By Nadine Araksi, Toronto-based Story Coach

At 10:14 PM on Monday night, I found myself sitting at the sewing machine, angrily making a non-medical face mask.

Two weeks ago, I was feeling pretty chill about the back-to-school uncertainty and chaos this year. I was feeling so pleased as punch with myself that I even wrote about how calm I was feeling. How once we’d made the decision to support the kids’ desires to return to school and be with their peers, I figured there was no reason to stress.

(Feel free to have your giggle now…)

As the actual first day approached, my “mom chats” and social media feeds lit up. My teacher and administrator friends were stressing, my parent friends were stressing, even my mother was stressing. Could we cut down class sizes to make things safer? Why wasn’t our provincial government supporting what was deemed to be the safest return to school? Would school even start?

The closer we got to the big day, the more out of control it all started to feel. In the face of this invisible menace, how could we send our wee darlings back to school? But also, how could we not send them? The thought of a calm, quiet house where I could finally start to separate Work Nadine from Home Nadine was so delicious! Surely it was worth the risk! But was it? 

Once I started to doubt my decision my thoughts spun out. I slid back into an old habit: I tried to control the chaos by going into action. So I pulled out the sewing machine the night before school started, at an hour where I should have been doing tuck-ins and prioritizing my own healthy sleep routine, I put on my reading glasses and decided to make MASKS. 

Here’s the funny thing. Like many of you, we have lots of masks here now. Maybe 20 or so. Enough for eye-rolling teens to coordinate with various outfits for weeks. But somehow I felt convinced that making that ONE new mask was going to spare my middle schooler from getting Covid-19. My kids, desperate to get a head-start on bedtime, just looked at me and said, “Mom, you’re doing that thing again. Just leave it and come tuck us in.” Huh!

It’s so easy to slide back into old patterns, (in this case, literally a pattern to make the damn masks, ha!), but fortunately I caught myself (with a nudge from the kids) and was able to laugh at the situation and understood that making masks wasn’t going to change my feelings. I’ve done so much work to notice when I go into reactivity mode, that now I’m so much better at pivoting my thoughts and bringing myself back to centre. Once I caught myself, I asked myself, “What is the next right thing to do to get this back on track?” Having gone so far down the stitching road, I knew I had to finish that one mask but not stay up making 10 more, and then clean up the mess I’d made before putting myself to bed. 

“What if it’s actually going to be OK,” is a question I could have asked myself when trying to grasp for control that didn’t exist. All the Laura Ingalls Wilder theatrics were for nought, I realized as my kid bounded through the door at 4 PM the next day. She was exuberant. The protocols were clear and she was already thriving, chattering about teachers and friends and new ways of doing things.

As a lifelong anxious person, I’ve lived a lifetime waiting for the other shoe to drop. Through coaching, I’ve learned valuable new tools to help me calm my mind and stay the course towards my goals. If you’re struggling with anxiety and what can’t be controlled, reach out. We can help.

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