I used to laugh in conversations about the dreadful Ides of March being upon us, until last year on March 10, 2020 when it was no longer a joke. I live with my family in Washington state which was hit hard and early with hospital cases. From the onset there was confusion — which for some continues to persist — as to what actions should or should not be taken. Classes canceled? Masks worn? I could write a chapter about the odd condemnation, alienation and depression that have been borne from Covid19, but I’d rather this post be about the new normal that has arisen for my family and others.
Masks No Longer Threaten
I suppose I should back up and mention that I once lived in east Asia where mask wearing is a mainstay for personal protection against viruses and seasonal pollution alike. Having had chronic lung infections in the past I was high risk; I wore my mask to get groceries and of course to buy toilet paper! While shopping I was called crazy twice and received a dozen stares. One child’s face teared up with fear at the sight of my mask, likely because it was fashionably black and not unlike something a thief might have donned. I was wearing a mask as early as March 9 despite being condemned on social media that my simple cloth mask might deprive a first responder of protection. Mask wearing in Korea, Asia and Japan can be a fashion statement and an opportunity to protect immune compromised people as well as populations at large. So perhaps the first changing tide for 2021 and beyond will be the right for humans to choose to protect themselves and their families with masks, and do so as needed without facing jabs or ridicule.
Education Can Be Hacked
Like so many, the first genuine fallout from Covid19 came when our kids’ schooling shifted to online. On March 9th and March 10th we chose to keep our kids home even though there was that old stigma hanging in the air that students staying home ‘miss out’ and risk being behind. Thankfully, from all the worries I carry around in my head each day, the requirement that my kids must be physically ‘present’ at school to successfully learn is no longer one I let gnaw at my core.
By early May 2020, despite believing that schools would reopen by September/October, we began researching 100% online schooling options. I harnessed Facebook Groups to interview families and found two exceptional programs in our state, Columbia Valley Academy and OASIS. We virtually met with teachers at both schools and loved their shared approaches to project based learning. Incredibly, both programs were public and therefore free. After out-of-state family and friends asked us about our decision for their own kiddos, a quick search revealed that there are districts in almost every U.S. state that have a school program offering 100% online learning for free. We’ve been online for nearly a year and our daughters both love the freedom — when they are done studying we see them chatting online with friends, pursuing their hobbies with energy and fervor and we no longer feel we are tied to an exhausting rat race. Online schooling may not be how we do things forever, but it definitely has its upsides.
Working to Live is Okay
The pandemic has been an economic challenge for our family and for the world over. We’ve suffered major setbacks in our income. But, similar to the stigma over mask wearing and taking days off from in-person schooling (for the sake of an enriching experiences or for personal safety), there was definitely heavy stigma surrounding remote work opportunities. I’ll never forget overhearing a coworker brag during their lunch hour that they would never use their remote work day or even sick time because they are simply too dedicated to their job. I felt dismayed when considering all the repercussions involved: costs to mental health, coming to work contagious, etc. A year ago my life partner and I knew that taking remote work would certainly mean a great reduction to our incomes, a risk of being cut-off from a team/promotion opportunities and navigating a general stigma of laziness. Yet, today we are both working with 100% remote teams an reaping benefits we could not have imagined. I truly want to emphasize the later part of the ‘remote teams’ structure because I do believe that being in the same work situation as your colleagues can be critical for the success of remote working. Because we were thrust into remote work, every month we save on parking, lunch expenses, and the dreadful 3 hour commute!
Permission to Be Kind (to Ourselves)
Which brings me to maybe the greatest ‘great new normal’ that has arisen from this global pandemic — mental health awareness. I feel as though up until now humans were held hostage by stigmas that dictated compliance. Years ago a coworker told me they considered anyone who took a sick day for mental health purposes to be ‘delinquent.’ Countless movies document the almost humorous lengths characters have undertaken to secure some much needed time off. Today I believe that mental wellness days should be offered to employees and strategies to maintain balance of mental energies while working should be coached. This suggestion may have been subject to mockery in the past, but too many lives have become undeniably impacted by the effects of lockdown, stress and burnout for the ‘blind eye’ to persist.
I remember a time when airline passengers could fly with liquids in their carryon luggage and whenever I pack up I still think back on the lost lives that created that safety change. How many people has this seed of change saved since 9/11? As we move into the future my hope is that every time someone walks with a protective mask, learns and works from home or requests a much needed mental health day, we will think of all those whom we lost in Covid19’s shadow and give thanks for the new normal they helped usher in for us all.