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Languishing our way through 2021, coping skills for kids, and other news of the week

Mural displays the words It's a Beautiful Day painted in white in a rounded all-caps font against a black background. The artist has painted a multi-layered shadow for each of the letters in the words out of the colors of the rainbow. The effect is to make the words look like they've been launched into space, trailing rainbow flames. (Sorry this is a terrible description.)

Mural: It’s a Beautiful Day (c) 2021 Jorge “J. Duh” Camacho. On display at 414 California Avenue as part of the Palo Alto Public Art Project. (Photo: Shala Howell)

All week I kept stumbling across useful articles and podcasts about this almost-there-but-not-quite-yet moment in the pandemic. Here are three of my favorites on muddling through this moment in the pandemic; helping middle schoolers establish and evolve critical coping skills to manage their stress, anger, and anxiety; and pandemic changes parents actually want to keep.

Article: “There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling. It’s Called Languishing.” (New York Times, 19 April 2021)

I don’t know about you, but even though I knew there was nothing really magical about the calendar ticking over to a new year, I still hoped that 2021 would be demonstrably better than 2020. 

In some ways it is. Michael and I have both been partially vaccinated. A vaccine for our daughter is pending. Most folks seem to expect vaccines for kids ages 12-16 to be available by the time my daughter returns to school in the fall. It’s possible to picture a time when all three of us have built the antibodies we need to resume a life that looks more like one we’d choose. 

Our county has lifted many of its more intense pandemic restrictions, so when my neighbor found out that our postman was retiring this week after 40 years, we were able to hold an impromptu retirement party for him at the end of the block. It was lovely to be able to spend some time chatting with everyone, even if our new pandemic-informed social niceties are a little odd. Instead of comparing travel plans and complimenting haircuts, we compared vaccine statuses and complimented each other on our laugh lines and eyebrows. (¯\_(ツ)_/¯ masks, what can you do?)

Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.…”

Adam Grant, “There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling. It’s Called Languishing” New York Times, 19 April 2021.

In other ways, 2021 has proven to be more of the same.

People I love are still going through terrible things, and my options for reaching out to them are still limited by geography.

That’s not entirely a pandemic problem, although we are waiting to be fully vaccinated before resuming travel.  In many cases it’s the predictable consequence of having moved five times since 1999. Even if we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic, I wouldn’t be able to visit everyone as often as I’d like. 

Work-wise we are all a little tired of being cooped up in the same house. And by we, I mean me. Michael and The 14-Year-Old are still soldiering on. I’m the one having trouble focusing. I’m the one having trouble actually doing the projects I list off in those optimistic moments when I’m drinking my morning coffee and my cat is purring away contentedly on my lap. 

It wasn’t burnout — we still had energy. It wasn’t depression — we didn’t feel hopeless. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless. It turns out there’s a name for that: languishing.

Adam Grant, “There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling. It’s Called Languishing” New York Times, 19 April 2021.

I’m not depressed, exactly. Bored isn’t quite right, either. And restless doesn’t capture the scraping my nails across a chalkboard feeling of forcing myself to do something useful when I’m sitting in my office and my cat has moved on to supervising Michael’s work day.

Languishing, though. Languishing has possibilities.

To cope with languishing, Grant want me to celebrate my wins, even the small ones. He doesn’t seem terribly picky about what those wins are. To count, it needs to be something I work at every day, that stretches my skills, and that I find interesting and engaging.

In line with that, some personal news:

After playing the New York Times Spelling Bee game faithfully for more days than I’m willing to admit, on April 12, I achieved the rank of Genius. Go me!

Read the article:

Podcast: “How to Talk to Kids About Coping Skills” (How to Talk to Kids About Anything Podcast, 19 April 2021)

Everybody needs coping skills to get through the various things life throws at us, but we aren’t born with an innate understanding of them.

In this podcast, Dr. Robyn Silverman interviews Janine Halloran, a licensed mental health counselor who has been working with kids and their families for more than 20 years about what parents can do to help their kids develop a healthy set of coping skills. 

“Different kids gravitate towards different ways of coping. You have your kids who love to draw. You have your readers. But you also have your movers and shakers—the ones that needed to have their bodies moving to get that energy out. It’s good to try different kinds of coping styles but kids tend to gravitate towards one or the other just based on their personality. Just like they have different learning styles, they have different coping styles.”

Snippet of the conversation between Dr. Silverman and Janine Halloran on the podcast: “How to Talk to Kids About Coping Skills” (19 April 2021 episode of How To Talk to Kids About Anything with Dr. Robyn Silverman)

The show is packed with anecdotes about the sometimes unusual but often surprisingly effective techniques Halloran’s clients use to deal with their anxiety, stress, and anger in the moment, as well as scripts parents can use to help their kids boost their coping skills over time.

Listen to the podcast:

Article: “A Better Normal. The pandemic changed everything about parenting. These are the changes parents want to keep” (Washington Post)

A slower pace, family meetings, virtual family dinners, relaxed academic expectations, and the surprising closeness that came as a result of being emotionally honest and available to your kids 24/7… these are just a few of the changes parents told The Washington Post that they want to carry with them into a post-pandemic world. 

For me, it’s Highlight Reel. At dinner, everyone in my family takes a turn telling us three things about their day that we couldn’t have learned from observation alone. For example: “I attended math class today” isn’t good enough because I can tell whether The 14-Year-Old attended class by taking a moment to listen at her door. “In math we’re working on square roots. They really irritate me because the square root sign is hard to type on a computer” is better because it gives us enough information to ask a question.

“Square roots exist to represent numbers that don’t.”

The 14-Year-Old, during Highlight Reel, 21 April 2021

And it’s question time where Highlight Reel really shines. That’s when some of our best pandemic conversations have gotten started.

After The 14-Year-Old’s lament about square roots, Michael asked her why she thought they had to study square roots at all.

The 14-Year-Old: “Square roots exist to represent numbers that don’t.”

I just love that.

Read the article:

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