Today, 5 September, is Father’s Day in Australia. Of course the significance of fatherhood will be different for every family, but the spirit of the celebration is connection and gratitude. In general fathers, like all parents and primary caregivers, mostly pay it forward, passing on what they received when they were young. What does family mean at the moment?
None of us will emerge unscathed from this pandemic. In March 2020, the viral destruction of this microscopic organism was unthinkable. Pandora’s pandemic box split and belched its effects into every area of our lives. The myth describes how, panicked and despairing, Pandora shuts the lid. After all the horrors escaped a single item remained – hope.
Pandora came to mind during zoom conversations with my adult children. Our talk has sobered as the severity of the pandemic has emerged. What they with their partners are hanging onto, through all the carnage and uncertainty, is that it will be over. That on the other side of this, there will once again be rock climbing, rock-and-roll dancing, BBQs and celebrations.
Pre-pandemic, I figured I was a successful early adopter. But right now, when things change almost daily, I’m finding it hard. All around us, people are juggling fifteen new ways to do business as usual - when NOTHING is as usual? Especially the millions of families working from home trying to educate their kids. The scale of children’s mental anguish being reported is disturbing. How do we frame this pandemic experience for them?
I am in a perpetual positive camp and spiralling into despair is not an option for me. So I searched for something to build on and my compass rested on AQ. Mattson Newell developed the adaptability quotient (AQ). Like intelligence and emotion quotients, AQ is a faculty to negotiate the world. AQ adopts a positive mindset to change. Newell quotes the late CEO of Intel, Andy Grove, who contended that: "Every company (read family) faces a critical point when it must change dramatically to rise to the next level of performance. If it fails to see and seize that moment, it will start to decline. The key is courage.”
Having AQ means finding something constructive in the midst of change. None of us can change everything but perhaps we can focus on something meaningful we are in control of. Everyone’s specific circumstances are unique. But we might implement new activities and rituals which add to, not reduce, who our children are as resilient learners. The four steps of AQ are: see it, own it, plan a way to solve it and do it.
Educators in the world-renowned preschools and infant-toddler centres in the Italian city of Reggio Emilia, talk about their approach as reflecting a nostalgia for the future. It is a complex idea but what I take from it is that we have a responsibility in the present, to create the experience we will look back on years from now.
Our family is planning our annual spring dinner. In the past it was roast lamb. Now we have a vegan and another who hates lamb! The ritual is wearing a jasmine crown. About three years ago I didn’t plait the jasmine into crowns because I thought they’d well outgrown that, but there was an outcry that I’d changed the tradition. This year, we’ll do it on zoom and even the brawny tattooed wear jasmine! The ritual binds us despite divisive debates the pandemic has surfaced among us. We are unified regardless of the situation.
In June Dr. Kerry Spackman, NZ award-winning neuroscientist and Formula One coach was interviewed on Open Minded by the legendary All Black player and cofounder of Mentemia, Sir John Kirwan. Talking about keeping positive, Spackman describes how he wakes each day and first considers what he is grateful for, and second what thing, no matter how small, he can do for others.
In our neighbourhood, a lockdown family looked outward tying hundreds of bright fabric ribbons on their fenceposts. A sight that is instantly uplifting to passers-by.
Families in all their wonderful diversity might tap their unique experience and cultural capital to nurture positivity for children. Special memories will counteract some of what escaped from the box. What my own children perceive is that not all is lost in the emergency. The most important thing is to focus on what makes us stronger. We can choose negativity and general despair, or fly on the wings of hope, even if she struggles under our weight at this difficult time.
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”