Everything I Needed To Survive Quarantine I Learned From My Mom
Running through my neighborhood last weekend, weaving up and down blocks to add mileage, the mountains popped up in my sights whenever I turned westward. In Denver, they’re close enough to tempt, a visual reminder of what we’ve been missing during our stay-at-home order. Many of us are missing our outdoor adventures—and we’re also missing time with our loved ones. As I plodded through that run, I realized many of the strengths and qualities I’ve relied on to stay positive these past couple months I learned from my mom—and these are things that can’t be taken away by a stay-at-home order.
So shout out to Mom, the OG voice of resilience and compassion and baker of banana bread before it took over Instagram.
Things won’t always be easy—but you’re tougher than you think.
Growing up, when I was feeling sick, there was nothing like my mom’s cool hand on my forehead. She was always quick to care for my sister and me. But there was always an understanding that I must do my part and be strong—that feeling sorry for yourself doesn’t generally improve things. The same idea went for high school track and cross-country: Mom was always there with the Powerade at the finish line, but she knew it’s only by pushing yourself with something difficult that you know how strong you can be.
If you’re bored, you might be boring.
OK, that might sound kind of harsh, but my mom’s tolerance was low for my sister and my whining about being bored. She would either turn us outside to entertain ourselves or pull out art supplies to force us to be creative. It taught me to entertain myself. Today, as a freelancer who works from home, it’s relatively difficult to find myself bored, for better or worse. But when I actually “clock out,” I follow Mom’s lead—looking for things around me that need improvement, like the kitchen chairs I’ve been meaning to refinish (they once belonged to my grandma, and my mom refinished them once already when I was growing up). Or ways to improve myself, like picking up my neglected guitar.
You can wish in one hand.
This lesson didn’t come from my own mother—but I married into an Irish-American family full of witticisms, and one of the most memorable came from my mother-in-law’s mother, Maxine. When someone whined about wishing for this, or wishing for that, she would say, “Well, you can wish in one hand and s*** in the other, and see which one fillls up faster.” The idea was, if there wasn’t something you could do about a situation—if you weren’t taking action to change it—then dwelling on the “I wish” or “what ifs” isn’t very helpful. Either take ownership of the situation and do something about it, or let it go and enjoy the moment you’re in the best you can. (FYI you don’t actually have to s*** in your hand to learn this one.)
A bit of exercise and sunshine always helps.
I still don’t know how my parents did it, but they would run outdoors when we lived in Houston. I’m spoiled with the mild Colorado climate now, and can only be amazed at how my mom would come home dripping and red-faced from running in the heat and humidity. (I have a feeling her discipline may have had something to do with staying home all day with us clamoring kids.) But when I feel whiney about missing trail running or having to stay within the borders of my neighborhood, I take a lesson from my mom and just do it. Get out and move. Even if it’s brief. It always makes me feel better. Always.
Sometimes a batch of cookies is more than just a batch of cookies.
I swear, my mom had a sixth sense for when I had a rough day at school. Or, maybe I was just more expressive than I remember. Either way, the well-timed special afternoon snack was always balm to the wound. Whether it was chocolate chip cookies or treats from the ice cream truck. (Also, did you know you can make cheese crisps in the microwave?! My mom knew, back in the day.) Sometimes a baked good is a very powerful tool for morale. If my social media feed is any indicator, most of you are already on to this, with your works of sourdough art. But I’d like to take a second to give credit where it’s due: to the original banana bread healer of sad feelings, Mom.
If all else fails, call Mom.
Even if everything is just fine—call her anyway.
Note: Because of the quarantine, I didn't have access to enough bananas for banana bread—but I did have apples. Another Mom lesson? "Make do with what you have." The baked good in the photo is the apple cake from Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break, by Verticulture contributor Anna Brones. Read more about Fika outdoors here—or her story about getting out even in "bad" weather, here.