Before I unplugged from the world (Hi, World), a friend shared this video from Chris Hadfield with me.
Mr. Hadfield’s four pointers:
- Understand the actual risk.
- What are you trying to accomplish? What are your objectives? What is your mission for right now?
- What are your constraints?
- Take action: start doing things.
My childless friends plunge into debates about what their mission is. And, for me… It is such a ridiculous question, as a parent, is it not? My primary mission, for the next x weeks or months, is, as always, to keep my children safe, sane. Alive.
My bar on what that means has dropped a lot over the past 18 years–18 months. In isolation, my children will not be eating–because I will not be making–nutritionally optimized, free range organic beautifully presented meals, for one. For two, they will be spending a lot of time playing video games, watching YouTube and Skyping with friends–no screen time (or social media) restrictions for them. (Despite the rather strict screen time and social media restrictions I myself am following.)
And with all of that slackness, laxness, low bar–ensuring their well-being will take up a lot of my time. Most of my time. Ender’s 10 and acting, in most moments, as though he is four. Cinder’s about to turn 18–and what a time to enter adulthood, no?)–Flora’s still really sick (doctor’s appointments by phone for the next few weeks, and how effective will that be? who will the actual medical support team be? Me, Sean.)
(Parenthetically, one of the reasons I had to unplug: listening to people whine about how they’re struggling to fill time was filling me with rage, and who needs more impotent rage now? I need to shepherd, focus, my energy.)
My secondary mission is, of course, my work. (And how it kills me that we all agree it’s my secondary mission and that, if I named it ahead of my family obligations, the world would end.) I am one of the lucky ones. I still have work–in some cases, more work, in all cases, more difficult work. The organizations that couldn’t afford to fly me for a workshop and were not interested in an online webinar all, suddenly, are experts in online class delivery.
Online teaching–and learning–is much harder than in-person teaching, by the way. There’s a reason we fork out large sums of money to be in a room with Julia Cameron, Michelle Obama, Cheryl Strayed. (Kevin McDonald.) So figuring out how to do it well is a key goal of this secondary mission for this accidental teacher.
My real work–the writing–is both unaffected and utterly hammered. There’s no real reason I can’t continue with the timelines I’ve set myself. And I expect I will… although my motivation to do that work is, to be frank, in the toilet.
Why does it matter, what is the point?
As I write, I realize the message I’m sending myself here is that my mission has not changed. And so, reflecting on this, I need to pause and reconsider. Is that fair and reasonable? Because, actually, everything has changed. For the first time in my kids’ lifetime, there is a global pandemic–and one that is affecting lives in every country around the world in a time of unprecedented global connectivity and communication. The attempt to control/respond to this global pandemic has altered many key aspects of our lives. It has shrunk our worlds to our houses–and the outdoors, for some of s still, so long as we keep away from other people venturing into the outdoors. And don’t touch anything.
This is not normal.
And doing normal, everyday things in a so-very-not normal environment–this is both necessary… and very hard.
Very, very hard.
So, the first thing that has to be done, I think–is to recognize that doing normal things right now–eating, shopping, working, sleeping–is hard.
Second thing: My primary mission is to shepherd my kids through this crisis, and its aftermath–with the awareness that nothing is normal. What is normal is the exacerbation of Ender’s clinginess, Cinder’s anger, Flora’s illness.
And for my secondary mission? Missions, really, because the teaching and the writing are two separate things, and while one makes the investment in the other possible, it doesn’t really fit into it seamlessly. Secondary missions… I don’t know, to be honest. I’ll let you know when March and April wrap up, and I deliver a cohort of students safely to the other side of the semester.
Right now, I’m just grateful there is still money flowing into my household independent of the government’s bailout package.
Not everyone is that lucky.
And that, I think, will be my tertiary mission–and perhaps yours, if you are lucky like me. Make sure that those who aren’t so lucky are getting help.
How are we going to do that?