The arrival of a global pandemic has shifted our outlook and daily routines to encompass new and sometimes uncomfortable measures to keep ourselves safe. Our experiences are unique as we navigate a new normal. A few weeks in, I was scrolling through Facebook when I was forced to stop and contemplate my own fears and feelings. Bronwyn, a friend of a friend, had posted a simple yet stunningly captivating photo of her 9-year-old son, Leith, staring longingly out a window, a sliver of sunshine highlighting the stillness of that moment. She had also posted an image of an Easter brunch table setting that would make Martha Stewart smile. Every week Bronwyn posted much-needed reminders that there was beauty to be found in the everyday. It was a familiar sentiment I had experienced after my mom’s sudden passing in 2017: like the rest of the world, I was in need of a gentle push towards positivity.
Bronwyn’s experience with COVID-19 didn’t begin full of optimism. As many of us did during the early days of the pandemic, she went to Costco, stocked up on drugstore items, art supplies for the kids, gloves, and toilet paper. She spiraled into a depression, all while trying to raise Leith and Lulu, age six, on her own. Ultimately, she found a coping mechanism that worked: Bronwyn decided to make the small moments matter.
“The goal was to teach Leith and Lulu to look at the glass half-full. When I was little, I was a glass half-empty person,” she said. It took years to switch her perspective. “With kids, it’s important to acknowledge the negative – not being able to see friends or go to school – while highlighting the positive. I validate their feelings but also encourage them to see the silver lining. I always tell them, it’s okay to not be okay; we talk about our feelings and we respect each other’s need to be alone or have quiet time. It was good for the kids to see that I was struggling and to also see that I was able to pull myself together.”
Prior to the pandemic, Bronwyn and her kids were rarely at home. The stillness of the past few months, though, forced her to take pause, slow down, and appreciate what she has. “I stopped drinking all the wine; I stopped losing myself in the news and I made an effort to keep a sleep routine,” she said. “I would shower daily; wear anything but sweatpants and pajamas. And most importantly, we focused on gratitude. Every day, no matter how shit the day, we all say aloud three things that made us happy that day. As adults, we have to remember gratitude. And model that for our children.”
Leith and Lulu’s father works a job that has him away and traveling. Usually, Bronwyn’s parents and sister play a crucial role in her children’s lives, but for the pandemic’s first few months, Bronwyn didn’t see them at all. Being a single mom has been “both the biggest challenge and gift during this time,” she explained. “I’ve been with my kids 24/7. I never get a break. There’s no kid-free time. What I did get to witness was that my kids are beautiful angels who need a mom that shows them the beauty of the everyday. Lulu and Leith are good people who are showing me how to be a better mom. We need each other. I focus on that.”
How do we help children navigate the range of emotions we’re all experiencing? For Bronwyn, in addition to practicing gratitude, it was about being honest. “Lulu and Leith are angry because they can’t see their besties and do all the activities, but they understand why it needs to be done. They’re pros at FaceTime,” she said, laughing. Her youngest, Lulu, expresses herself through words. “I overheard Lulu swearing in her room. We talked about it, and I said that sometimes it makes people feel better to swear when they’re upset. So, we agreed that she’s allowed to swear if it makes her feel better, so long as we’re being respectful of everyone in the family. I remind them that what they’re feeling is real.”
Now that school has started, her old anxieties have ramped up again, but not to the same extent as before. “It’s harder because Leith and Lulu see kids having playdates, and going into other people’s houses to play, while others go to the playground – whereas they’re not allowed,” she said. “We stopped all that once school started. No structures, no swings, and no playdates, unless it’s within our bubble.”
It’s nearing nine months since the pandemic essentially shut the world down, and Bronwyn shared that she finds herself listening to the radio again and checking numbers daily. “Lulu and Leith’s schools are phenomenal about wearing masks and sanitation. We’re back to some of our activities, however, with limitations,” she explained. “I’m doing my best to balance my children’s mental health with the possibility of contracting COVID… it’s a stressful time for parents everywhere in the world. Every sniffle is a potential virus, and every upset tummy has me worried.”
With new information, new worries, and new coping mechanisms, Bronwyn is continuing to take the pandemic day by day. “I appreciate everything and everyone so much more. I tell my loved ones how much I love them all the time,” she said. And her kids have taken her lessons to heart. With a smile, she added, “Leith got off his bike the other day to show me the colors of the leaves changing.”
Photos courtesy of Bronwyn
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