We've been told to shelter in place. At home. With our families. No physical contact with outside family members and friends.
What does this mean for our sense of community?
My friend Leah Saieg is a life-coach-yoga-instructor-awesome-mama of 2.9 (due on May 8th with her third). I had planned for weeks to interview her on the topic of community as she is something of an expert. She and her husband have hosted a weekly potluck in their home for over a decade and have committed to community as a core value in their lives. The shelter-in-place order has only made this a more poignant conversation, and her thoughtful responses will surprise and inspire you.
Holly Freeman Photography: What are the ways you are actively creating and maintaining community?
Leah: Community and connection are a core value for my husband and I, and in the past that’s meant a Tuesday dinner and a monthly brunch and caring for the people who were part of those groups. Now, during the pandemic we’ve had to brainstorm ways to live that out without physical contact.
The truth is, our community has shifted and is no longer defined by the people who attended those events. Now, I’m concerned with the woman who cared for my kids a few hours a week, with the neighbors next door, with people who are impacted by the stay-at-home order and don’t have the resources they need to cope. My question has become, how can I help them with the tools I have? So I have made bread for neighbors. I’ve mailed tea bags with hand written notes: “Hope this warms your heart.” I want to remind them we’re here for them in a different way.
I’ve also had to be clear about what I can and can’t do. There’s this perception that everyone has more time on their hands right now, but that is not true for me with two young kids. Everyone wants more communication through technology, but my kids end up frazzled and freaking out in the background. I actually have less time to connect virtually because now I don’t have the child care I had. I could dole out more to those wanting to connect, but not at the quality that honors their need. That leaves me more stressed and disconnected in the end. So I can't do a half-hour zoom meeting, but I can use 2-3 minutes to put something in the mail.
Holly: How do you address that boundary?
Leah: I try to be direct about what I can do but the hardest and most important part is the conversation with myself after being direct with them. I have to remind myself that it’s okay to disappoint them. I actually can’t do more without compromising the needs of my own family, and their stability is my priority right now.
Holly: What are some practices you pursue to keep a positive attitude and that guide you as an intentional mother?
Leah: During this pandemic situation, at first, I was letting all the news pass in and through me. Then a week or two in, I realized I was not being thoughtful about what I was letting in, and it was increasing my anxiety. I was less tolerant and patient with the kids. I felt rocked and like everything was going to change. Then I got in the driver’s seat in regards to the media I was consuming because I was gathering information that I didn’t need about decision I didn’t need to make. I think it’s natural to want certainty and control in a time when lots of things we have relied on aren’t there, like fully stocked shelves at the grocery store. We have this low level hum of anxiety, but I can control how I tend to that.
So first, I am consuming less information and only at certain times. I know, for example, that right before nap routine is not a good time, and now there are only two places I go online because they provide raw data that I can interpret on my own: the Johns Hopkins site and the Harvard Medical site. They go through the rumors out there and provide actual data to help us make decisions, because even if I’m careful about information I’m consuming, others are texting or calling, and I need solid information to understand and discern truth amidst all the noise.
Second, I don’t have the time early in the mornings for prayer and meditation that I did when I had childcare and before being pregnant so I ask myself more often: What can I do when I have one minute instead of forty? I can attend to my breath, acknowledge stress when I feel it, be flexible and switch things up—maybe the kids are being crazy and need a bath in the middle of the day. I’m working on giving permission for things to look different.
Holly: Shifting the conversation a bit, your home is a warm and inviting space that really speaks to all who enter about your values. Can you talk about what has influenced your sense of aesthetics?
Leah: I focus on what the space is rather than what what the space aspires to be. For example, we have folding chairs out and ready for people to come over. I struggle with the idea that folding chairs are not nice enough, but we need them. We have to be real about what is and not get caught up in what a home could or should be.
Also, we’ve read a lot of books about minimalism and we strive to decorate with things that are meaningful and not just decorative, like little trinkets from where we’ve traveled or that others have brought back to us. We’ve also learned to rotate things, not everything has to be out at once – either decorations or the kids' toys. Similar to when we look in our closets for what to wear, kids can be overwhelmed by too many choices, so we have cubbies with one puzzle, one set of blocks, etc. rather than a full toy box that could be overwhelming to a kid.
In the kitchen, it’s about what we use daily, how and what works together. I want the space to be cleared but also functional. For example, we bake bread a lot, so we leave out the cutting board.
I’m always tempted to buy something that would gussy up a space, but usually in the end, I don’t actually like it. It’s better to wait for something I really enjoy rather than buy the thing that makes the space look more polished.
Holly: I love that you also decorate so much with pictures. What do you feel are the value of photographs?
Leah: We love so many people who don’t live near us and we want to share that love with our kids. We keep Christmas cards up for a really long time, and when we take them down, we cut out the picture and put it on card stock with their names and make a little picture book so the kids can look at them throughout the year. The stories that the pictures inspire bring those people to life for our kids, and then they know them and remember them when we do finally get to see them.
Holly: Any final words of wisdom?
Leah: We have to give ourselves permission to express community in our own unique way and let that be sufficient. So often for women, there are external definitions that can be imposed on us. We need to be clear with ourselves about our own values and take action from there, not trying for something glossy and pretty that is not representative of us because that only leaves us empty and constantly hustling for something outside our reach.
Leah is a Associate Certified Coach from Arvada, CO. You can learn more about here on her website and follow her on Instagram @ leahmillersaieg