My husband was sound asleep in the bedroom with our two young daughters, snuggled up, resting easily.
I peered into the kitchen, drawn to the unusual glow emanating from the threshold’s shadow. As I slowly turned the corner into the heart of the kitchen, my eyes grew wide with disbelief, with shock.
My kitchen was empty with the exception of my shiny silver oven range, now bursting with orange flames, directly out of the burners. The flames were three inches tall, five inches tall, shooting up to a foot and more, upward, upward, upward.
I frantically approached the cooktop, breathless. I assessed the perplexing situation and began twisting and turning the loose-fitting knobs with abandon. My heart sank: The rotations had no effect on the size of the sparking flames. Rather, the flames sporadically shot up and down, much like the fountains in child’s splash park.
Up and down the flames danced. As a few flames fizzled to a sizzle, another flame popped right up again, teasing me, as if to say, “What are you going to do about this?”
At long last, the flames settled to flickers. I slowly backed away from the dying inferno, exhausted. I had no more to give. The kitchen remained intact, the range in perfect condition, but the teasing mini-infernos told me my challenge was not over.
Suddenly, the foundation of the appliance, the very feet that supported it, burst into large flames. I slowly shook my head. I wept tears of frustration and fear, of helplessness and hopelessness. I reluctantly begin to back away.
There was no more to be done. The fires. They were everywhere. I did my best. I’m doing my best. But I realized, some fires can’t be put out, at least not without help.
Just then my drowsy husband alighted as he strolled into the kitchen, looking at me with confusion. “Why aren’t you doing anything to put these fires out?”
I woke with a start. Wait. I have three kids! And they are all grown up! Oh, thank God. It was just a dream. No. A nightmare. Wait a minute…? Is this my first COVID dream? Perhaps.
But the message is clear. We are experiencing stress and anxiety at levels we had yet to experience in our lifetime, and it is affecting every part of our life, including our dreams.
So, what are these fires?
Besides the obvious (COVID makes people very, very sick…or worse), many people have stopped their regular gym dates. They have turned to baking and mixology to entertain themselves. (Okay, maybe that’s me.) Our dietary habits and physical fitness routines have been disrupted. People are now reinventing ways to get back on the health-wagon; healthy cooking classes online, virtual yoga, recipe sharing.
In fact, one of my workout friends and I jumped into the baking/eating/drinking firestorm when the lockdowns first occurred. We had such fun sharing recipes and comparing notes. However, she recently told me she will focus on her health this winter and plans to eat healthy and purchase (and use!) a Peloton.
I feel abandoned.
But also inspired. Nothing like a pandemic to make you realize how important one’s overall health is! (I bet no one is laughing at the Peloton ads this year!)
Parents are navigating an education system that is continually evolving. Teachers, who are also parents, are pivoting on a daily basis. They are risking their physical, emotional and social health to show up for our kids. The discombobulated student schedules quickly cause a stressful spark to burst into a flame of frustration.
We are becoming COVID-fatigued. We are over this. We are done. We just want to enjoy our friends and family just like the before times. Sadly, we need to navigate the upcoming holidays with care of concern of others as a priority. Virtual Visits are on the docket this year.
The political debacle is causing many of us to feel unsettled. We do not understand why certain news agencies and certain politicians continue to feed viewer’s minds with fear, discontent and lies. We see the road they are wandering down, we see the train wreck coming, and we are helpless to stop it. It is traumatic.
Critical thinking skills and a solid understanding of basic science seem to be lacking. Thank goodness we have teachers on this.
And how about those healthcare workers? Public health professionals? These are people who have devoted their lives to help keep people as healthy as possible. After endless shifts in which they witness heartbreaking suffering and death, they enter grocery stores to hear people proclaim, “It’s a hoax! We don’t need to mask!” It is demoralizing.
These are fires we cannot put out, but we can certainly help quell them by wearing our masks, distancing, and limiting our outings to only necessary trips. It is not easy, trust me, I’ve not always made the best decisions, either. But I am trying my absolute best to navigate this new normal. It’s a matter of risk vs. benefit. Sadly, with the cold weather creeping in there is much more risk to our communities.
Putting out the fires
From Doom and Gloom to Doing Our Best
This is when we step up and model resilience for our children. They are watching us, learning from us. Do we look at the fires and scream and run away? Or do we play a game of whack-a-mole and hope for the best? (Well, if you really do see flames being thrown from your cooktop, please grab the fire extinguisher, call 911 and RUN! And don’t forget your kids…)
What can we do?
We do have some control over the emotional effect our political climate and health situation are pressing upon us. As you feel your temperature rise with anxiety, incorporate some of these ideas.
Recognize the origin of your anxiety.
- Which flame of worry continues to flicker in the still of the night as you try to quiet your mind? If you can hone in on a specific issue, it will be easier to define your emotions to begin to heal. I said begin, so be kind to yourself.
- Journal your thoughts. Write out coping mechanisms that are simple to incorporate. Or perhaps just write out a string of expletives to get it off your chest. I won’t tell.
Turn off the news.
- Stop doom-scrolling. (Okay, okay perhaps this first rule is for myself. Guilty.) You can school-scroll, however. Follow thought-leaders who are critical thinkers that rely on research and make informed decisions. Curate a feed of these intelligent people — not necessarily people who support your views, but rather those who challenge them. Be informed.
- Use critical-thinking skills to be cognizant of smoke-and-mirrors news agencies. Talking heads that spew unfounded opinions are not reliable resources, they are merely infotainment.
- If you need a break from the “news”, grab an entertaining, light book to transport you somewhere, anywhere. I loved Jodi Picoult’s new read, The Book of Two Ways. Of course, you could always buy my book, too.
- Hallmark Christmas movies are always entertaining, and this year they are more inclusive of all people! Plus, you always know it has the same. happy. ending: Seven-day romance always leads to the suggestion of marriage. (Sounds like a great “healthy relationship” conversation to have with your kids..)
Help someone out.
We have some really dark days ahead of us. (I know, doom and gloom. But if we don’t recognize this, we fail to prepare.) If you happen to be in a position to donate to those who need it, here are some ideas.
- Buy gift cards to local shops and restaurants and gift them to friends and family for birthdays, holidays, or just because.
- Keep a few grocery store and coffee shop gift cards handy to give to someone who appears in need of nourishment.
- Do you see the disheveled man shuffling about in his worn out shoes with a handful of meager groceries waiting in line ahead of you? Cover his grocery bill. Twenty dollars to you may not be a lot, but to this person, it may be his last dollar.
- Unemployment is only going to worsen. How can you help feed and clothe others? Churches and schools are great resources, but there are other community programs out there as well, such as homeless shelters and food banks.
- Talk to your kids about how to help during this crisis. It does not always require money.
- Talk about your feelings…with your kids. Don’t scare them, merely identify and label your feelings. (They still need the comfort and direction of an adult in charge.)
- Talk about the complexity of emotions using age-appropriate language.
- Share your own coping strategies and strategize how they can cope, too.
- Help your kids identify their feelings. “Mad” and “sad” are a great start. But dig deeper. Mad about what? When did you start to feel sad? How can I help you feel better?
- Get out the marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers and have s’more conversations around the fire pit about mental/emotional health with your kids.
Reach out for help.
Okay, this is a big one. A really big one. Hey, things are really tough. I’ve recently talked with women who are putting up a brave front, but are really working hard to keep it together. You know how those cute little ducks floating on the water look so calm and relaxed? Well, their little webbed feet are frantically moving them forward. It’s like that. If you know a busy parent, please reach out to them. However, if you are feeling stressed, try the following tips:
- Call a friend.
- Ask your parenting partner to help put out those fires.
- Seek professional help with counselors and therapists or other healthcare providers you trust.
- Meet with a spiritual advisor.
- Take time for self-care. Go for a walk or run by yourself or take a hot bath and listen to soothing music.
- The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is there for you, too. (1-800-273-8255)
- For people you can rely on.
- For food and shelter.
- For employment.
- For health.
- For the opportunity for personal growth.
- For the opportunity to model perseverance to your kids during these trying times.
- For the sun rising every morning.
We were already an overstressed population before COVID infiltrated our lives. But COVID has stopped us in our tracks. This virus has caused us to reflect, what is really important now? Right now?
We are overwhelmed by the chaos. We have too many projects on the, well, burner. The foundation that usually keeps us steady is faltering.
The future is a bit of a dumpster fire, wouldn’t you say?
Each generation before us had to navigate uncertain times, and this is our event, our war. Or wars… COVID, polarized country, unemployment, social-distancing, masks, death. Yeah. 2020 has been quite the year.
Remember, life has always thrown us unexpected flames, pandemic or not. Some are easy to extinguish, while other flames can suck all the oxygen out of the atmosphere. Yet, this is an opportunity to teach your kids how to honor their feelings and fears while digging deep, taking a brave gulp of fresh air, and moving forward with a team of caring, loving people to support them.
After all, when the fire engine comes roaring up to a house of flames, an entire truck of eager, supportive professionals hop out to save the day. Reach out to your personal circle of super-hero friends and family. They are there to keep your spark alive and your fires merely embers.
You’re not alone.
(Photos by Adobe Stock)