an empty park bench on a path near some trees
(Photo/ CC0)

My much-needed, spontaneous pandemic chill-out

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I was never a fan of giving the kids timeouts when they were little. I didn’t think putting them in a room by themselves taught them anything about their bad behavior. Instead, I reserved the timeouts for myself.

And I still do.

I remember the days when I’d spend a fair amount of time cooking dinner, only for one child to drop their entire plate of food on the floor (by accident perhaps, but who knows). As soon as I’d clean up that mess, the other child would have a tantrum over something inconsequential.

There’d be times when one kid would torment the other relentlessly for what felt like hours. Then there’d be those afternoons when they’d gang up together, pull all the sheets and covers off their beds, dump all their toys on the floor, and take all their books off the bookshelves. This made them laugh uncontrollably and made me absolutely crazy.

Most of the time, though, they were lovely, but they had their moments.

And in these moments, I was exasperated and annoyed.

I’d be on the edge of losing it, so I’d give myself a timeout instead of the kids. I’d head to the bedroom, shut the door and cool down for a few minutes. The sheets and covers, toys and books might still be all over the floor after I returned from my mini-break, but (usually) the squabbling was over, and the tantrum ended. I was calmer, and that helped me be a better mother.

Fast forward to parenting teenagers in a pandemic, and I’m finding I need these timeouts again — more than ever. The kids are not fighting, nor are they throwing their dinner plates on the floor. They are not having tantrums. It’s nothing like that.

I know the pandemic has affected all of us, but there are times when I think it’s hardest for our older kids who, on the brink of adulthood, aren’t yet wired at their age to be so isolated and confined.

Our son is spending most of his senior year of high school at home. Our daughter is at college but living with considerable restrictions. I’m trying to do my best to support my family emotionally, but I have my good days and so-so days just like everyone else.

Bringing back those timeouts of long ago helps rejuvenate me, especially when I’m feeling anxious and worried. Sometimes it’s just a room in our house where I turn off my phone for 15 minutes and do nothing. It’s not so much a prescribed meditative practice as it is a much-needed spontaneous chill-out when I’m feeling overwhelmed.

There’s also a lovely park a few blocks from where we live. I try to walk there every day, at the end of my day. I have a favorite bench where I like to sit. Seeing the little kids smiling and playing, and the toddlers ambling along, restores me. Sometimes there’s a group of elementary school kids sitting in a wide circle, socially distanced, chatting and laughing with their masks on their chins. They must be happy, I think, to be outside together.

Virtual Shabbat has also become a sacred space for me to take a breath. On Fridays, after another week of rising Covid cases, another week of parenting in a pandemic, and I’m fried. I log on to services, and as soon as I hear the rabbi and the cantor, my spirits are lifted. It helps me to connect with my community and know I’m not alone.

It’s an old cliché, but it’s true: We moms have to put our oxygen mask on first before putting it on our kids.

While there’s nothing I can do about the pandemic, remembering to take time out for myself each day — even if it’s for 15 minutes — helps me reset and gives me what I need to take care of the people in my life that I love the most.

Julie Levine

Julie Levine is a writer who lives in San Francisco.