Becoming (and Embracing) Nonessential
I am a small business owner. I find purpose and joy in my work. And I hate the coronavirus.
The coronavirus is taking lives. It’s taking jobs. It’s taking the world as we know it and flipping it on its head. It’s sending some people into a hoarding frenzy and sending others into a black depression. It’s taking people’s jobs and sending healthcare workers onto the front lines of a battlefield without the proper equipment.
For me, it shut down my photography business. Getting used to having no real work right now has been a shock to my system. I quickly learned that a photographer is not essential. I know that being nonessential means that I’m one of the lucky ones. I don’t have to put my life and the lives of my loved ones on the line, and trust me, I am grateful for that. But I’m not going to lie – the realization that I’m “nonessential” was a punch in the gut.
Accepting the fact that the business I busted my behind to build is now shut down has been a difficult pill to swallow. I poured my heart and soul into building relationships with my customers. To sit helplessly and watch it all come to a screeching halt has been surreal and painful. In all my sudden spare time, I can’t help but wonder how life will be when things get back to “normal.” Will life ever be normal again? And when? How long is this really going to go on? There are so many questions that are going unanswered right now.
At first, I did what I felt like I needed to do: I let myself mourn. I let myself mourn for my business. I let myself mourn for all the people getting sick with this horrible virus. I let myself mourn for the healthcare workers who have to quarantine themselves from their families to treat ours. I let myself mourn missing friends, family, and vacations. I let myself mourn all the friends losing their jobs. I let myself mourn for the children who don’t understand why they can’t see their friends and teachers and grandparents right now. I mourned, and I was unapologetic about it. I did this to get it out of the way, because I knew that soon I would need to pick myself up and get back on my feet with a clear head and a new plan for how to be there for my family in the best way I can be right.
Early into this “new normal,” I heard someone say it’s like we were all put in a giant time out. For a lot of us, that’s exactly what this feels like. And we can either choose to live in denial over it, or we can take these lemons and try to make some lemonade or even a dang good French 75. The opportunities are there. This could look like teaching your kids new skills, building gardens, or improving your home. Maybe this is a time when you can work on building healthier self-care habits that you can continue once this is over.
I think this is a great time to focus on others. Focusing on others always gets me outside of my own head, feelings, and yes, self-pity, and it makes me feel more grateful and fulfilled.
In adapting to this strange new normal, I realized one of the first things was let go of the word “should.” I kept lamenting “we should be going on this trip right now,” or “I should be out with so-and-so doing this today.” But “should” is unhelpful in a world like this new one I find myself in. So, I stopped saying it. In doing that, I took this phrase to heart:
Do what you can with what you have wherever you are.
With that as my new mantra, I set out to let go of what “should” be happening to focus on what was right in front of me. There are some habits I’m trying to cultivate in my new role of whatever-the-heck-my-new-title-is. (I’m calling myself a teacher/farmer/mixologist.)
I am listening and validating. This time is a rollercoaster for everyone. I’ve noticed that my six-year-old daughter, like all of us, is having good days and not-as-good days. At times, she seems totally content, and other when I can tell that she’s struggling with trying to make sense of all of this and understand when she can resume her normal life again.
On rough days, my daughter will ask out of the blue, “Can you hold me please?” or “Mommy, can you read me a story?” I am not assuming this is just boredom speaking. I am hearing this as a child’s way of saying she feels sad, lonely, or anxious and needs some extra attention to cope with these big emotions. When she asks questions about the coronavirus or if our loved ones will get sick, I try to give her honest, age-appropriate answers and then talk through how she feels. If I can see that she’s having a hard time expressing something, I may say “Is that sad to think about?” or “Do you feel disappointed?” Then I follow up by telling her that it’s disappointing for me too BUT that the good news is that this is temporary. Someday we will get to see our friends again and hug them and do all the fun things we used to do. You can see a little flood of relief wash over her face just at having been heard and having her feelings validated.
I am focusing on teaching my daughter character. Spend any amount of time with someone, and you are bound to see their flaws. Are you noticing some traits in your kids that you don’t love? Repeat after me: this is a teachable moment. I don’t mean scream at them every time they forget to use their manners or make them feel guilty when they leave their wet towel on the floor. Use this time at home to teach them some better routines. This is THE time to work on breaking old habits and forming new ones.
Don’t just focus on others’ character. Spend some time reflecting on things you can improve about yourself. I’m a workaholic. I fully admit that. It’s easy for me to get laser-focused and completely wrapped up in my work and my goals and my never-ending to-do list. Now I’m focusing on being more present, limiting my screen time to certain times of day, and shifting my focus completely off work and on to my family. I’m also looking for opportunities to show more personal, selfless support to others or simply send a little happiness in a friend’s direction. When else am I going to have such a perfect opportunity to really focus on this? I don’t want to get to the end of enforced shutdown and realize I only worked on things that will benefit myself.
I am looking for the opportunities. When I started looking around for things to do, it didn’t take long to see all the opportunities. Right now, my family is focusing on lots of outdoor time, creativity in the kitchen, and the arts. It feels like stepping back into a simpler time, and I must admit that although I miss my friends, my family, and my clients, I am soaking up living in a more simplistic manner. My head feels clearer, I feel naturally more present, and my daughter is enjoying all the activities we’re doing together.
We go exploring every day. There’s something very healing about getting outside. We take walks in our backyard and look for birds’ nests, new flowers popping up, and snails and ladybugs. Just being outside lifts our moods tremendously. We’ve also become huge fans of scavenger hunts. (Thank goodness for Pinterest; it’s chock-full of ideas for a newly-present mom!)
After talking about it but never doing it, our family finally had the time to build a vegetable garden. In the last week of March, we planted the garden, and we’re stunned at how quickly things are growing. It’s wonderful to look forward to seeing the changes every day. We water and check for new growth. This summer, we’ll harvest the peppers, tomatoes, green beans, carrots, onions, strawberries, and herbs we planted during the height of the coronavirus uncertainty.
With the garden came the chickens. My husband has been wanting them for some time, and I finally caved. We got eight baby chicks, and he’s built a custom coop for them. They are so cute, and our daughter loves going to talk and snuggle them.
We have a piano that hasn’t been played in years. Now my husband is giving our daughter lessons when he takes a break from his work during the day, and it’s a great replacement for music class. We also make art and create crafts. It’s a wonderful way for children to express themselves and give a parent a little break if needed.
The art of handwritten letters feels lost, doesn’t it? When I was small, I would write to my friends when I was bored, and I still love getting a handwritten note in the mail. My daughter and I try to write someone every week – a grandparent, a cousin, a friend. It’s a sweet, simple way to send cheer to someone who might need it.
I quickly came to the realization that this is the perfect time to mix things up in the kitchen. We have baked cookies and cakes, and we’ve tried new recipes. Some are winners and some are not so winning, but we’re adding to our repertoire of family meals. I’ve also become quite the mixologist, if I do say so myself, and I’m looking forward to the day when I can invite friends over again and share some of these new creations with them.
My family used all these new-found skills and habits recently when we had a family date night. We got dressed up like we would if we were really going out on the town. We cooked a delicious dinner and ate it together on our patio. We then retired to the living room, which we had turned into a movie theater, complete with popcorn and candy, and watched Trolls World Tour. No phones or tablets were allowed!
I don’t want to give the wrong impression. I know that there is nothing that can turn a global pandemic into something fun or productive. There are people dying from COVID-19 every day, and it will be a long time before the coronavirus burns itself out. The global economy will take years to restart. Our world is going to be significantly changed by this disease.
For those fortunate enough to ride this storm out in the safety of their homes, the pandemic gives us the time for making memories, for starting new traditions, for (re)learning to use what you have, and for making the most of this time together. Not everyone will start a garden or buy chickens or have cheesy date nights like we do, but I hope you will remember this: at the end of the day, we will all want to look back at this time and be proud of the way we spent it. I want my daughter to remember this time not as the scary time that the world shut down because of a virus but as the time that she learned how to care for animals and write letters and send cheer to her friends and simply be with her family.
The coronavirus pandemic has actually given us a gift. We have the time to become the person we think we “should” be.
Jodie Miears is the owner of and creative genius behind Reverie Photo Co. Her work has graced the pages of Madeworthy time and time again. She is a wife and mother of three beautiful children.