5 Morning Jumpstarts

Nothing is worse this time of year than the alarm going off, waking me up from beneath warm, cozy layers of blankets and the need to jump out of that cocoon to the cold and most likely dark, gray day.  Some of these morning things that I do or little “jumpstarts” to the morning that help me, and hopefully help anyone reading, are really pulling me up and out every day.  Here are five steps that really jump start me on these winter days:

First, my ideal is that after snoozing once on my alarm, I at least click on my sunlight lamp.  This lamp is right on my nightstand.  Placing it within arm’s reach is critical.  I am finding that the pulse of light is helpful to get my eyes and body to start the process of waking during the winter.  It would be wonderful if I could open curtains and just be blown back by the bright sun, but at this latitude that’s just not possible.  So the “natural” light of the lamp is step one.

Next, I grab my phone to shut off the alarm if it has gone off again.  The next movement is important.  It is really difficult to do if there are text messages alerting me to open from the night before, but my goal is to ignore everything else on my phone and just open my YouVersion Bible app.  That way I am starting my day and my mind in the words of God:  “But seek first his kingdom and righteousness.” Matthew 6:33.  This can be a challenge, but some days it feels like a relief.  Starting the day with the devotional is a comfort really and a reminder of how to feel less stressed first thing in the morning.  It is a perspective shifting practice.  Just knowing I am doing it and filling my heart and mind with good things first off, not frantic things like what is on the agenda or where I need to drive today, is a great feeling.  

To make this habit easier to do consistently, I make doing the devotional super accessible.  First, I say yes to a reminder from the app when I start the devotional.  This way the only thing I need to do is click it.  Next, I don’t even read it myself.  I click the play button and let the voice over read aloud as I follow along with my eyes.  For some reason, I take more in when I have both.  It propels me forward to have the guided reading.  Next, I click read aloud for all of the verses attached to the devotional.  I take a screenshot of the one I plan to journal on or if I like them all, I just leave it open and plan to choose later when I sit down to write.  So the Bible app devotional is step two.

Next, I try to keep with my normal routine to get up, change, and do my exercise routine.  Originally intended for attorney well-being, this is all applicable to anyone interested in well-being and is detailed here in what could be more generally titled, “Exercise Challenges – How Can I Start an Exercise Routine?”:

The newest addition to this habit is my addition of rolling out my yoga mat.  This jumpstart is a visual cue that helps if I get distracted for any reason – family needs, a phone call, a pressing need for the dog to be let out immediately, etc.  Interwoven with this step though is also making the bed.  This is detailed in, “The Power of the Disrupted Healthy Habit”:  

However, I have found in looking back at this article that I have not been keeping up with my plan to do my exercise routine first as a part of “stacking” that habit with the habit of bed making.  Stacking is a habit-forming technique from James Clear, who I follow to learn all things related to Atomic Habits.  So I need to go back to this idea of exercising first then making the bed.  These little jumpstarts are intertwined steps 3 and 4.

My next jump starter idea is drinking a glass of water before I drink a cup of coffee.  I usually do this by physically preventing myself from drinking coffee first.  How?  I fill the coffee mug with the water I need to drink so that I can use the same coffee cup for coffee.  Sounds obvious, but really it is a constant and easy reminder of what I have to do in order to get what I want, which of course, is that first cup of coffee!  And that’s five, which sounds simple, but it is often as of late too tempting to start with my coffee first and catch up with water later.

Overall, we all need jumpstarts from time to time.  Whether we are depleted from overthinking, overworking, overstressing, or oversleeping, we need to have these little pulls to get going in a great way.  Hopefully these 5 Morning Jumpstarts are helpful and add to your keen living.  

© 2022 Megan Davia Mikhail 


Recently, my husband shared with me a moving article from the Atlantic, entitled, “What Bobby McIlvaine Left Behind.”  Written beautifully by Jennifer Senior, it tells the story not only of Bobby’s life and tragic death on 9/11 in New York City, but also teaches lessons about interpreting life that are filled with wisdom.  After reading this article (which I highly recommend), I have found myself thinking about many of its lessons.

What has been presented about this article in popular media revolves solely around the phrase, “Life loves on.” This phrase was believed to have been written by Bobby in one of his diaries he left behind.  Bobby was an extremely intelligent and thoughtful person who was succeeding in his career and enjoying his life in NYC in 2001.  Through the diligent research and delicate analysis of Jennifer Senior, Bobby’s perspective is revealed in a depth that even his family had not deciphered in the twenty years since his sudden death.  

Misinterpreted since his funeral is the phrase, “Life loves on,” as it was read in his handwritten diary at the time by his soon-to-be fiance.  The family believed it to be a message from Bobby to keep loving and living.  His father has it tattooed on his arm and his mother has an engraved necklace of the phrase.  As a byproduct of writing and researching for her article in 2021, Jennifer Senior discovered a new story.  After she photographed the page from the diary, her editor did a handwriting comparison and found that the way Bobby wrote his “i’s” could appear as “o’s” meaning the phrase would have been more accurately read as, “Life lives on.”  

One would have expected the family members to be upset or angry at this discovery – that the phrase they had clung to for the past two decades had been wrong.  That is the presentation I heard in the soundbytes of the morning news when in August 2021 this story came out.  When I read this article in December 2021, I was shocked that what I had heard was so misrepresentative of the depth of the true story of this family.

Through her writing project, which led Jennifer Senior to visit in person Bobby’s parents, brother, and former fiance, Jen, she discovered so much about Bobby in addition to the actual words of that phrase.  She met with Jen at her home in Washington, D.C. and walked out with the diary that had caused a rift in Jen’s relationship with his family.  She even found a copy of Jen’s eulogy from her own brother, one of Bobby’s college roommates.

In the eulogy, Jen read what Bobby wrote, 

“It is OK for people to die.  It hurts, and it is a deep loss, but it is OK.  Life loves on.  Do not fear for those who are dying.  Be kind to them.  And care for them.”

Jen’s interpretation of that phrase that “Life loves on,” caused her to vow to love on in her own life.  She did and has made a new life.  And when Jennifer Senior texted her a photo of the page with the new interpretation, Jen’s reaction was filled with grace.  After initially being shocked and appalled, she seemed to immediately step into grace.  She said that family and friends, “saw and felt what they needed to.”  

Jennifer Senior interpreted the situation with depth.  She reasoned that, “if Jen hadn’t kept the diary, misread it, formed a eulogy around it, the McIlvaine family would never have had a motto for their grief for 20 years.”

Helen, Bobby’s mom, had a reaction filled with beauty.  When she was told the new truth of the phrase, she stated that the misunderstanding of the phrase was actually a gift.  It was another special way of remembering Bobby.

So even though the media presented the story on one level as if they were wrong for 20 years, I think the real story is much deeper and more complex.  In fact, what is truly amazing about Bobby’s writing is that he spent many of his final months pondering life and grief.  By a strange coincidence of timing, he wrote his thoughts after Jen’s mother passed away earlier in 2001, and he witnessed the effects on her.  

The great light in the whole life story of Bobby is buried deep in the text – of both Bobby’s diary of 2001 and Jennifer Senior’s article of 2021.  Jennifer uplifts a message that resonated with me so much that I often find myself thinking about the words.  She found in his diary what she accurately calls an epiphany.  On August 20, 2001, he wrote:

“There are people that need me.  And that, in itself, is life.  There are people I do not know yet that need me.  That is life.”

And Jennifer writes so eloquently not only recognizing the beauty of his thought, but also adding her own insight:

“That is Bobby at his very finest, his most humane, his most mature.  He understood that our commitments to one another are what we’re here for….”

How true this is.  How beautiful to see their words combined together.  This piece is so multi-dimensional and meaningful.  Without Jennifer’s initiative and talented analysis, this never would have been discovered.  It was truly through her research that a new story emerged – one that has made me reflect on his words – “there are people in my life who need me. And that, in itself, is life.”  

It is this beautiful truth that is unrecognized.  Life can present challenges left and right, but knowing that part of the meaning of life is fulfilling my commitments to those who need me and being needed by my children, husband, family and friends, is an epiphany just like she said.  Being aware of this need and dependence is a beautiful circle to see.  Life envelopes these needs.  Fulfilling the responsibilities is a gift.  Some days it may seem mundane to fulfill the needs – making a grocery run or cleaning up the many messes in a household with children – and other times it may seem overwhelming to fulfill the harder-to-carry needs – of telling my mom it’s ok. And that she could go.  

All of these needs are facets of parenthood and childhood and the sandwich in between both.  Appreciating each and the whole range of needs is a challenge.  The legacy we leave behind can be found in the words we say and write.  For Bobby, he left behind an indelible legacy in his words.  One that I appreciate and needed to read.

I can’t thank Jennifer Senior in person for writing such a beautiful article; I don’t know her, but I appreciate her writing.  She unearthed what could have been lost forever, words written by an insightful young man and the graceful responses of his family members to his legacy.  My gratitude is best given I guess by paying her an homage – one that Bobby himself found in her writing – ending here with a quote from her about Bobby’s mom’s experience raising Bobby that applies to my experiences both as a parent and in the end with my mom:

“It was a privilege.  It was a gift.  It was a bittersweet sacrifice.”

© 2022 Megan Davia Mikhail

Check & Reflect

This is a phrase buzzing around our house.  My son started middle school this fall, and so he has brought this concept into our life.  At school, when a teacher issues a “check and reflect” it seems to mean that a student’s behavior has crossed a line.  The student needs to fill out a form answering about the behavior and a parent signs it.  It is a good system for many reasons – on a personal level, from a teacher’s perspective, and for family engagement with the classroom.  I’m sure it is meant to provide an opportunity for the teacher to check in and provide a chance for the parent and child to reflect together as a family as well. 

What I have gleaned from the phrase though is on a personal level.  From a broader perspective, this phrase has grown into a meaningful one for me over this past fall.  I realized that I need to check and reflect myself more often.  I think I have checked in and reflected long enough – my last post was in August!  I am recognizing though that checking and reflecting is an ongoing process – one that has an everyday requirement and one that needs more space and time to allow for the bigger picture to develop or come into focus.

To start, for the past twelve years, there was little to no time to check and reflect.  Maybe on the fly or with some time on a car trip I could stop to think or sit and talk about where I am and where we all are as a family – in all aspects of life.  As a family, we try to do this on a monthly basis with family meetings to check in together on feelings, gratitude, praise for each other, goals and plans.  Just circling around person by person typically at a dinner out, but also crammed in a car ride home together.  One thing emerged over 2020 and leading into 2021 from my perspective for our family as I checked and reflected: we were outgrowing our first family home. 

Looking back, buying our first home for our family was a fast-paced, time-pressured matter of weeks as we moved back from an out-of-state year of working.  We ultimately were very lucky to find our home and buy it.  At that time, I was pregnant with our oldest child and working full-time as an attorney.  I basically helped settle us in to our space and then directed my entire focus to building a safe haven for our baby to be.  I spent a significant amount of time preparing the nursery and not enough time organizing and unpacking the rest of our home.  Distracted by caring for a newborn and continuing to practice law after my maternity leave, I left boxes in our crawlspace for a long time.  Sporadically, my husband and I did small projects on the house, but mainly during those first years we were addressing the collection of baby stuff that we had accumulated.  We tried to find places for everything, but mostly failed to keep any strict form of organization.  At that point, we had only lived in our house about three years so the thought of moving hadn’t even occurred to us and really wouldn’t have made sense for our small family.  Meanwhile, our second baby, our daughter, was born and with my continuing to work full-time as well as my husband’s intense work schedule, we were surviving as young parents and managing the home as best we could.  We had done small makeover projects here and there – changing the gold fixtures and door handles and having some wooden trim painted white. 

Over the course of the next four years, we definitely didn’t even think of taking a moment to check and reflect about our space and whether we should move.  But we were starting to think about it.  We even found a home for sale in our neighborhood that prompted us to consider moving in 2016.  The sale didn’t work out, but it did prompt us to do more makeovers in the house including painting the kitchen. 

We had settled in again to stay longer, when in 2017, our house flooded.  This caused a ripple effect on our decision to move.  We decided after having all the water damage remediated to renovate the first floor and basement, specifically updating the kitchen and transforming our home for the better, to stay.  Overall, we lived in our first home for longer than we had ever really envisioned.  However, after selecting every fixture, appliance, and feature of the renovation project, we wanted to enjoy the new space and live in it to see how it all worked.  We enjoyed it for four years, and then 2020 hit.  At the same time as we were living more often inside our home, I realized our children were physically outgrowing the home size and space. 

Looking back, the check and reflect process for the move began in the beginning of 2021 with the snow.  It’s funny how God has presented us with varying elements of nature that have caused us to make changes in our physical environment.  First with the flood that caused our renovation, then I felt we were inundated with snow during last winter.  It may not have been any more accumulation than the previous winter, but the feeling I had with all the in and out due to hybrid learning, made it seem like more mess than usual.  The ability for the kids to play in the house during the winter months also maxed out during 2021.  The kids’ bedrooms needed to be more evenly spaced as each of them was growing up faster.  There were so many different factors that led to our decision to buy a new home and sell our very first family home.  However, none of this would have happened if we hadn’t done some form of a check and reflect. 

I found our situation to be one in which we had reasons to move and the ability to choose to move thanks to God, and we were listening for guidance.  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”  Proverbs 3:5.  For sure, I was searching for answers on how to make our home living situation better for our whole family, but I was praying for God to make our path clear.  And I continued looking for the right way with Bible devotionals to start my day.  “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105.  Any time I could relate to a verse as I continued to think about our move, I was thankful to God for giving me it. 

Making the decision to move at any time to any new place is difficult, but having the faith then to move forward is even more of a challenge.  It is a leap of faith for sure, and we are in the midst of that leap having moved into a new house recently.  We have started a three floor renovation with a construction crew and are attempting an overwhelming number of home projects to make it our own.  However, every step of the way, God is guiding us and reminding me to be thankful and be grounded in my thoughts and actions.  For me, recognizing that I will not always understand or be in control of my family’s living situation is a humbling walk to take.  But every time I do practice giving it to God, I feel better. 

Now that my son has brought this phrase into our life, I realize that checking and reflecting caused so much to happen over the past year.  It has been good, and at the same time it has been hard.  One quote I keep saying, maybe even using as a mantra, is from Brene Brown: “You can choose courage or you can choose comfort, but you can’t choose both.”  I feel like this applies in so many aspects of my life. 

I needed the courage to make this change and move, but I also need the courage to jump back into a work setting this past school year as a substitute teacher in our local high school.  Starting last March, I entered the high school system for the first time, always having wondered what it would be like to be a teacher in a classroom.  It is definitely not my comfort zone, but I find that I enjoy giving back to my community in that way. 

Even the process of writing is one filled with challenge and reward.  When I checked and reflected, I realized I needed to get back to writing and posting.  Too often, ideas can swirl around in my head to write about, and at some point, I have to put myself in a chair and type.  I completely can let myself be distracted by big things – moving – and small things – grocery shopping.  The whole idea of check and reflect for me is to have internal time and space for thoughts, ideas, writing, revisions, hopes, and journaling.  Too often I shut this time out, and keep making myself busy with distractions.  But the check and reflect is sorely needed I am finding for myself.  I need to check and reflect in order to grow in so many aspects of life – as an individual, as a parent, as a friend, as a spouse. 

Truly, checking and reflecting is the whole premise of keen living.  Maybe this is why I have found this post so daunting.  I believe keen living is about digging deeper, challenging myself to push through whatever has become my status quo, to get outside any routines that are not beneficial, to build a life using whatever gifts God has given.  Keen living is all about perceiving, feeling, thinking and then believing enough to act on thoughts and dreams.  Keen living is a challenge.  It definitely puts me outside my comfort zone, but there is no growth or progress in that zone.  It takes courage.  Stagnation is not an option.  Making mistakes is allowed.  For me, I have had to check and reflect on what it means to me to practice law or to be a writer.  I have had to reevaluate my definitions.  The practice of writing much like the practice of law takes trial and error.  It is the process of the day to day writing and trying that leads to improvement.  The habit of writing can only be just that a practice over time with no finish line in sight just steadily trying with great effort to get better and better with each finished piece.  I have been inspired to practice writing and posting again by the words of Teddy Roosevelt; I was reminded of one of his famous quotes in a history classroom I was in recently:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”  Teddy Roosevelt, April 23, 1910, Paris.  Available at:    https://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org/Learn-About-TR/TR-Encyclopedia/Culture-and-Society/Man-in-the-Arena.aspx

With these inspiring words, I am jumping back in the arena, and daring greatly, as Brene Brown advocates, to try and fail; check and reflect; and always to choose courage over comfort.   

© 2021 Megan Davia Mikhail

Sweet Home Chicago

Since I am on a roll with song titles, I’ll add one today, and express my love for Chicago.  After having the good fortune to celebrate our wedding anniversary on a sailboat ride over beautiful and thankfully calm Lake Michigan, I am reminded of the many beautiful moments I have experienced in this my home city of Chicago.

Starting with meeting my husband, I can’t think of a better memory than of him walking through the doors of a well-known Lincoln Park establishment and gathering spot where I happily talked with him and immediately fell in love.  Chicago provided the backdrop for this turning point in my life and continued to play a big role in our courtship.  Studying and trying new restaurants as well as finding favorites like Settimana on Division (no longer there) made up a major part of our dating days. 

We ran through the city one March during the Shamrock Shuffle and coincidentally stopped in front of what would become our first home.  After needing to take a long sleeve layer off during the race, I happened to look up at the 111 South Morgan building and read a banner advertising condos being built starting at a relatively reasonable price.  Not even a few days later, the condo was under contract and as they say the rest is history. 

We would live in the West Loop until we moved for a brief time to Cleveland.  While we loved Cleveland and our fun year exploring a new part of the country, living there only elevated Chicago in my perspective.  The beauty of the lakefront in Chicago is remarkable compared with the lack of vision to protect the lakefront from industry in Cleveland. 

My love for the city predates our marriage and courtship of course, having been born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago.  I grew up excited by every excursion to the city – musicals, special exhibits at the Art Institute of Chicago and classes during high school summers at the School of the Art Institute, Bulls games during the Michael Jordan era, White Sox and Cubs games, and a Bears game or two – all added to my foundational love of the city.  However, Chicago became my true love and resting place in college.  After having such a rough start in college, moving to Lincoln Park felt like moving home.  Exploring all that the city has to offer and learning my way around built my confidence back up as a young adult. I found my own sense of independence while living and learning in Lincoln Park and the Loop.  I found a way to work all over the city while an undergrad at DePaul University from offices in hospitals to graduate schools to hotels to state government.  It is no wonder that after spending two years of law school in St. Louis, another city I loved living in, we planned our wedding and got married which caused me to come right back to Chicago.  I spent my third and final year of law school back in the heart of Chicago at Loyola University School of Law in the Gold Coast.  Yet again Chicago gave me a place to land and live, this time with my newlywed husband. 

The love story continues now as we raise our children bringing them to Chicago to learn and explore as much as possible.  I love to think that I am instilling in them the same love that my parents instilled in me while I take them on walks through Millennium park and Navy Pier, have scavenger hunts through the Art Institute, or swim in Lake Michigan at the beach as the Air and Water Show practice day roars overhead.  I hope these memories stay with them while giving Chicago a special place in their hearts. 

Before today, I have never thought to be grateful to Chicago for all that it has been in my life.  But now looking back, I realize I must be and  I am.  I am thankful to God first for creating this gorgeous city by His Hand and for guiding all the hands that founded and created its beauty.  The streets continue to be alive with possibility and the neighborhoods are filled with genuine people.  Chicago’s history, architecture, landscape, and culture are to be treasured.  Chicago has been so divided and negatively viewed as of late, but looking at it in perspective, there is so much to love and appreciate.  Maybe taking a step back and seeing the city from the water is what gave this appreciation to me, but I know God had a hand in it as well.  “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”  Philippians 4:8.

© 2021 Megan Davia Mikhail

A New York State of Mind

I’ve been thinking lately how important environment is to well-being.  Whether it is the immediate surroundings, the town we live in, the community of friends that we see, the places we visit, it all adds up to impact overall mental health and physical wellness.  There are a myriad number of other factors affecting well-being, but I can say from experience how key it is to have a healthy environment to live in day-to-day filled with friends, family, and a positive living space. 

One of the greatest examples of this in my life occurred as a freshman in college.  The university I chose to attend seemed like the best choice and beautiful environment, but from the first day I arrived it felt wrong.  The dormitory, the roommate I met for the first time on move-in day, the location, all were off.  At the age of eighteen, I couldn’t identify what was wrong, but I can look back now and see that the environment I had entered was not for me.  I could feel it, but putting words to identify the problem took the painful process of asking for help from family, friends, and professional counselors. 

One of the most essential parts of that season of my life that I recognize now was the choice I made with the support of my parents to move out of that environment.  With selfless love from my mom and dad, I was given the opportunity to rethink my college choice, transfer out of one university and attend another one from home while I received the support and mental healthcare that I needed at that time.  With the empowerment of regaining control over my environment, I started feeling better, but not before my mom chose to do something that I will never forget.

In recognition that I needed a bigger perspective on life, she took me on a trip to further change my environment and open my eyes to the big world out there.  I know her motherly instincts told her that my myopic view of life and depressed state not only could be treated through traditional medical methods, but also with some creativity.  She planned and took me to see one of the greatest cities in the world for the first time: NYC.

I fell in love with New York.  My mom introduced me to a city she had lived in as a school teacher, new wife, and young mother.  I was mesmerized by everything: Broadway, Coney Island, the World Trade Centers, Brooklyn, the restaurants, and my first time ever spa appointment.  My mom also took me on a train ride from Grand Central station out to Princeton, New Jersey, and showed me that there is so much more to see, experience, and learn about in this great big world. 

I am filled with gratitude for her love and intelligence.  She was insightful and resourceful.  She could see what I needed when I had no understanding of what that was.  I still to this day appreciate what she did for me in that season of my life, and the love for NYC that she instilled in me on that very first trip still lives inside me.  God willing, I will be able to share my love for New York with my children someday soon.  Hopefully, I can teach them this life lesson about environment that I learned the hard way all the while sharing that there is a whole big, beautiful world out there to appreciate and love.

© 2021 Megan Davia Mikhail   

A Parent Perspective: 2021

As part of the District 181 Foundation Board I volunteer for, I have been asked to write a series of articles as a parent reflecting on the talks given by authors who have been invited to speak in our community’s school district. All the articles for this past year are shared here in the hopes that they support the concept of keen living within the context of parenting:

A Parent Perspective June 3, 2021:  District 181 Foundation Board Speaker Series Presentation from Nicholas Epley

To capstone the District 181 Foundation’s Speaker Series for 2020-2021, the Board invited, Nicholas Epley to speak to the parent community recently on his research that is current and topical for parents and students: “Type Less, Talk More.”

The talk touched on many effects of the pandemic, and emphasized a key need today:  connecting via talking in person or over the phone or video chat as opposed to texting or email or other more socially-removed forms of communication.  His points are well-taken from a parent perspective in terms of connecting not only with our children, but also in the ways we choose to communicate with friends, colleagues, and family.  Overall his points were current and informative.  One of my main takeaways as a parent is that I need to apply these concepts in order to model for my children how I want them to behave with technology. 

His main point of removing the isolation caused by the pandemic is important.  In essense, he was espousing the, “Tend and Befriend,” theory of social interaction.  For more information generally, see: https://thriveglobal.com/stories/tend-and-befriend-to-break-down-the-pandemic-wall/.  The scientific theories he included are interesting, and I wondered where does that leave us as parents?  How do I take what he gave as research and apply it in my own parenting practice? 

One instance I see as applicable is found in his inclusion of the train ride studies from the University of Chicago.  The overall findings lean toward the maxim – “kindness matters.”  The interactions he described where a person reached out to talk to another train rider resulted as a success as measured in contentment or happiness regarding the interaction.  It seemed to boost the mood of the rider who was befriended.  The discussion seemed to be a better, more valuable, more memorable use of the time riding the train than other non-social alternatives like reading the paper, checking email, texting, etc.  Check out the recording of the talk for more details. 

The kindness it took for the research participant to attempt to talk with another train rider may be intimidating for most people.  For example, striking up a conversation out of the blue with a stranger especially on a confined train ride is not something that a lot of people like to do.  However, I admire those who don’t hesitate in being kind.  Maybe it doesn’t have to be a full conversation for a whole train ride, but people who will say to a stranger – excuse me, did you drop this?  Or to a friend, Oh! That looks so nice on you.  Small interactions fueled with kind intent can have a way of making another person’s day brighten up.  The impact left is greater than one thinks. 

One example I can think of in terms of a person sharing kindness without hesitation is my son’s 5th grade teacher at Madison school, Mrs. Melonie Jackson.  She shares kind thoughts and stories about her students and has shared kind remarks about my son with me without hesitation.  She exudes kindness and thoughtfulness in her personal interactions as well as her written communications.  What a wonderful world it would be if there were more people like her brave enough to be kind without hesitation.

Overall, Nicholas Epley’s talk taught me more than just to make a phone call instead of texting.  His research and advice boils down to the fact that trying to be kind and considerate as parents, friends, neighbors, and even strangers can create a greater sense of connectedness. 

Thank you again to the District 181 Foundation Board Speaker Series Committee for this great talk and all the talks this past school year.  I look forward very much to the announcement of all the speakers for the 2021-2022 school year!

A Parent Perspective March 11, 2021:  Julie Lythcott-Haims

Another speaker through the District 181 Foundation’s Community Speaker Series, and another great educational parenting presentation.  I find that after every speaker I listen to through the District 181 Foundation’s Community Speaker Series, I take away another piece of the parenting jigsaw puzzle.  Listening to the presentation by Julie Lythcott-Haims shifted my mindset yet again about parenting.  This time, I think my perspective on parenting shifted in the sense that she reminded me of the disciplined parenting style that allows children to learn and fail on their own.  Like Jessica Lahey, a speaker many years ago for the District 181 Foundation and author of, “The Gift of Failure,” Julie Lythcott-Haims is teaching parents to let go and let children fly as well as fail. 

I anticipated the presentation because I listened to her book, “How to Raise An Adult,” last summer coincidentally after seeing it in the Hinsdale Library app for audiobooks, “Libby.”  I decided to download it to listen as my family drove cross country to Colorado for a summer vacation.  My husband and I listened as our children enjoyed movies using headphones in the backseat.  I found that her book compiled current research on child and adolescent development and made honest points about what not to do as a parent.  For example, one of her personal stories she shared in the book and shared during the presentation was that one night she sat down for dinner with her family and began cutting her 10 year-old son’s steak.  She stopped herself when she realized that she was so bothered by how inept children are coming of age as freshmen in college and yet here she was cutting her son’s steak for him when he was perfectly capable of doing it himself. 

I found that her presentation was very forthcoming in terms of her personal experience as a mother.  I remember there being personal stories of her experiences raising her own children in the book, but during her talk she shared many more stories about her son and daughter.  It seemed to me that her parenting has evolved over the course of the six or so years since the book was published.  Her children have grown up and are now 21 and 19.  She has gone through many struggles with parenting, and her openness is refreshing and inspiring.  Her story of her son taking so many advanced classes in high school that she sat down with him and offered for him to drop a class was a striking example of her struggling with her ideals and her values as a parent.  She ultimately let him decide what he wanted to do, and he dropped Spanish class.  

The anti-helicopter parent author may be a good way to describe Julie Lythcott-Haims.  She does not represent herself as a parenting expert or a psychologist.  In fact, she is a former corporate attorney and former Dean of Freshman Students at Stanford University.  But from her experiences both as a Dean and as a parent, she has gained great perspective on how we as parents can cripple our children’s development.  She shared that she found that students seemed disconnected from their achievements when they arrived to live and learn on campus.  She questioned when these students would desire to be in the driver’s seat of their own lives?  She summarized the situation well:  there is a lack of agency and resilience in most children and young adults.  She openly declares that we as parents need to get back in our lane, live more of our own life, and let our children take ownership of theirs.  Specifically, she shared many illustrations of how this can look in our own lives including how we need to teach our children to advocate for themselves with teachers, peers, roommates, etc., and stop intervening for them.   In addition, she advocates for taking a step back from academic involvement with our children.  Her presentation has so many thought-provoking stories in it.  I would encourage listening to the whole recording including the questions and answers at the end. 

After listening to her presentation, I took to heart a lot of her advice.  I feel very similar to how I felt after listening to Jessica Lahey’s, “The Gift of Failure,” speech and reading her book after she signed it for me following the presentation at the Community House.  I am inspired yet again to give my children more independence and responsibility.  I need to give them more chores and more opportunities to fail even if it is a soft fail at their ages of 10 and 8.  Something I took immediate action on is her call to cleanse.  Basically, as recommended in her section of the Program Book sent via email to all registered participants, I sat down with my older son, and went through her advice in the cleanse.  I told him I know I ask him a lot, a lot, a lot about whether he has done his schoolwork, what he got on a test, etc., and that I realize that may make him feel like I think he doesn’t care or can’t do it himself.  I promised that I would not ask him about academics for a week, and we shook on it!  I told him I know he can do this.  He can be the pilot.  He can fly the plane, drive the bus, whatever it is, and I will be here for him.  Let’s see how this goes!  It’s a start!

Thank you to the District 181 Foundation Board’s Community Speaker Series committee for organizing and having Julie Lythcott-Haims as a speaker.  She was direct, open, and insightful, as well as inspiring. 

A Parent Perspective, February 12, 2021: Speaker Series Presentation:  Madeline Levine, “Ready or Not: Preparing Our Kids to Thrive in an Uncertain and Rapidly Changing World”

On February 10, 2021, I hastily ran to our nook office and zoomed in for the speaker series presentation one minute before 6pm.  I knew I had a limited amount of time to sit at my desk before I had to drive to pick up my daughter from dance class.  At which point, I anticipated listening to the zoom meeting while driving and then returning to the office to engage via video zoom for the remainder of the presentation.  Phew!  What happened to attending the speaker series at the Community House?  I suddenly missed that outing and experience as a parent.

Today, so many meetings via zoom are being juggled in our rapidly changing and uncertain world – the world our children face as well as the world we face as parents.  Listening to Madeline Levine, PhD., speak about her latest and certainly presciently written book: “Ready or Not: Preparing Our Kids to Thrive in an Uncertain and Rapidly Changing World,”(https://madelinelevine.com/books/ready-or-not/) made me think, how did she know to write this?  What was she anticipating that she could have written this before the pandemic? 

From her talk, I gathered that after writing her other successful books, “Price of Privilege,” and “Teach Your Children Well,” and starting the Challenge Success center at Stanford University, she felt frustrated with the lack of parental changes she saw being made.  She advocates for broadening our parental definition of success for our children.  She defines this new meaning to be outside the scope of name brand colleges attended and high GPAs.   Instead, her definition of success includes valuing kindness to family members, valuing strength to overcome fears as well as valuing unloading a dishwasher. 

To make this book different and induce more changes, she decided to back off her typical sources for her books: her fellow psychologists researching children and parents’ behavior as well as educators researching in the field.  Instead, she chose to look to the military and business leaders.  Why?  These fields deal with rapid changes all the time.

What I was impressed with was her ability to recognize that something isn’t working in her own research and writing, to admit it, and change her own approach.  She feels so strongly about the need for change in how we parent and our children grow up, that she seemingly is putting herself on the line.  She even included that because she believes she and the other authors in her area of research are not making “adequate impact on our audience,” she choose to make this book.  

Fast forward to 2021, and her presentation adapted her advice in the book to the changes caused by the pandemic.  For example, before the pandemic she cited to the fact that one-third of children may have been diagnosed with anxiety.  She has found that due to the pandemic the numbers for anxiety in children have grown to three times what it used to be.  The group most affected by the pandemic she pointed out, is the teen to young adult group.  She explained that the restrictions set in place for the pandemic provide the exact opposite environment that this group needs to develop.  Not having the ability for them to hang out with friends in person, take risks, dating, etc., is in opposition to their brain’s natural inclination.  Her advice on how to deal with this situation was insightful and helpful – help kids find something purposeful.   An antidote of anxiety and depression is contribution.  She even stated her best success cases during the pandemic utilized this technique. 

Another impactful discussion point she had related to a quote she said is commonly used in the psychology community: “Genetics load the gun, environment pulls the trigger.”  Given statistics to illustrate, she shared that anxiety has been found to be 30% genetics and 70% environment.  So that while we can’t change eye color, she explained, we can change mental illness.  I thought this was a hope-filled and empowering professional opinion.  One way that she has found success in providing an environment that reduces the risk for anxiety is by giving kids control over certain decisions.  Letting them pick the twenty minute timeframe when they practice an instrument or whether they start with math or reading during remote learning seemed like good starting points.  In addition, she emphasized how important it is to teach kids to have a good attitude.  This may seem like an intrinsic skill, but according to Dr. Levine, this can and must be taught.  Some ways to teach would seem to be by role modeling, teaching optimism by asking questions, or talking to them about the bigger picture when they are down about the little things. 

Dr. Levine segued into several stories that I found enlightening and impressive that she felt open to share with a larger audience, especially because they were about her own experience parenting her sons.  First, she shared the importance of cultivating and valuing emotional intelligence.  Her story of her son coming with her to apply for a mortgage at a bank served to illustrate how powerful emotional intelligence is and can be valued in the workforce.  She shared that her son, who was a senior in college at the time, asked her if he could go with her for a meeting at the bank in which she was applying for a mortgage.  During the meeting with the bank branch manager, she said he listened and noticed that she would need to feed the meter so he offered to go outside and do that.  Then, he noticed her voice wearing down and asked if she would like for him to make her a tea out in the lobby, followed by asking the branch manager as well.  At the end of the meeting, they were finished, and out of nowhere, the branch manager asked her son if he wanted a job.  She had noticed his perceptive and sensitive actions.  She said she could teach skills, but that he is the kind of person she would want in her office. 

Dr. Levine’s story supports her theory that we as parents are looking to the wrong indicators for success.  Society tells us to look at grades and standardized test scores to measure our children’s success and thereby our success as parents.  Instead, she emphasizes looking to their behavior.  How do they treat others?  Are they likely to stop and help a friend or just keep running? 

Even more revealing, she shared stories about how her sons got in trouble for drinking under the legal age and throwing a party at her home.  She opened up about how the experience affected her personally and professionally.  In particular, the incident at the school dance for her son resulted in a great parenting moment.  Her husband’s reaction to the three-day suspension for their son was, “This is the greatest thing that could happen!”  Not understanding at the time, but able to reflect now years later, the suspension served as a kind of deterrent for her son.  This spoke to me as a parent because being able to step back and look at seemingly negative situations as a learning opportunity for the children and teachable moment as a parent is a great perspective to have.  The stepping back technique is a tool to practice with and be able to reach for at any time with my children.

Related to her discussion of emotional intelligence, she emphasized how important self-regulation is for children and ultimately parents.  She explained that we as parents are the environment for our children most of the time, especially now during the pandemic.  We need as parents to take care of ourselves and our well-being to reflect back to our children a healthy, loving environment.  How do we teach self-regulation though?  I had to wonder myself.  This seemed to me to relate to the, “name it to tame it,” theory in that we as parents need to model expressing our feelings to our children ranging from happiness to frustration to help calm our emotional surges.  I thought she emphasized the need for children to practice self-regulation so much so that I made note to follow these steps more often and model to my own children the “name it to tame it” process.   

Dr. Levine had so many fantastic opinions and illustrative stories during her presentation.  I definitely agree with her stance that we need to broaden our definition of success.  I found her Stanford University affiliated organization online to learn more: www.challengesuccess.org.  I especially recommend listening to the District 181 Foundation’s recording of her presentation’s Question & Answer section toward the end of her presentation.  So many of her answers were on the spot and yet thoughful and again personal in nature from time to time which helped bring her point home even more.  The topics ranged from how to prepare your child for college to educating children that they are being manipulated by social media.  She even gave permission – a little – to parents to ease up on the screen time limitations during the pandemic.  Check out her explanation in the recording.

Overall, I would highly recommend listening to Dr. Levine, checking out her websites, and reading her books.  I know I have now added her top three books to my list.  Thank you to the District 181 Foundation Community Speaker Series committee for engaging Dr. Levine to speak again (2nd time speaking to our community) for this year’s program.  A timely and validating presentation.   

To learn more about the District 181 Foundation and all the wonderful programming the Foundation provides please go to: http://www.d181foundation.org/

5 Small Ways of Unplugging

Unplugging and recharging.  What does it mean?  It sounds silly, certainly, but does it have a bigger meaning?  Can it actually get rid of some negativity and replace it with positive, connected time? 

Unplugging definitely doesn’t have to mean totally checking out.  Unplugging can be done without shirking responsibilities or giving the cold shoulder to friends and family.  It can be done with purpose.  In fact, a space can be created for time with loved ones, get-togethers with friends, really anything that involves respite and rejuvenation.  When consistently done, even if it is from just a set time in the morning to the evening, carving out time in the day when there is no need to respond immediately can be a step back to tech-free days of yore.

Forty-somethings can remember that time.  We didn’t grow up with personal mobile phones attached to our hands or to sewn-in, side legging pockets.  We didn’t even have any tethers to people outside of home, school, activities, and a landline.  What does this world of constant tech connection mean for our children?  While we have been gradually acclimated to the personal technology phenomena, our children have only known life with this immediate ability to access.  How is that affecting their brains?  How is it affecting our brains now that we have become accustomed to this crazy world of tech?

Granted, I do appreciate the wonderful sides of technology and helpful automated assistance like ordering groceries online – fantastic!  However, I still feel a need to pull back the cord and unplug on a more consistent basis to get back to basics and recharge with good things that are missing or lacking like one-on-one time with my children, spouse, friends, reading a book in the sun, walking the dog without the phone, or just taking some time to rest!

Here are five ways I am trying to unplug:

  1. Finding one time of day to check email.  Batching all the email together, reading and responding in one sitting. 
  2. Putting the phone “to bed” on the charger as early in the evening as possible. 
  3. Silencing text notifications.  Keeping the ringer on.
  4. No phones at the table – breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
  5. Delaying phone use first thing in the morning.  Except if using for a devotional. 

Now, I am failing at many of these attempts.  However, it is a practice, I am finding, not a quick fix.  It is really difficult to break the chains of the phone.  I need to remind myself and make a conscious effort to model the goals for myself and my family.  Little by little, though, these ways of unplugging do help.  They become a more permanent fixture, which leads to more space and time for recharging. 

© 2021 Megan Davia Mikhail

New Surroundings

Cleansing a home from accumulated things and even clutter can provide space that is more comfortable and livable even though there is less.  To me it means moving certain objects, furniture, papers, photos, clothes, toys, and books out of the house to new homes or the landfill as a last resort.  The process can be difficult.  First, to motivate to get the cleanse started is a challenge.  Second, to physically lift and move everything can be exhausting.  Then, to emotionally process through all the sentimental objects and let them go takes a lot of preparation.  Well-being is at the heart of this process because in the end there is a greater sense of peace and keen living as a result of all the change.  It’s just getting there that is the hard part.

First, how do you motivate to clean and reorganize a home?  I have made endless plans to do numerous house projects in the past.  I have read books and watched online inspirational organizers.  What I have found over the years though is that none of these projects take place if I don’t have a deadline to work under.  Recognizing this, I met with a friend recently to discuss my ideas.  After our conversation I had new goals for my home cleanse, and I had a greater sense of urgency to make my plans happen.  This combination of factors motivated me to get the home cleanse rolling.  An additional feature of motivation for these types of home projects that I have gleaned over the years is that I need to have an accountability partner.  For example, during our home renovation project, I felt accountability to our construction team for our research and decisions.  As long as there is someone checking on progress, then the multiple steps of the home cleanse project can be pushed forward on a daily basis.  I look at this role now as a pacesetter in a race.  Some days I feel like I am hitting the mile-markers on time, and other days I am falling behind.  I just keep moving forward toward the goal, but knowing I am behind can give me motivation when I am not feeling like pressing forward at all!  Movement is the key.  Keeping any of the projects moving does lead to momentum.  Clearing one shelf leads to another for as long as that movement can be sustained.  Ultimately, there’s a wall.  Running out of time is a constant due to a home cleanse happening while the rest of life continues uninterrupted.  And sometimes there’s a wall of exhaustion.  Just like with running, the wall can hit out of nowhere, and that’s when I don’t push through.  Maybe with running a race there would be a way that I would find the strength to continue to the finish line, but with a home cleanse it is not worth it.  It’s at that point, I rest.  Literally, I lay down horizontally with a timer set for 20 minutes at minimum to feel recharged.  If there’s any energy then to finish that day, I do, but otherwise, I move on to tomorrow. 

                Second, doing a home cleanse can be demanding physically.  The various projects can cause fatigue for sure, but also injuries!  I have to remind myself to take care when I lift heavier objects or force myself to stop and ask for help.  I also need to take care when pulling boxes out of awkward crawlspaces, and to avoid cutting a hand or finger, which I did recently.  This is also a time I am finding that I need proper nourishment.  I am eating whole foods and drinking lots of water, which is great because the first part of this homegrown cleanse is still happening.  Good nutrition is actually helping sustain my efforts.  I can’t say I am drinking 100 ounces of water each day, but the intermittent fasting hours have been consistent for the most part, some days longer than expected, and I am leaning toward healthier food choices. 

                Finally, throughout the home cleanse there are times of emotional upheaval as parts of the past are held in my hands once again, addressed, and possibly given away.  I don’t know what Marie Kondo would say about giving away your children’s baby clothes, but I have found it to be overwhelming.  I recently brought many bags of baby clothes to a friend who collects for at-risk mothers and children in Chicago.  The knowledge that these tender, little clothes covered in never-again baby memories would end up helping many in need soothed my restless and hurting heart.  There are of course other objects and sentimental mementos that cause a roller coaster of emotions during a home cleanse.  Through this process, I have tried to give intention to my work through devotionals.  This is a challenge for sure, but I try to stay consistent by tying this to my morning cup of coffee in a form of habit stacking.  The verses help to give me motivation and the right meaning to the overall goal.  They also give me a chance to take a moment and reflect on what God wants me to do.  Paul’s writings to the Philippians keep coming up for me, especially in chapter 4:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:6-7

                Overall, doing this home cleanse during springtime has been helpful.  Spring cleaning is a hot topic in the news and that boosts my motivation with creative ideas and a sense of comradery – at least thinking I am not alone in the effort.  Consulting with a friend and setting a pace is a great motivator.  Keeping energy levels high for the physically demanding process is helpful.  Being prepared for the emotions that surface through the clutter with a verse and a plan for charitable giving keeps the process positive.  Moving the past out of the house can create beautiful, new surroundings and a wonderful space to enjoy the present. 

© 2021 Megan Davia Mikhail

Roll Tide

After having spent a significantly longer amount of time in traffic in Sweet Home Alabama over the past week on our family driving trip, I had to look up the phrase, “Roll Tide.”  What I found I liked.  Other than the official greeting and cheer for the University of Alabama, this phrase can also refer to carrying on.  I like that.  Seeing the tide roll in along the Emerald coast of Florida was also a reminder that life is constantly changing and beautiful.  So now that upon our return home, locally schools have reopened fully to in person learning, it is time to roll tide and carry on.

This week, my way to start anew again and carry on has meant cleansing.  I think the phrase, “doing a cleanse,” has a negative connotation.  Doing a cleanse can mean many things to different people so I decided to create my own.  However, this is not an extreme juice cleanse or anything radical at all.  This is an overall cleanse that will be multi-faceted with the purpose of creating a renewed sense of well-being; a stride toward keen living.  The first phase of the cleanse is clean eating.  The next phase will be home reorganization and minimization.  And the third phase, running throughout, is a spiritual cleanse.

First, the way that I have attempted to reset my body  this week is with three cleansing techniques:

  1. Eating foods that are good for me – simple, but challenging. 
  2. Drinking 100 ounces of water every day
  3. Returning to intermittent fasting at least 12 hours a day

Starting Sunday, I went online to grocery shop as we drove back home.  I focused on a heavy dose of lettuce, vegetables, whole fruits, no meat, fish and tofu.  I am attempting to follow the Orthodox Lenten fast in a way (Orthodox Easter is May 2 this year), but not fully to the vegan level.  Instead, I am shooting for my best effort in a “pescatarian” diet (vegetarian plus seafood).  I knew my body was in need of clean eating.  I was out of balance from snacking on spring break and eating later than usual.  I have focused on having my breakfast later and sustaining my morning with black coffee.  This is a particular challenge because black coffee alone does not sit well with my stomach so this may change.  I try to put off breakfast for as long as possible.  I start with a lot of protein: Oikos triple zero vanilla yogurt with Hemp seeds poured on top.  For lunch, I have had salads.  I definitely feel better when I have one every day for or with either lunch or dinner.  Snacks are cheese and nuts with the occasional bites of tempting blueberry muffins here and there that were really meant for the kids’ breakfasts.  Dinners have been focused on high protein paired with a roasted vegetable.  However, I splurged with a takeout tofu pad thai yesterday following a busy day where we all needed dinner on the fly.  Nothing has to be perfect.  Each day ebbs and flows.  Roll tide.  Carry on.

Next, I am attempting to drink more water and limit other caffeinated/dehydrating liquids like coffee or wine.  The first day I definitely drank 100 or more ounces of water.  I felt great.  More alert and less weighed down.  The challenge has been keeping up with that.  Water gets boring.  I bought Collagen Strawberry lemon water and liked it.  I have spiced it up with Vitamin Water lemonades.  I drink lots of herbal teas anyway, and I have attempted to keep myself to one black coffee first thing every day.  This didn’t totally happen because I did grab a Flat White fully leaded Starbucks on a dark and dreary, rainy day this week, but that’s fine.  Roll tide.  Carry on.

Third, I went back to intermittent fasting.  What is this?  Again, like cleases there are many different styles and methods.  My baseline intermittent fast is just 12 hours.  That’s it.  It is not a high bar, but it does keep me from snacking at night when I really want to or starting with breakfast too early.  It motivates me to exercise in the morning as a way of pushing the clock a little further to maybe reach a 13 hour fast.  The best part of intermittent fasting is that its effects are palpable very quickly.  There is almost immediate feedback within the first three days.  I feel leaner and lighter by doing it, which provides a great incentive and positive feedback to keep going.  If however, I take a bite of chocolate after 8pm so be it.  It happens.  I can push back the fasting clock in the morning or just try again the next day.  Roll tide. Carry on.

Throughout this cleanse and really starting over my trip last week, I am also attempting to unplug from technology to make more time for prayer.  This coincides for me with Lent.  It doesn’t have to, but having Easter as the guiding light is helpful for me.  However this might look for each individual is always going to be different, but the idea being to reset the day and fill more space with meditation and prayer.  I use the YouVersion Bible app.  This week, I tried to tweek my morning routine to put prayer first after my alarm goes off.  I tried it, but I really prefer getting up and doing my morning exercise routine first.  So what I found was that I need to do that exercise to feel awake, and I modified my prayer and journal time to tie together with my cup of coffee.  This is working.  I also have books that I enjoy reading every day or right before bed that give a spiritual boost – Emily Ley’s newest book, “Growing Boldy,” and Hoda Kotb’s, “I Really Needed This Today.”  The thing is all of these spiritual practices haven’t happened every day, even though I have wanted them to.  And my attempts at decreasing texting and checking my email only twice a day have resulted in fails to only the slightest of perceptible decreases.  That’s ok.  Roll Tide.  Carry on.

Finally, as a guiding principle for this attempt at cleansing, this verse really speaks to all elements:

Hebrews 10:22: Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

I feel like any attempt at well-being is a difficult one, but with a heart filled with good intention, it is going to be a journey toward some wisdom and self-discovery at the very least.  Any times there are frustrations or disappointments, letting that guilty conscience roll away will provide a reset that allows a new focus on the next horizon and what beauty there is carrying us toward it.   

© 2021 Megan Davia Mikhail

One Year Later

The flashback to last year this time is real. What the feelings were, the mood in the air, the strangeness of the unknowns surrounding COVID-19, are all coming back to me now.  It’s happening to everyone I talk to. 

In step with the spring bulbs appearing, the memories of last year are unveiling themselves every day.  I have been thinking over the past two weeks about where I am now and where I was last year.  I recognize what a devastating year it has been with the death toll in the U.S. from COVID-19 over 500,000, and the mental health toll the disease has caused in the country still unknown.  I wonder what the social and emotional effects will be on the students who have had to learn remotely, in hybrid, and by Zooming.  And yet, while all those negatives are out there, I have this feeling of relief growing stronger day by day.  There are many who have been vaccinated completely.  There are decreasing COVID-19 case numbers.  There are schools opening to full day in person instruction soon.  If you are reading this, you have made it to the other side and survived.  It doesn’t hurt to reflect on both the negatives and the positives of this past year. 

From my perspective, the negative side of life in March 2020 stemmed from the fear. The immediate and palpable fear set in almost overnight.  The fear felt physically paralyzing.  At times, I remember thinking to take deep breaths, especially after reading or watching the news.  I started to question and fear the end of humanity.  I thought this must be the disease to end life as we know it, and we are all going to die in isolation.  Such pessimistic thoughts, but it is the truth.  And it is partially true in that this disease did end life as we knew it – at least life as it was leading up to 2020.  Looking back, the end of life was the basis for most of my fears about COVID-19.  Having gone through the death of my mom in 2019, I didn’t want anything like that to happen to anyone in my family again. 

I have focused on the fear and tried to dissect it.  For me, the biggest part of the problem at least mentally was the way in which it felt so sudden.  It felt like being slapped in the face with my own mortality in March 2020 and the mortality of my husband and children.  I wasn’t prepared.  I had no warning or inkling this would happen to the extent that it did. No one really did.  So once I got over that need for notice, I concentrated on what the fear was about.  Death.  I feared that for me, my husband who had to still go to the hospital if he was called in, my children especially, so young and innocent, and extended family, friends, the rest of America, Italy – really any human in a country that came across the news with extensive and severe displays of death and despair.  The list went on and on.  When I dug deeper I could see that if I didn’t have a fear of the end of life on Earth and instead a steadfast belief in heaven and eternal life, the panic that set in would have dissipated.  It was a logical thought, but very hard for me to put into practice.

Over the course of many days at home starting March 13, 2020 to today, little by little, day by day, my attitude has changed to be less fearful, more faithful, and stronger.  I wouldn’t say it was overnight at all. Nor was it completely of my own volition.  I have consciously tried to will my attitude to change.  But truly, I have to believe that the relief from utter fear came from God.  Reading Bible verses, contemplating, and writing in a journal helped a lot.  Attending Bible studies and participating in discussions via zoom calls gave me strength.  Watching livestreaming church was uplifting, but difficult to stay engaged entirely.  Overall, I wouldn’t say it was a direct trajectory or a complete relief from fear, but rather a roller coaster ride throughout 2020 and still the ride continues… 

Part of my well-being practice is always to journal. To take a true, accurate look back at my journey through 2020, I have turned to the journal I wrote in every day starting on day 1 of the remote schooling: March 16, 2020.  I happened to need to start a new journal that day and so it coincided. The journal started out as a quasi-day planner effort to structure the wide open days for my kids.  The remote learning schedule quickly deteriorated and required resuscitation.  Frequently.  By Day 4, March 19, 2020, it was an overall, “horrible day from beginning to end of school.”  A long recitation of the day’s failings concluded with a list of plans for tomorrow.  Tomorrow I will do this, tomorrow I will do that, finally ending with, “need structure for the day – 30-45 min per subject.” Now I see my efforts to some degree were futile; the need for true age appropriate school structure will only be regained with full day in person instruction at school.

However, what glimmers during those first days are the signs of learning and growth that were taking place that I can see now.  For example, it is evident in the journal we all needed (and still need) outside time for exercise, walking, or literally a change of scenery.  Day 5 I wrote: “Recess @ 10am, noon, after school @ 3:15pm.” By Day 7, I started running in the morning with a friend. What was noticeable to me and my kids was that if I ran before starting managing the remote learning it made a difference in decreasing my stress level. I could attribute the exercise to my slightly increased patience level, but that didn’t always last the whole day or sometimes even until lunch.  On Day 10, March 25, 2020, I ended the detailing of the day with “make a themed schedule for spring break next week.”  That sounds silly now, but I remember thinking back then that my main purpose during this panicked time was to provide my children and husband with a haven of security and as much love as I could. 

This is only a reflection on the first ten days or so of the shelter-in-place time period.  The fears that COVID-19 caused and continue to cause are still alive.  The flashbacks probably will continue.  The need to heal from what a traumatic year it has been is evident.  What can help I see now is to seek relief from the fear.  I found it through prayer, journaling, and exercise, but it can come in many ways.  Hopefully the feeling of relief will continue to grow for everyone, across the country, and around the world. 

© 2021 Megan Davia Mikhail