing instead. Let's see less pictures of empty shelves and more gestures from full hearts. There is frustration and worry in a time like this, there is heartbreak as well, but if allow yourself to consider it, there are also blessings in disguise. We are being given time that normally isn't afforded. In a safe manner (yep, I'm throwing that very effective social distancing at you again) many of us now have the opportunity to reconnect with family, catch up with friends, moments to share with our children that may have been otherwise missed. We are being forced to slow down.
Initial panic is beginning to give way to community consideration and thoughtful conversation, virtual hands are sharing recipes and pictures of family breakfasts. Netflix recommendations are being suggested, books we've put aside are being read, games we've had on shelves are being played, and the glorious music from the balconies of Italy are filling our feeds. This is not a request that you forget what's happening outside, but more that you don't overlook what's happening inside either.
From the bottom of my heart I feel for what you are going through. My prayers are constant but my hopes remain high. I've seen glimpses of every day normalcy, a slow but steady return. We're not there yet, there's still a way to go, but every morning it feels just a little closer. I'll take that and a breakfast with my family. Let's use this time to savor the good and learn from the things we want to change. With level heads, compassionate hearts, and a little time, corners will be turned. I feel confident about this.
I've been where you are.