I’ve had a go at documenting the frustrations of lockdown in this blog.
And so, before we begin, if you didn’t catch my last post, you might like to drop by my no-holds-barred take on how tough it is to be a working parent right now (that is, with the whole remote learning thing to juggle).
Much like the rest of the world, the COVID storm clouds well and truly descended on sunny CA. While lockdown is affecting everyone differently, our story is one that many other working families around the world seem to share: multiple household schedules, endless online classes, balancing work with childcare, redesigning the most unlikely of spaces into a new home office (gah!)…
Honestly. It’s been nuts.
But like any storm clouds (get ready for the best segue ever), yes – this one too has its silver lining.
Friends, there is definitely an upside to our lockdown. Quite a few, in fact.
The first is glaringly obvious, and not one I’ve ever taken lightly, despite how crazy this period of homeschooling and homeworking has been. I’m fully aware I’m in a privileged position – that is, I’ve retained my full-time job, as has Cam, and we have three determined, healthy girls who are (mostly) doing their best to learn, just like every other kid we know. Despite how challenging 2020 has been for us as a family unit, I know there are so many other families doing it really tough—much tougher—both in the US and beyond.
If one thing’s clear from this shocker-of-a-year, it’s that everyone is getting through it in their own way. The result of this, of course, is that everyone gets something a little different from their situation as well.
For us, the joy has been in the finer details. In being able to step back, observe, and really take stock of what we’ve been able to do – both individually and as a family – that we might never have been able to do in as much depth and detail, without COVID.
This post is about celebrating exactly that.
Exercise and fitness
Now that I’m not spending endless days sitting in an office from 8am to 6pm, and adding a commute to either end of that, I’ve been able to get in more exercise than I’ve ever managed to before.
The benefits of this more flexible time/more exercise combo are immense, and not just physical. I’m talking no need to change clothes (before or after exercising), no need to re-apply (or even apply, let’s be honest) makeup, no need to worry about showering before you sink into an afternoon of Webex meetings (honestly, a slightly grainy resolution definitely isn’t a problem – it just helps to dull any sweaty mess vibes!).
Interestingly, the same kind of conditions that’ve made this period super challenging (i.e. having your family-of-five’s life squished into 130m2 home space) have also meant that exercise is more within reach than ever before – and that’s everything from early-morning pre-workday hikes to 20 minute super-quick workouts between meetings in the home gym/garage!
The big lockdown purchase for us was, like so many others, a Peloton bike. This bike…! Let me tell you what. With a huge and still-growing cult following in the US and beyond, this awesome piece of machinery is now officially our lifesaver.
It was Cam who pushed for this. I have to admit: I came on board a little later. But now? We’re both completely, unashamedly addicted to this, and — importantly — it’s really changed the way we view exercise: not as something that’s a chore and sits outside of the every day, but something that is now harmoniously blended into a new normal for us.
More exercise-related wins? Online pilates and yoga! While Cam and I used to have a lovely pilates instructor come to our home in Melbourne, and a wonderful yoga teacher come to our home in Palo Alto — to teach us post-kids’ bedtime (obviously not possible now), one great thing about lockdown is that we’ve been able to join our instructors, online, wherever in the world they are!
Any fitness-related goals? I’ve decided I want to learn to ski (can you see how enthusiastic I’m getting about this whole exercise thing?). Because Cam is already an accomplished skier, I think it’s time I pulled up my [merino] socks! I’d love the kids to have this experience too. (Hello, Thanksgiving family trip to Montana!). I’ll be sure to update on the progress of this goal. Considering my core strength and balance are lacking, this could be quite a doomed attempt!
Anyway, putting aside the worldwide shortage of kettlebells, our experience with exercise in this lockdown period has been completely revolutionary.
Having played piano and violin growing up, and slowly letting go of both as an adult, music has taken a slight backseat following our resettling in the US.
That was until COVID!
I’ve always LOVED the sound of the cello. In fact, I hear this a lot from my other violin-playing friends too. Maybe it’s something about the lower, deeper resonance of this beautifully person-sized instrument… something super intriguing to an ear that’s used to a higher-register sound.
I try not to think about the ‘why’ too much, because how I’m feeling about finally picking up such a beautiful instrument, after all this time, is awesome. Better still, I’ve been able to pick it up and start playing music alongside Clara, which has been one of the most beautiful things to come out of lockdown.
Although I played violin, some things about cello are weirdly different. The way the cello bow is held, compared to the violin bow. The fact I now have to read music in bass clef, as opposed to treble clef. There’s also the more subtle differences, like the distance between strings. The way the left hand navigates the fingerboard. The size of the actual instrument. The vibrato. The names of the notes in the US, even! I’m looking at you, “quarter note” (crotchet).
But you know what? I feel pretty strongly that my brain’s encounter with — and perception of — these gorgeous little differences is what’s kept me engaged for so long. It’s also what got me interested in the first place: a good challenge, based on an existing interest. A global body of research has long shouted about the benefits of music education to the brain. So, what better way to take care of the mind during COVID than by fulfilling a long-held childhood (and adulthood) dream?
Connection to nature
In the early days of lockdown — pre-scorching summer weather and fires — we enjoyed some incredible hikes. From the Stanford Dish to the Pearson Arastradero Preserve, it was something that I mostly enjoyed alone (as a brain break), or with Cam and the girls. We climbed beautiful hills, and saw trees, wildflowers, and wildlife… even tarantulas!
No, I’m not kidding. (And no pic included here because, well, #arachnophobia).
I mean, for the amount of time I’ve spent outside and in amongst it during COVID, you’d really think I was a plant whisperer!
Spoiler alert: I most definitely am not.
Houseplants rarely survive. Gardens get consumed by pests (see evidence of rat-damage below). Honestly – in the past, the green things I’ve been able to be around are those that refuse to die (which isn’t many).
Oh yes – that thumb is getting greener, let me tell you!
Raised garden beds have been a saviour. Aside from the odd rat attack, our beautiful herbs and edibles have gone great guns, and the girls are loving our ever-increasing sunflower collection!
And all this finally leads me to…
A quieter social life, and more time for family
This period of time has also been super interesting from a social perspective. While many people who don’t know me very well may think of me as an extrovert, I’m most definitely not.
I’m social, don’t get me wrong. I love my friends. I love intimate dinners, catching up with close friends, maintaining my beautiful networks, seeking out new ones… but often, in the past, I’ve indulged in this so much that I’ve really overdone it.
In Melbourne, I built up a huge social network that — while totally loved — often meant I was out five to seven nights a week. Even after having kids. I did the same thing in the UK. It left me feeling drained, but for some reason I couldn’t say no and set boundaries.
Fast forward a few years, and here I am in the US. Finding new friends, setting up new networks. Carving a new career path. Having a quieter social life just didn’t feel like an option when we got here – it was a social and cultural necessity.
The most obvious thing to say here is that lockdown gives us the excuse to slow down. To be quiet, and to be with those who we love and adore most. Sure, I still see a small group of friends for socially distanced hangs when we’re able to, but the most incredible wins have come from a) getting to know myself a little better, b) resting my body and mind, and c) being with Cam and our beautiful girls.
I almost see this COVID lockdown period as a chance to un-become the things that weren’t truly me, so that I can start to become who I am really meant to be.
The end result? Lots of silver linings. Now to work out how to keep them around.