Staying Socially Connected

I called my Grandmother today. It was a quick call, prompted because I wasn’t sure if her electronic picture frame was working properly, but we had a lovely chat. I used Duo on Thursday to talk to my Mom…if you don’t know what that is, neither did I. She gave me a tutorial. I used Facebook Messenger to video chat with my best friend on Wednesday: we are quite proud of the fact that we managed a whole conversation without getting mired in doom and gloom. And, of course, I’ve Zoomed several times this week, with parents and children alike.

All in all, that’s a lot of connection…and yet…it’s not NEARLY the level of connection I used to have…I used to chat with (and cajole and cheer) clients at the gym as they complained through their workouts, I made small talk with the clerk at 7-11 or the people in line with me at Starbucks or Trader Joe’s. I’d have many long and thoughtful conversations with you all, in RIE classes, and long and silly conversations with friends during game nights and potlucks. Those moments are all gone, or at least fewer and further between than they ever used to be, and it’s taking a toll.

I know it is taking a toll on me because besides all of the connection this week I’ve also avoided replying to texts, let calls go to voicemail, left Facebook messages ‘unread’. I’ve had a greater reluctance to join zoom chats or socially distanced dinners. And I’ve had a shorter temper when dealing with the minor, yet predictable, annoyances that come with calling any institutional organization on the phone (I’m looking at you, SBA!).

I figured it’s in response to the state of the world, in combination with the funk that comes with being stuck in a circumstance that you feel powerless to change…with no end in sight. But as it turns out, it may go a bit deeper than that. You see “it seems adults deprived of consistent and varied peer contact can get just as clumsy at social interactions as inexperienced kids…People separated from society — by circumstance or by choice — report feeling more socially anxious, impulsive, awkward and intolerant when they return to normal life.” Um…check, check, and check (except, of course, for the ‘return to normal life’ part).

For as much of an introvert as I am, as it turns out, humans have a biological drive to connect with other humans. And when we deny that drive, just like denying hunger or thirst, there can be some negative consequences. Not to worry, though, like most things in life (except succulents), if you simply start paying a little attention to what you’ve ignored, it will get better. You can take small steps to make it better. Make a conscious effort to connect with people each day…I think that’s one of the reasons I tend to have better days on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays: I have scheduled socializing…and I definitely do feel a boost at the end of every conversation. I hope you do, too.

I really hope so because another NYT article* I recently found points to all of the ways the pandemic is turning into a mental health crisis for parents (social isolation, additional stress, financial worries). But the good news is that small steps can help alleviate stress: short bursts of exercise (even just 5 minutes of stretching), a quick text with a friend (or friend/RIE Associate (323-630-0604), therapy (especially ones that allow you to connect via text, rather than having to carve out a whole 50 minutes)…and focusing on the joy you get from your child…yes, there are 99 things your child may do today that will make you crazy, but a sweet “I got you, Momma” /snuggle/moment of brilliance…can give you a moment of peace and joy. Hold onto it. Sure, you don’t want to pretend everything’s okay for the sake of your child, “…but what’s wrong with a few minutes of things being OK?”

*pro-tip…if you have a Los Angeles library card, you get free access to the NYT, 24 hours at a time

I mentioned that I zoomed with you folks this week, but I also zoomed into a Pikler workshop and, oh my, was that restorative. It was a large group of about 50 early educators and parents from around the globe, and we were led through several exercises we could do at home and then reflect on…what I was not prepared for, though, were the breakout sessions we were suddenly tossed into. What? I’d signed on to this thing to be an anonymous fly on the wall…an observer, not a participant! And sure enough, I was paired with two people I’d never met before. How was I supposed to chat with these two strangers about these esoteric and odd (see below), and truly kind of personal, experientials when I didn’t know anything about them?! So, we started with some VERY clunky small talk to warm in (where are you from? Oh, what time is it there? How did you find out about this? I like that piece of art I see behind you…) and then gradually got into the discussion…and the most illuminating thing happened. Talking in this small group took me out of my own personal experience, out of just my own ideas and thoughts… and not only validated my own observations and ideas, but also helped me see things that hadn’t occurred to me yet. The short exchanges help universalize and deepen my experience…in the same way RIE classes help parents realize they aren’t alone in this experience of parenting. In the same way I truly hope the RIE Chats and these weekly letters do, too.

One of the exercises from the workshop I want to share with you was one in which we crumpled up a plain piece of paper into a tiny, tight ball. And then, slowly, we un-crumpled and re-examined the page, observing it’s many new shapes as we unfolded it. Oh, the many, many metaphors we all came up with for that experience…from how children’s development ‘unfolds’ in unique ways and how we can damage it when we rush the process, to the ways we project our ideas onto something as simple as a piece of paper (never-mind the projections we put upon our children), to the way we all preferred the newly wrinkled page’s supple feel and softness at the end…

But the one metaphor that stuck with me was the observation someone made about how, as you un-crumpled the paper slowly, you might tug on one section and notice a movement in an entirely different section. That’s true of your little home community as well, you all subtly but very definitely influence the movements and moods of the others in your home…it’s a ripple effect. So remember, taking care of your mental health will help you take care of your children’s.

As always, I’ll leave the last word to The Parents’ Tao Te Ching:

62. Be Happy

If you have vast wealth,
it will be useless in teaching your children.
If you have great power,
it will be of no avail in securing their happiness.
If you have succeeded admirably in life,
it will not help you keep your children safe.
Remember that you cannot teach
by preaching.
Try to live with peace, contentment,
love and compassion.
This will be your lecture.
This will be your lesson.

The happier I have allowed myself to be,
the happier my children have become.
The more I have become myself,
the more they have done the same.
This has occurred later in my life.
Don’t wait.