Had I found yet another place where I have fall short as a parent in quarantine? I feared perhaps I had. This week I interviewed Erica Keswin, workplace strategist extraordinaire, about her new work around the importance of creating rituals, in the workplace or in the home or anywhere we are trying to creating meaning, joy and authenticity. She described rituals that had become integral to corporations as they looked to create connection amongst employees while working remotely and rituals that had developed in her own family during lockdown. Erica emphasized the psychological safety offered by instilling rituals into our daily lives.
As I listened, I started to wonder what rituals had I created while quarantined with my family and it was then that I started to panic. I couldn’t think of a ritual. Me, the proud alumna of an all-girls camp and a women’s college where you can’t walk 10 feet without tripping over a ritual. Me, the founder of Dynamo Girl, which is chock full of beautiful, girl-friendly rituals. I couldn’t think of anything I had done over the last three months that wasn’t practical and mundane and an utterly ordinary effort to move from waking up in the morning until going to bed at night. No, that can’t be right. Could I have bungled this part of quarantine as well? Could my years of living and breathing rituals have fallen by the wayside when I most needed them?
I then took a deep breath, as I always say: the solution to 90% of the worlds’ problems, and I began to think. C’mon Vanessa — you must have created some rituals. Like Winnie the Pooh looking around for his honey pot, I kept repeating to myself. Think. Think. Think. And then unexpected rituals started to roll in. I realized the unhealthy deli sandwiches and salt & vinegar potato chips we devour every Friday lunchtime had become a ritual. My post Zoom event debriefs with my colleague Mary Pat Draddy had become a ritual. The chocolate challah we inhale on Friday nights had become a ritual. My girls’ nights with popcorn, Twizzlers, my mother and my daughter watching movies had become a ritual. My long walks every morning with my husband had become a ritual. My “moments of grounding” — deep breaths at the beginning of every Zoom talk I do — had become a ritual. And what I say during that moment of grounding is always some version of this: Let go of your day, the ways you fell short and the ways you messed up. Let go of the things you forgot to do and the moments you lost your patience with your kids. Give yourself permission to separate yourself from the mistakes of your day and be present now to listen and learn.
I realized I was doing just the opposite of what I had advised in my talks — the irony was that I was beating myself up for not having a ritual when having rituals are all about giving us emotional comfort! I was berating myself for my failure as a parent because I was just trying to get my family from the waking hours to the sleeping hours and back again. When really, isn’t that ultimately our job? To carry our families through the daily moments safely and be there when they’re ready to do it all over again the next day? The rituals I had created were so built into the mundane daily living of our quarantine reality that I didn’t even realize I had created them. Focused around meals and TV and exercise that at first look, they weren’t even rituals at all. But at second look, they were the small moments of joy that got us from waking to sleeping and back again.
So to all of us figuring out this summer and beyond, I will say to you what I say to myself: Take a deep breath. Let go of today’s failures. Be present as best you can. And acknowledge, that maybe the small things that seem like nothing at all are the ordinary and beautiful rituals that are getting you and your family safely from one day to the next.
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