7 Lessons I've Learned From The Pandemic

It's been a tough year, but some good things have come out of it.

snowshoeing
Snowshoeing with my family – the theme of the year has certainly been "get outside".

K Martinko

Everywhere I look, people are talking about the one-year anniversary of the coronavirus pandemic and grappling with what this has meant for their personal lives. It's unavoidable; as this late-winter/early-spring season returns, so do all the powerful emotions associated with it a year ago. I find myself thinking back as well, reflecting on the lessons I've learned.

I live in a small, rural Ontario town that was largely unaffected by the pandemic, so my experience was very different from someone who lives in a densely-populated urban area. My kids could still go outside to play every day and, as rules slowly lifted, there were trails, parks, and beaches we could explore. Our sense of isolation was nowhere near as intense as my family and friends in cities, both North American and European.

Nonetheless, it was a strange, weird time. Everything we did and took for granted disappeared overnight. Celebrations and traditions were canceled. Human interactions outside of the immediate family shrank. External entertainment dried up. We were forced to turn our focus inward and toward each other. As a result, I learned some lessons that I'm sure will stay with me for life.

1. Stocking Up Is Always a Good Idea

For those of us fortunate enough never to have seen empty grocery store shelves, it was a haunting sight to see them last March. It made me realize the importance of being prepared for unexpected emergencies and stocking the pantry with a solid supply of shelf-stable foods. While I'm far from being a prepper, I now don't hesitate to buy large quantities of dried beans, canned goods, pasta, and more when it's on sale. I know it'll get eaten eventually. 

2. Time Spent With Family Is Not Wasted

This year has taught me to enjoy my kids in a way that I didn't before. Undistracted by friends and appointments and extracurriculars, we spent more focused time together than we have since they were babies. We read entire novel series, learned new board games, made papier-mâché sculptures, dusted off old toys, and told stories. It made me realize what fun little people they are, once the stress and blur of ordinary life is stripped away.

3. Slowing Down Has Many Benefits

It's hard to say no to things, especially if they're fun or useful, but when your calendar is forcibly emptied all of a sudden, it makes you realize what you do and do not enjoy doing. Slowing down (or de-scheduling, as I like to think of it) is a chance to realign your priorities and figure out where best to allocate your time and mental resources as the world returns to normal. It's a chance to relearn important skills like sleeping enough hours in a night and eating healthy homemade food. 

4. Yes, You Can Teach Your Own Kids

I never dreamed I'd become the homeschooling parent that my mother once was, but when my children's school went online last March and then again in January, I opted out. I didn't want them spending all those hours in front of a screen, so I found myself homeschooling them the old-fashioned way, with books and notebooks and pencils. I didn't think I could do it, but I did – and they reaped the benefits of an offline education.

5. When In Doubt, Send Them Out

This refers to children, who can only take so many hours indoors before they start bouncing off the walls with pent-up energy. That's when you should consider sending them outside to play if you can. I do this multiple times a day and it works wonders both for them and for my mental state. Regular readers will know my stance on this, but I do believe that outdoor play solves many of life's problems. It tires kids out, helps them to eat and sleep better, energizes while soothing them, gives time and space for creative exploration and risky play, and allows parents a much-needed (albeit brief) respite.

6. Meaningful Travel Doesn't Require Going Far

Not being able to wander far has forced many people to get to know their own communities and regions. It has opened our eyes to the beauty and opportunities just beyond our front doors – something that was often overshadowed by the glamor of cheap flights and package deals. Instead of getting on a plane this past year, I've done more hiking, canoe-tripping, camping, and visits to my parents' off-grid cabin in the bush than ever before. While I do miss visiting other countries, I've developed a greater appreciation for what my home province of Ontario has to offer.

7. The Outdoors Is Wonderful for Entertaining

If there's one thing I've learned this year, it's that no weather is bad weather when it comes to getting together with small groups of friends! Canadians are pretty tolerant of cold weather, but the pandemic has taken that to new levels, with outdoor drinks, dining, and festivities being held despite frigid temperatures. Even New Year's Eve was celebrated outside with the maximum allowance of ten people, complete with costumes, champagne, and a roaring campfire to keep us (somewhat) warm.

Life is starting to feel more normal here, but the lessons learned aren't going away anytime soon.