A couple of months ago I did what any chaos-loving, dystopian pandemic immersed, black, single, mother of two would do and started graduate school. I celebrated my acceptance to Maryland Institute College of Art and my accelerated one year focus on solving complex human problems creatively with human-centered methods in my major of social design. With reassurance from memes on the internet that some moments of happiness in the midst of all this chaos do not make me a monster I celebrated this personal milestone.
Many cities including Baltimore where my daughters, mother, and I live nixed in-person learning due to worries surrounding the spread of the novel coronavirus. School started in early August for both my kids and myself and let me tell you…no one prepares you for going through grad school level work with a third and first-grader hogging wi-fi alongside you in an at-home learning coronavirus bubble, they just don’t. In lieu of drinking copious amounts of wine since things have been stressful, I’ve been proactive in making sure I create alone time for myself as a parent by sitting alone in my car and blasting nostalgic songs or tag-teaming with my mother who graciously helps me tend to both my daughters’ learning needs. Having the matriarch of my family live with us is a godsend.
This year has been jam-packed with chaos and as someone who had general anxiety and panic pre-pandemic, I’ve thrived because of what my new therapist Nia is calling lockdown relief. Lockdown relief as she describes is when the outbreak of the virus happened my brain accepted that the bad thing I’ve always worried about has happened, which has reduced my constant anticipation of worst-case scenarios. Just as we near the 9th month of quarantine that I’ve admittedly slipped in and out of for a sneaky bad date or distanced drag brunch I realized not all of my worst-case scenarios have been solved.
There is still the matter of this upcoming holiday season at hand. We have family in different states, including New York, Connecticut, California, Jersey, Georgia, and even COVID-19’s best friend and hotspot Florida. Some of those folks my daughter, mother and I see every year and others a little bit more infrequently. Every state has had its own phases of re-opening and a difference in opinion on whether or not we should or shouldn’t see each other was the topic of conversation already over the summer. As for me and mine, we stayed our butts in the state over the last few months.
I loved my family as any black millennial does in a pandemic over the spring and summer, mostly through zoom or social media. When my kinfolks get together in person it’s a toss-up of being fun-loving, eating (which I’ve done enough of during the pandemic), arguing, grief, and warm fuzzies. Some of my looming questions are will a family visit disturb my peace? Will it fortify newfound (and needed) energy as we forge through the holiday season and into a new year with an old year’s problems and crisis. This year has been colorful to say the very least and I’ve conjured up a few tips to create a clearer picture to help you appraise whether or not seeing family is worth the risk of contracting a possibly deadly virus in order to get your favorite aunties bread pudding and a pair of pleather boots from your uncle who has been saying your name wrong since birth. Bread pudding might be yummy, but my peace might be yummier.
Generate Good Alternatives
A very valid reality for painting this picture is that you may already see it clearly and have appraised the value of the time that would be spent in an in-person visit with family and have concluded that it’s not worth the cost of possibly contracting the virus or at the very least just being annoyed by a weekend back home. That’s ok. Even spending time alone this holiday season is ok! For the more decided folks who are choosing not to engage with the emotional turf of a fall family gathering, you can generate alternatives either as an individual or with co-collaborators like a roommate, boyfriend, your kids, or your family themselves to help facilitate this process.
Poll Everywhere is a great tool if you’re working remotely with your collaborators, especially if you want to keep the Zoom, Google Meets, or phone calls for planning a bit more fun and engaging. Whatever alternatives you decide on whether it’s getting Grandma to make the turkey on Tik-Tok in the hopes of going viral or downloading beach zoom backgrounds to take that family vacation on a budget at least it’ll be fun.
Sticky-Note it out
In the world of social design, we love a dern sticky note. It’s not only commonplace for social designers to use sticky notes but nearly a religion. I’ll baptize you with instructions inspired by a global design and innovation company named IDEO and their design kit for human-centered design, this is one of my favorite planning tools professionally, but it merges well into my personal life too.
You might want to get a clean and clear place to stick your copious amounts of thoughts on the matter at hand. A refrigerator, flat cabinet, dresser top, or even just a plain old wall. If it’s just you, once you’ve cleared a space for the thoughts, sit down and write out the pros, cons, risks, rewards, cost, and benefits of going to see your family for the holidays. You are the lead designer on the fate of a holiday visit but If it’s not just you that you’re making this decision for then feel free to invite co-collaborators to write down worries, fears, and opinions about your favorite family members and whether or not they’ll be conducive for you being able to protect the peace who you, like me may have created alongside the help of a therapist.
You’ll want to point out common themes for yourself or others that you have involved in the sticky notion’, so use different colored sticky-notes to identify each person’s point of view. There are also free and user-friendly online apps for sticky notes like note.ly.
Broadway might be shut down for the pandemic but you’ll serve as the director for this stage play featuring personas framed after your family. Set aside some time either in your head, on a whiteboard, on those aforementioned sticky notes, or out loud in your group of co-collaborators for an impromptu in-home curtain call. Personas help us as designers when we need a person to connect the outcomes with. Using a fake name but similar age, gender, marital status, hobbies, and known history of their relationship to you can just about come up with near-exact responses to a situation like you coming to visit for the holidays mid-pandemic.
Think of phrases or quotes they may use, judgments they may make, and how you might react to them. Is it positive or negative? How does it make you feel to think about navigating the possible stressors of a family visit in conjunction with the year 2020 and its existing peril? Maybe it makes you feel good to think about the familiarity your family or the smell of home cooked food creates at a possibly tough time like this. Sit with what comes up emotionally for you and/or your co-collaborators. Include fun icons or drawings of each persona to make it fun.