One of my last memories of my husband was a trip to Target where he ran in to get a few necessities — saying something typical like, “I’ll just run in …” while I waited in the car with our baby.
I realized a week after he died that moments like that would never happen again with such ease, and I’d have to adjust accordingly.
My daughter is 11 now and over the last 10 years I’ve learned a lot of skills that have helped me adapt. Today, as I’ve been reading up and preparing as best as I can for the coronavirus, I realized that despite how surreal this current situation is, it also feels a bit familiar. A lot of the habits that I’ve adopted to help me parent alone apply here.
At the beginning of the winter, I always make sure I have whatever medications, cough drops and tissues we might need. I stock up on non-perishables — crackers and ginger ale are staples — as are batches of premade chicken soup in our freezer. Even though she’s older now and I can run out to get things, for most of my daughter’s life there was no “running out.” If I wasn’t prepared ahead of time, I’d have to drag us both out, one or both of us sick.
If you’re putting off important things and then an emergency strikes, it’ll be that much harder. Don’t let the empty gas light go on in the car. (This is a tough one for me.) Pay your bills long before they’re due. Get things repaired when they break.
Open your mail, clean out your fridge and take out your recycling when you’re supposed to. Even though it doesn’t seem like a big deal to let a few things slide, inertia seems to take over, and when a crisis happens, you’ll want to be starting from a solid place. “The best preparation for the future, is the present well seen to, and the last duty done,” said the Scottish writer George MacDonald.
You’ve heard it before, but this isn’t about some perfect minimalist Instagram aesthetic. It’s more a matter of survival. Less clutter means there’s less to maintain, and less to search through when you’re in need of an important document. In my home I’m the only person who knows where sentimental items are stored or the passwords to my bank accounts. I have to be ready for someone else to possibly take over, so I label boxes with important things and give my daughter’s guardian a copy of my important information. Having these things done alleviates a lot of anxiety.
I’m not talking about bubble baths and red wine. I’m talking about exercise, nourishing food, sleep and laughter. Stress literally changes the chemicals in your body, and if you’re parenting alone or facing a crisis, you need a strong immune system. Getting sick really isn’t even an option. It only took one time of lying in bed with a loaf of bread — all I had the strength to grab — when both of us had a stomach virus to teach me this. I take breaks from the news and the chores and go for a 30-minute walk at my local park. I try to get enough hours of sleep. Yes, I’ve craved my alone time once she was finally in bed, but forcing myself to stay up isn’t going to help me carry on. Kids can feel your anxious energy, so find ways to release some of that and include them. The other night we were both getting anxious about the coronavirus, so we turned up the music and had a dance party. Watching a favorite comedy together works well too.
Ultimately, you don't have to do it alone. Have friends, family, and neighbors that you can count on. A neighbor who will drop off fresh supplies, or a friend who will text with you in the middle of the night when you're up with a sick child can make a big difference. We need each other.
I don’t manage to do all of these things all of the time, but they are a good blueprint for what has worked.
Yes, there are some things in life you just can’t prepare for. But here’s one more thing you can do: When the fever spikes unusually high in the middle of the night, when a hurricane knocks the power out indefinitely, or a pandemic is making its way across the globe, it helps to remember what we’ve already survived.
Each of us has our own story. “I buried my husband when I was 34,” I sometimes say in my head. “I can do hard things.” Or in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.”
So can you.