by Jasmine Yuris, Playgroup Coordinator for the Lamoille Family Center

Life looks familiarly foreign. This has been a constant awareness as I continue to parent-at-home, just as I have done for the past four and a half years. Due to the necessary restrictions that are in place, my children and I are unable to facilitate Lamoille Valley Playgroups, visit local playgrounds, go to story time at our library, and have play dates with friends. So the saying goes, “you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone,” but I firmly believe that the beauty of what remains glows brighter than what is lost.

Regardless of the changes our lives have endured, we have all been given a gift: time. The flow of our days is similar to how they have always been, but with a little more wiggle room for extra books and cuddles, extended outdoor adventures, more complicated meals, and projects that we previously avoided for fear of never finishing. I find that I am looking at the clock less now that we, quite literally, have nowhere to be. If ever we have been given an open invitation to live in the moment and savor this time with our children, this is it.

I don’t state the following lightly: as a parent, you are an essential worker. We hear constantly how important it is to fill our cups before filling our children’s, partner’s, friends’ and extended family’s. Having a full cup is vital during this time of constant care and lifestyle shifts.

The way I have filled my cup is by planning concrete times throughout the day where I set an expectation for space and alone time. During this time my children (4 and a half and almost 3 years old) are set up with an art project, given a pile of books to thumb through, or given ideas of possible games to play if they are having a hard time transitioning to independent time. Once they are vested in something, either together or separated, I put myself physically in another room (where I can still hear them). I either journal, exercise, bake something, or sit silently with my eyes closed. There is almost always one reason or another why one of the kids interrupts this time, but we quickly get back into the rhythm after the issue/question/story is resolved. I try to do this around the same time every day (9-9:30, 1-2, 4-4:30) so they fall into a rhythm of expectation, too.

Because I have this time, I have something to look forward to—I make lists of things I can do that make me happy, just like I do with the children. Having these things in my mind and knowing that they are tangible is incredibly fulfilling while helping the day flow, rather than drag. It works wonders in regards to my patience, my capacity to listen and engage, and my self-worth. I have also found that my kids benefit from this, by being able to find things to do that they enjoy and look forward to.

In order to have a full cup, I have also put outdoor time at the top of our daily to-do list. Just like my windows of “mama time” are around the same time every day, we choose to go outside around 10am every day and stay outside for at least an hour, regardless of the weather. Breathing fresh air fills ALL of our cups. We draw with chalk on the sidewalk, play with old pots and pans in the mud, go for walks, bring books or crayons outside, explore the woods, or throw rocks in the river. Even on rainy or snowy Spring days, we put our gear on and commit to being out, knowing that we will be much happier being together inside the house for the rest of the day.

While taking time for myself and getting the children outside are both critical to maintain peace and health at times before, during and after this pandemic, we need not forget that we are now in a state of emergency. By acknowledging the heft of this, I invite all of you to do what feels right in any given moment and allow the “beauty of what remains” to dictate your day. Getting hung up on everything my children and I are missing out on just adds to the weight of the fear, loss, and anxiety. Counting our blessings as a family puts everything into perspective and teaches a valuable lesson: we have a lot to be grateful for. Whether you spend this time mourning, learning, creating, helping, wallowing, resting, exercising, or simply existing, please keep in mind that this community and the people within it will continue to hold you. The first and most world-shaking lesson I learned as a mother was that I couldn’t control everything: there are things within my control and there are forces outside of my control. I am now revisiting this realization through a new lens, focusing my attention on the aspects of our new normal that I can control (what’s for dinner, what books we read, how much screen time we have, what we listen to, etc.). This focus has given me power in a seemingly powerless situation. While I don’t know what the world will look like for my daughter’s fifth year and my son’s third year of life, I can assure they will be held by a loving and caring family as we all navigate this change together.