Lessons from my grandson

Baby hands holding hair extension

One of the realities of living in a social media age is that in this time of COVID-19, even though our social interactions are limited in the physical sphere, it’s easy to see when people are struggling. Some put their anxieties on display by literally posting about them, others ask to be seen by sharing an endless stream of selfies, while still others evidence their worry and fear through political rants or argumentative comments. And there’s much about which to be anxious: lost loved ones, lost jobs and livelihoods, the sense of lost time and experiences, and of times that will never be regained.

It was this sense of the fleetingness of time that prompted my husband and me to pack our winter coats, boots, and mitts, late last month, load the car with a month’s worth of essentials, and drive the two-thousand kilometres from our home—through Ontario’s blazing fall colours north of Lake Superior, and on to Winnipeg. After months of yearning, the time had come to jump through whatever pandemic hoops we needed to jump through in order to get to know our now eight-month-old grandson.

The “hoops” included three days of driving, two nights in hotels, and two weeks isolating in an Airbnb. But we were strongly motivated; not only did we long to spend time with our first grandchild, to know and be known by him, but we also hoped to demonstrate some practical support for his parents. They’d resolutely accepted the hand this pandemic had dealt them, but we knew it couldn’t have been easy caring for a newborn with no family or friends to provide even a moment of respite in all those months.

A gesture misunderstood

The day we arrived, Davy held up his arms to me in what I interpreted as an invitation. My heart leaped with joy. My daughter’s daily FaceTime calls had clearly allowed him to see me as someone familiar. But as soon as I took hold of him, he burst into tears, shocked I suppose at the realization that my once disembodied face and voice had the power to separate him from his mother.

Fortunately, he warmed up to us quickly and we’ve had a wonderful visit. My husband has relished pitching in and helping out around the house by doing minor repairs in between bouncing Davy on his knee. I’ve loved joining my daughter in the kitchen, taking long strolls, spoiling them all just a little bit, and playing and cuddling with my grandson. I’ve been thrilled to sense his growing trust in me, to perceive him relaxing into my arms as I read to him, or to feel the weight of him grow heavier as I sing and rock or slowly dance him to sleep. These experiences have been such gifts.

Other gifts

But there have been other gifts too—gifts of watching Davy with his parents. He is closely bonded, and deeply secure. When upset, he likes to soothe himself by stroking his mother’s long brown hair the way some children stroke a blanket or stuffed toy. If he goes for too many hours without clutching her tresses, I can see him, like an addict, grow antsy for his next fix.

On a recent shopping excursion, as I pushed his stroller he started to fuss. It was getting close to nap time, and I became aware of a new sense of urgency in my daughter as she recognized it was time to head home. We were only a short drive away, but we both began to wonder if we would make it before he completely erupted.

When circumstances bind and blind us

You see, Davy dislikes his infant car seat—even when he is rested and his tummy is full. He is an active baby and he hates being immobilized. In the enforced rear-facing position he cannot see his mother. He doesn’t understand that she secures him there to keep him safe. And he cannot know when he is buckled in how long the drive will last—or that he will soon be home with her again, released from his confines, and taken up into her arms.

So it was in a moment of motherly inspiration—or desperation—that on our way out of the mall, my daughter dashed into a dollar store and purchased a cheap hair extension. Climbing into the back of the car with him for the trip home, I unwrapped and offered the ridiculous thing.

The moment he gripped it, his crying stopped. It was instantaneous. Stroking and pulling at the hair he murmured contentedly, the whole way home.

He was unhappy. He was in a situation beyond his control. He couldn’t see or touch his mother, and he needed to. But that hairpiece served as a sensory reminder of the comfort she brings. And it was enough.

Amused and amazed as I watched him clutch it and listened to his purring, a long-forgotten song lyric came to mind:

When you can’t trace His hand, trust His heart.

It had been years since I’d thought of the song, maybe even decades, so it seemed inexplicable that it should come to me then. When I got home I looked it up.

A pandemic hymn?

Here are the complete lyrics of the song called, “Trust His Heart”:

All things work for our good
Though sometimes we don’t see 
How they could
Struggles that break our hearts in two
Sometimes blind us to the truth: Our Father knows what’s best for us
His ways are not our own
So when your pathway grows dim
And you just don’t see Him,
Remember you’re never alone

God is too wise to be mistaken
God is too good to be unkind
So when you don’t understand
When don’t see His plan
When you can’t trace His hand
Trust His Heart

He sees the master plan
And He holds our future in His hand,
So don’t live as those who have no hope,
All our hope is found in Him. We see the present clearly
But He sees the first and the last
And like a tapestry, He’s weaving you and me,
To someday be just like Him

God is too wise to be mistaken
God is too good to be unkind

I’ve been singing it to myself ever since.

Singer-songwriter Babbie Mason popularized the words of the refrain, which are thought to have originated in this sermon, “A Happy Christian,” by nineteenth-century preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

It is, I think, a perfect song for this time of the pandemic. If you are struggling right now because life is too hard, because you are scared or grieving, or anxious because there is so much going on in our world over which you have no control, I invite you to have a listen. And maybe also to remember my grandson.

*

“We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28 (RSV)

5 work-at-home strategies to ensure work gets done

bookshelves

For more than two decades, my work has involved working from home. For many years, that meant a 30-second stroll to my home office five days each week. But more recently, my weeks have been a mix of both “at home” days and longer commutes into an office in the city.

Today, my home office is a space I love—with bookshelves crammed full of my favourite books (that’s them above), artwork that inspires, a much-loved antique desk, a bright window to let in the sunlight, and a door to keep out the noise. But for years I worked in corners of our basement, corners of the family room, or on corners of the kitchen table. I’ve shared desks with my kids’ homework and craft projects, and occasional piles of laundry. I’ve worked in chaos and in solitude.

Throughout this time, I’ve learned some things about maximizing productivity and minimizing distractions. Given that so many people right now are experiencing for the first time what it’s like to work from home, I thought I’d share some of my favourite strategies for ensuring the work actually gets accomplished. Please note: my husband is now retired and we are empty nesters. So I share these strategies in the spirit of imparting what took me years to learn and hone. People living with little ones, or with teens or elders will, of course, need to build in more flexibility.

  1. Structure and routine are my best friends. As soon as I realized late last week that as a result of the pandemic I would be working from home, full time again, and for the foreseeable future, I put myself on a schedule. Here, roughly, is what that schedule has looked like this week:
  • 5:00 am – 7:00 am – I know, it’s crazy early. But I’m an early-to-bed, early-to-rise kind of person. So as soon as I’m awake, I’m up. Make coffee, Bible-and-devotional reading, journaling, and prayer. Then I do an email check, read the day’s news feeds, and spend a few minutes on household budgeting, bill paying, and online banking. With the added stress of the last week or so, I’ve been waking earlier than normal – sometimes as early as 4:00 am. I’m sure this will settle down, but in the meantime, I’m just enjoying some additional quiet time at the beginning of my day.
  • 7:00 – 8:00 am – Cajole my (now retired) husband (who is NOT an early-to-bed, early-to-riser) out of bed, throw on some clothes, and head out for a walk together. Then home for breakfast and a quick game or two of Monopoly Deal.
  • 8:00 am – 12 noon – Work on computer.
  • 12 noon – 1:00 pm – Lunch. Another game or two of Monopoly Deal.
  • 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm – Work on computer.
  • 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm – Another walk. Dinner prep. Dinner. More Monopoly Deal. (We’ve started a “Social Isolation Tournament” during these days of social distancing, in which we are tallying our games. I’m ahead.)
  • 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm – Check in with loved ones. Read. Watch TV. Listen to an audio book or podcast.
  • 9:00 pm – 9:30 pm – Bed.

2.  Get dressed for work. I’ve never been one of those people who could accomplish much in my jammies. There’s something about putting on actual clothes that seems to help send a signal to my brain that I’m ready to get down to business. The other day my husband asked me why I was bothering with earrings when I was just working from home. I told him they helped me feel ready to work. (And besides, I had a few zoom meetings scheduled.)

3.  Taking regular breaks is important. Very important. I try to force myself to push away from the computer for 10 minutes out of every hour. I think of it as my “water cooler” time. I’ll use that time to read an article, throw in (or fold) a load of laundry, chop vegetables for the next meal or to pen a note to a friend. Getting up from my computer is not only good for my body but good for my mind.

4.  Self-imposed boundaries can make the difference between a good day and a bad one. I’m a news junkie, and global pandemics are a great excuse for justifying “just a quick check of the news headlines.” And the 24-7 news cycle offers an enormous temptation, because there’s ALWAYS something new to read. But one too many such checks throughout the day and it’s easy to get to the end of the day, look at my “to do” list, and realize that very little got done. Limiting myself to such headline checks at the beginning, middle, and end of the day makes for greater productivity.

5.  At the end of the work day, push away. I admit this one can be challenging – particularly in the midst of a major global news event. To be completely candid, this week I’ve been struggling with it a bit. (I suspect that’s in part why I’m waking up at 4 am.) I know from experience that I’ll have both a better sleep at night, and a better day the next day if I call it quits at a reasonable hour, allowing my brain some downtime.

How about you? If you’re new to working at home, how are you coping? If you’re an old hand at social isolation because you’ve long worked from a home office, what works best for you?

 

Now’s the time to build a better world

Patricia Paddey with husband Doug and their grandson Davy

“A child is born into the womb of the time, which indeed enclosed and fed him before he was born.”

– George MacDonald

I’ve been thinking a lot about these words and their wisdom, which someone shared with me a couple of months ago. I became a grandmother six weeks ago. And so, even as I’ve been reflecting on the time into which my grandson has been born, (that’s him with my husband and me in the photo) I’ve found myself thinking about the future and what it will look like for him.

“Unprecedented.” That’s another word that’s been rumbling around in my brain, because, of course, there’s been nothing quite like this global pandemic to confront this generation – and by that I mean any generation now living – before.

It’s going to change our world. Heaven knows it already is. For those of us who find change unsettling – and isn’t that most of us, if we’re being honest? – it can feel like the ground is shifting beneath our feet.

As a person of faith, I find comfort in believing that this pandemic did not take God by surprise. He is not the author of sickness, death, and sadness, and He has promised to be with those who cling to Him in the midst of such things. That does not mean that we will be spared suffering. But it does mean that we may experience it with a kind of strength and courage and peace that’s simply not accessible to those who choose not to avail themselves of God’s good gifts. It heartens me to know that come what may, I am not alone because He is with me.

In a column titled “Pandemics kill compassion too,” New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote recently of the impact that pandemics have on the world. “Some disasters, like hurricanes and earthquakes, can bring people together,” Brooks said, “but if history is any judge, pandemics generally drive them apart.”

Already, we’ve seen evidence of this: with hoarders rushing to stockpile items – not in the hope of having an abundance to share – but to deliberately deprive others of basic necessities in order to profit from the resale of such things.

What kind of world will we be left with when this is all over? What kind of world are we building yes, building, in the midst of this terrible event – to leave to our grandchildren tomorrow? What behaviours will they see us model for them to follow when the next disaster strikes? We know things will be different. But how they are different – to some extent, that choice is up to us.

When I feel anxiety rise, I find it helpful to take my mind off my own cares and worries for those I love, to think about others. That’s why, on Sunday afternoon, I printed off a stack of letters intending to introduce me and my husband. We put on our coats and stepped out into the sunshine and knocked on doors. Maintaining the recommended safe social distance, we hand delivered the letters to houses up and then down both sides of our street. I included our cropped image from the photo above – such a happy recent moment – and our contact information. I wrote, “if you find yourself in need in some way and think that a friendly neighbour may be able to help, please feel free to reach out to us.”

“No one should feel like they are alone in the midst of a global pandemic,” I concluded the letter. “It goes without saying that human beings need one other. Maybe we need one another now more than ever. If we can be neighbourly by helping out, please don’t hesitate to give us a call.”

Our neighbours have been responding in kind – sharing their names and contact information. It’s a small thing that we – and they – have done. But maybe it will lead to bigger things. And maybe when this is all over, we will point to such things and recognize that they helped to make a difference, for our grandchildren, and for our world.