There’s an old Yiddish folk tale about a man who is feeling overwhelmed by his home life. As a single mom, I feel overwhelmed by my Covid home life.
The man goes to see the Rabbi and complains, “My house is so loud; my wife is yelling and my children are noisy, and it’s a small house so there’s no place for me to have a moment of quiet. What can I do?” The Rabbi asks him if he has any chickens. The man replies that he does, and the Rabbi instructs him to bring them into the house.
A week later, the man returns to the rabbi and complains, “Now the chickens are flapping their wings and squawking and the feathers are everywhere!” The rabbi asks him if he has a goat, and suggests he bring the goat inside as well. And so it continues… Each time the man returns, the Rabbi tells him to bring something else inside… the goats, the cow, the horse…
Recently, I’ve been using this story as an analogy to how my life has been feeling in these times.
First, the pandemic. Then, the cascade of consequences… schools closed, kids home all the time, support networks cut off by virtue of not seeing anyone… and resulting responses to isolation: overwhelm, stress, loneliness, and depression.
In my world, work also amped up, which has been extra challenging with the kids home all the time. I’m aware that for others, work ceased entirely, which brings a different kind of stress.
Then, out of nowhere, a kitchen renovation I planned back in “The Before Times” suddenly got a jumpstart when the cabinets unexpectedly arrived. Now, the kitchen is torn apart, there’s dust all over everything, I’m staying out of the house when the contractors are here (because, Covid), and making whatever food I can with the toaster oven (though mostly eating salads). How could I not be overwhelmed by my Covid home life?
At a different time, I might be taking my kids out to eat every night, staying with friends, making this a mini-vacation.
But, as things are, it feels like another thing being shoehorned into a tight space without an inch of breathing room.
And then there’s the puppy, who we actually got in February before the pandemic hit. He is a bundle of sweetness, but he’s also a fast-growing puppy in a space with dust and boxes and construction mess all over the place… You get the picture.
All of this happening during a time of political unrest creates a general atmosphere of further upheaval felt even up here in relatively quiet and isolated Vermont. For those living in places where racial tension, protesting, and violence are occurring, actual upheaval has further amplified this already overwhelming and precarious time.
At the end of the folktale (known as “It Could Be Worse”), the Rabbi tells the man to take all the animals out of the house. The man returns a week later and thanks him profusely… “It’s so quiet and peaceful with just my wife and children in the house. I can’t thank you enough.”
I don’t know when (or if) all the animals will be out of the house under current circumstances. I don’t know when I will cease to be overwhelmed by my Covid home life.
What I’m learning day by day is that in order to be a stable and supportive presence for my kids, it’s essential that I maintain my own center and equilibrium within the maelstrom. For me, this means getting outside for walks, keeping my own space clean and organized, and creating in some way every day. These are my personal daily directives.
It also feels important to manage my perspective on the current political climate. I do this by trying to have an awareness of both the macro and micro; doing my best to respect both the universal and the individual perspectives. In action this translates on the macro level to meditation and prayer, and on the micro-level to learning about and practicing anti-racism, donating to organizations who are doing good work, and voting (to name a few.)
In addition, I’m working on making a “pod” or “bubble” for our family, so my kids can spend time with friends this year. I’m reaching out to friends and family, even if virtually, to feel supported and connected. I’m tending to my mental and physical health.
I do know that the kitchen will be done at some point. I spend about 80% of my day in and around the kitchen, so if we all need to be in the house together for the next year (or however long) I’m looking forward to having a lovely new kitchen at the heart of it.
And so, yes, gratitude.
Even in this wild time. Gratitude for whatever small thing is feeling good or going right. Right now, that means being grateful for a sleeping puppy and time to write. Later it might be gratitude that the contractors who spilled paint on the floor are giving my house a facelift (and also that the new floors aren’t in yet.) Small things. Moment by moment. Breathing spaces within the overwhelm. It could be worse.