It is in the stories that we share with each other where life starts to make sense. To be listened to and affirmed, to learn from and say ‘okay I get it now’, to see the possibilities – that’s what it is all about. It is not in the how to’s or the check list of steps to follow where things become ‘seen’ and understood. It is in the real life stories that inspire us, encourage us, and connect with us. Whether through a giggle or a tear, a smile or an aha moment – there is nothing like it. We hope you enjoy our stories. . . . . . . Windsor-Essex Family Network Families and Friends
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Sisters Getting Through
May 31, 2020, Written by Kyla D.
“Online classes … ok … I’ve done this before, we got this,” I thought to myself. I was at peace knowing I was one of the lucky ones who had been familiarized with the Google classroom platform that was being used with my sister’s schooling.
I opened her e-mail account, checked out her classes. “How are we going to do this?” I asked myself as I attempted to make mental notes of how I was going to structure everything. Instantly my mind went to what I had seen on Facebook, the varied ways other families were trying their hardest to create structure and order out of a disordered time. “Let’s keep it simple … 4 classes … ok so 4 time blocks with a 10 minute break in between … yeah … we could that,” I told myself.
Another question I was forced to ask myself was, “How will I physically do this with my schedule?” I reflected and realized on top of her homeschooling I would be working from home (albeit part-time), taking an online anatomy course, while still writing my thesis (which was non-existent at this point). Alongside other people and families, I have found this lockdown a lot more challenging than I had originally anticipated. This was due to the number of things that I was juggling alongside my sister’s planned schooling block of 9:30am-1:30pm, as well as overall home responsibilities. Although my parents tried to help with her schooling, academically the weight was on my shoulders as her only sister.
We started the third week the lockdown began. During the weekend, I was telling her that we’d start some schoolwork to get her into the mindset that “vacation was over”. She seemed ok with it. I made a schedule on her iPad to let her know what would be happening.
That Monday morning, we were ready to try this “new way” of learning. I opened her Google classroom work and we worked on what was given in her class. It was a bit of a “wing it” moment, but we got through it. I felt guilty because I had not done the prep work needed for her class, but I was eager to get her started. The next few days, I tried to look ahead and adapt the work for her. This included taking the original lesson plan, reading it, chopping it up, making new instructions, dividing up the work required, modifying the work for her at a level that she could interpret (and do independently), and then also printing the modified work for her to do.
This lasted 3 days.
The guilt was not something I was prepared to deal with. First the guilt of starting her out late, then the guilt of not putting more of myself into my sister’s work, then it was the guilt of not putting time into better adapting/modifying the work, then it was the guilt of “just getting through”. At this point, I was sitting with her through the day’s work and I knew I was the one giving the answers, just to “get through” and get it done.
I felt like a failure – no, that I had failed HER. “I know my sister the most, why can’t I do these things that would help her progress? I have these ideas that I could do, see these online resources that could help, yet I don’t do them … what’s wrong with me?” These thoughts were a playlist set on “repeat”.
In reality, I was not a failure – not even close. I was in a delusion. I discovered this in a productive writing webinar I watched. The professor shared an article about the idea of “productivity” during a pandemic. The author of the article stated, “… And so, while it may feel good in the moment, it is foolish to dive into a frenzy of activity or obsess about your … productivity right now. That is denial and delusion. The emotionally and spiritually sane response is to prepare to be forever changed.” The professor said that we would be under a delusion to think that we could be functioning at 100%. This opened a door for me to accept the guilt of wanting “to do more”.
One day for “gym class” we were doing yoga. I looked at my sister. We were both doing yoga; both trying our best (her to follow the video, me to correct her interpretation of the video). We both sat cross-legged on the mat. We were facing each other. We were instructed to do a neck stretch where we tilt our heads to one side and slightly pull with our hands. I feel a smidge of annoyance seeing she just put her hand on top of her head and was not doing the stretch – I KNOW this is something she could do. I did not get why she was not doing it. The yoga instructor asked us to do deep breaths. I do a big sigh, trying to release the frustration. She mimics me and as she does it, she giggles to herself listening to the burst of air she had just released. I cannot help but smile a bit. Her laugh is so contagious. We do it again. This time, she’s starting to really laugh, and I find myself laughing along. Suddenly, we are both laughing at each other, sitting cross-legged, one hand on our tilted heads, facing each other while our “deep breaths” are interspersed between our laughs. What an image!
This … this was what we both needed. This was the accomplishment. The bond I felt with my sister that day was not dependent on the academic learning, but the human moment of messing up, and laughing at ourselves.
After that day, I found that my expectations of not only her, but of myself as a sister (a role that supersedes “teacher”) were unrealistic. Besides wanting her to have this amazing, unique, personalized “learning program”, I realized in myself that unconsciously, her progress was fueling my ego as a tool of measurement of how “good” of a sister I was – an awful measure of success.
I had to slow down. “What is the TRUE goal? After this is over, what is the ONE thing that I want her to get out of this?” I want her to know that she is being heard, being listened to, and that she has a unique and independent voice.
“Comparison is the thief of joy,” was a quote that I constantly replayed in my head. I started to limit what I saw on social media in comparison to what other families were doing. I started to change things up, do things that motivated HER so that we were not fighting anymore. We have a mutual love for animals and nature, so we watched the whole One Planet series on Netflix together and I would tell her some facts about the different animals (thank you biology degree for the facts I thought were useless). We have been cooking, and so far, have made 2 huge batches of French Toast (a bit too much salt might have originally been added to the mix). We have been going on car rides, where she will tell me to go, “right, left, or straight” (even if the view is not as scenic as was originally planned). We have been reading a chapter book together, where she will let me know if she wants to keep reading or wants to stop (one day, she surprised me by wanting to keep reading. We read for 45 minutes straight!).
At this point, I have not gone back to “dividing up” the school lesson plans. I had plans of getting back into it, but I found that it was too much. Instead, I reached out to her support staff for individual help. I incorporate the resources they share the best I can. I continue to take it day-by-day. Like many other families, the circus act of juggling various responsibilities has been something I am still trying to figure out and continuously adapt to. As much as this upsets me, I am at peace knowing that I am truly doing my best. The guilt still whispers, but I am better at tuning it out now, and recognizing that it is only for the love of my sister that this happens.
At the end of the day, if there was a moment where I was able to show my sister that I could hear her inner voice and show her ways of using it, then that to me that was a successful day in our “learning program”.
(Updated June 11, 2020)
Grateful for Opportunities Found
May 6, 2020, Written by Karen W.
Seven weeks in and things are different for me than they were the first two weeks of this ‘shutdown’. It was feeling more unsettling in the beginning between my adult sons and their work and school situation, my parents’ arrival home from their winter destination, grocery shopping for elderly parents and aunties, and all kinds of information flowing about Covid-19 that was getting overwhelming. There were new things to think about, like family members needing to wash work clothes upon entering the house, and needing to shower immediately, the disinfecting of counters and other high touch areas, trying to stay two metres apart ‘inside’ a small home. So many new routines that felt unfamiliar.
As a primarily positive thinking, glass half-full person and single mom, this Covid-19 pandemic has been an interesting time for me.
Today I can say that, I’m now enjoying a slower pace of life. I am taking advantage of the newly found time with my sons and my animals. I have found a rhythm to the new and different responsibilities and routines, and figured out what is doable.
I have spent many hours in the car with my youngest son there and back from his work place, and other destinations, to pick up and drop off things for others. He is accruing practice driving hours to improve his skills, and I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this.
My days have been filled with more meal preparation then I ever remember doing before . . . and which unfortunately I still detest! Lol
And of course there is my work which involves a few different things. I provide phone support to young people and family members living with disabilities or mental health struggles that need a reassuring voice, or help with school assignments or filling out forms. I have had touch points with families as we figure out new strategies for supporting a loved one who is struggling, and I have been sharing resources that would be helpful with others.
If you were to ask, ‘how are you taking care of yourself’, upon reflection I see that my answers to this question are rich. I have more time for myself, between my family and work, which I have intentionally filled in good ways:
- I can read the paper with a cup of tea with the enjoyment of knowing there is nothing pressing that I have to get to immediately. Most days I actually finish the entire paper!
- I take a lot of “physically-distanced” walks with a friend to stay connected and grounded, and also with my son’s dog.
- I’ve been limiting the news I watch to only a 1/2 hour a day, to get the latest facts on the virus’ world impact and information about new funding opportunities for young people and those with disabilities so I can pass it along.
Between the family and work responsibilities, I really have settled in to what works for myself and my family: good food (more cooking), intentionally staying connected with my sons and friends (destination car rides and walks), doing what I love (reading), exercising and getting fresh air (while walking), and limiting my intake of news to the basics.
The hardest part for me has been not being able to see or spend time with my oldest son who is being well supported by a community living staff team in his home, an apartment nearby.
I remind myself and my three boys daily, that despite all that is going on in the world, how blessed we are to live in this wonderful country . . . in our safe homes with each other . . . and ample food to last until restrictions begin lifting.
I am praying for families and people who don’t have their basic needs met during this time; there are many in Windsor and Essex County. There are: people who cannot get outside in a backyard or for walks for fresh air, and families who are struggling with teaching and the technology needed for their students’ home learning while caring for their loved one with disabilities. There are those who don’t have transportation to get to essential work, or money to buy nutritious food or pay their rent. I am reminded that we must do as much as we can to support these folks in our community in whatever way we can.
May 1, 2020, Written by a dedicated and passionate mom
Leaving the house hasn’t been easy for me lately, I can find a million reasons why I shouldn’t go out and that little devil named anxiety will keep me home. I know a lot of other people can relate to these feeling too. I don’t usually feel this way, I can usually manage the daily juggling act with grace and a smile but these days the load is much heavier.
I made it to No Frills today. That was the goal I set for myself. Get groceries. My little man wanted lasagna for dinner, a simple request I was determined to grant. While at the store I’m being super careful. I don’t want to go in the wrong direction, get in anyone’s space . . . I’m starting to feel overwhelmed. I haven’t been to a grocery store since March break! Six weeks ago! Wow! Just WOW!
I can see a senior woman bent over struggling with a big bag of flour, trying to get it to that awkward bottom rack under her cart. It hits the floor and as she tries to push it, her cart rolls away. Her shoulders sink, her petite frame was losing this battle. Physical distancing. . . do I help? I could see she was wearing a mask from the side angle I had, and I had one on too so I walked over to offer to help. When she turned to look at me I caught my breath. She was wearing a mask I had donated weeks ago. I’m not sure how she got it, I’ve made close to 100 by now and given them away in batches to be distributed. But it was a unique fabric that my Mom had given me, it was unmistakable.
I didn’t tell her about the mask. I just enjoyed the moment. I saw her a couple more times as I shopped, her eyes smiled at me. I felt much calmer, I was able to finish my shopping and that overwhelming feeling was now a manageable little tummy knot. I got this now. . . . . . . And that lasagne was extra delicious.
Pictures from pixabay.com