When I’m Upset, I Move Things

I was positive that I would be sending my kids back into the classroom this Fall. We live in a thoughtful and responsive district that came up with a plan to keep students and faculty as safe as possible. Parents could choose from two models: either hybrid, which mean two days in the classroom, three days out, class sizes split in half between the days; or Online Academy and be 100% remote.

I read through all of the guidelines for hybrid. Masks. Desks spaced apart. Frequent hand-washing. Lunch eaten in the classroom. Designated routes for hallways and limits on the playground and gym to avoid congregating. I was fine with all of that, because I was concerned for the socio-emotional health of my children after being home for so long.

But as always, the devil is in the details, and hybrid approach meant that my kids would need to spend 5 hours per day learning on the days they were home with no interaction from their teachers. Completely independent work. My kids struggled with the 60–90 minutes of work that they had to do in the Spring. They are going into 5th grade and 3rd grade, and being asked to self-manage, a skill that is hard for adults.

My husband and I quickly re-calibrated our thinking. We felt that it would be better for our family to choose Online Academy and have the consistency of 2.5 hours of teacher-led instruction per day. I told my kids, and they were crushed. And I had to mentally prepare that my kids would be home for at least a semester — if not all year.

What do I do when I’m stressed? I do things. Sometimes I quite literally move things.

Somehow, stress cause me to try to control any aspect of my life. I will throw myself into a project in an attempt to feel productive. I listened to a Brené Brown podcast early in the pandemic about over-functioning and under-functioning as a response to anxiety and I thought “Over-functioning? That’s me, right here.”

Immediately after enrolling my kids in Online Academy, I set about moving furniture around in the house. This is something that we do regularly — people kind of think we’re crazy. But I’m pretty firm on “making the best use of space” and sometimes that means moving furniture around. Sometimes that means moving lots of furniture around, like in this instance.

Our basement is finished. Both of our kids have their rooms down there, plus there is a large play area. I began to move things around to dedicate a corner of the play area into a “classroom.” School-related Zooms in the spring with teachers often involved joining the classroom meetings while lying down in bed. No more of that.

I moved both of their desks out of their rooms into their rooms into the “classroom.” I used room dividers to separate the space. I moved a reading chair into the classroom, along with a small shelf to store their school supplies. I wanted their mentality to be “You go into this space, and this is school. This is where learning gets done.”

Then this week, I had to put my cat to sleep. She was nearly 13 years old, had cancer, and went downhill rapidly over the past few weeks. It was the right thing to do but I was devastated. I spent a day in bed crying.

Then the next day, the “do something” part of me kicked in. My home office has a large desk that I use for my actual paying job, and a small writing desk. Earlier this year, I had been trying to teach myself to watercolor paint, but found that once Covid hit, I could not focus on painting. The little writing desk went mostly unused.

What I picked up as a hobby instead was genealogical research. Unlike the focus needed to “create” with painting, the research was less intensive on my brain. I mostly do this in the evenings, sprawled out in bed with my Surface, tv on in the background. A few months of this routine, and I found that my back, neck, and legs hurt from sitting in bed this way — in a way I never had before.

So something about losing my cat caused me to try and solve this unrelated problem. I decided to move my small writing desk up to the master bedroom, for doing the nightly genealogical research, and relocate a large reading chair down to my office.

In the process I decided to rotate almost all of the furniture in my office. Daybed. Bookshelf. The bookshelf was heavy, and I thought I could move it alone. Turns out, I couldn’t, and found myself wedged between the shelf and the wall. Even if I had screamed, my husband wouldn’t have heard me between the closed office door and being upstairs. I ended up with some bruised shoulders and a bruised ego.

I started in late afternoon and it was late evening before I was done — but everything was moved. It made me forget the sadness I am feeling over the loss of my cat for a few hours. Now back to the regular days, but at least I was able to write this form my newly relocated desk.

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