How to be Cool with Mediocrity in a Pandemic, with Stephanie Wittels Wachs

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In the midst of a quarantine, Stephanie Wittels Wachs (Last Day, Everything Is Horrible and Wonderful) talks about living in the unknown as a parent and being okay with all that it brings. “I accepted a really long time ago that I have no control over anything. I can put my best foot forward. But ultimately, what’s gonna happen is gonna happen.”

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[01:09] This is Stephanie Wittels Wachs, and you are listening to Good Kids, the quarantine edition. I want to talk today about something that I really embrace as a parent, and always have, and that I think right now we all need to embrace and we all need to lean into and that is something called mediocrity.

[01:37] So I love to accept the fact that as a parent, I am mediocre. I am doing the best that I can. That’s become this sort of cliche. But in order to sort of tell you where I land on this, I want to give you some backstory. So when my daughter was 24 hours old, she failed her newborn hearing screening in the hospital. And it threw me into this whirlwind of wait a minute. This is not how I pictured this moment. I was supposed to have this perfect postpartum experience, and I was supposed to be, you know, taking her out in my baby carrier and having people just ooh and ahh over how perfect all of this was and how gorgeous she was. And I mean, she was absolutely gorgeous and still is. That is a totally unbiased opinion. But it was just a lot of stress right at the front-end of being a new mom.


[02:42] And that was compounded when we found out a couple weeks later that she had a permanent hearing loss and she would be needing hearing aids. And it threw us into a whirlwind of speech therapy appointments and audiology appointments and MRIs and this test and that test. And I just remember the beginning of her life being so overwhelmed with fear and anxiety about what all of this meant and if she would be OK, that I really had to start picking my battles. And focusing on what really mattered. Which meant that I was never going to be able to be perfect. I was never going to be able to do the baby book that my mom did. I couldn’t do a craft if my life depended on it. Tonight, I baked cupcakes with my daughter and I texted my mom to ask if I was supposed to spray the cupcake paper before I put the batter in.


[03:51] I mean, this is what we’re dealing with here, guys. But anyway, it just sort of put things into perspective. And it made me go, OK, there are two buckets here. There is the bucket of things that matter. And there is the bucket of things that don’t. And when you’re dealing with some sort of high-stress situation, it puts all of that into perspective. Another thing that happened right after my daughter was born, when she was a month old, is that my little brother went to rehab for the first time. And he was struggling with an opioid dependency. He was in and out of rehab for the first year of her life. And when she was 13 months old, he died of a heroin overdose. 


[04:35] And I have written a lot about that. I have talked a lot about that on my podcast, Last Day. So I’m not going to really dive into it here. But I will say that once again, those buckets of this matter and this doesn’t came in really handy. And I was only able to do what I was able to do, which for a very long time was just to get out of bed. And then, you know, putting one foot in front of the other. And again, this idea of I’m not going to do this perfectly, but I am going to love this child, I’m going to love this being, and that is the thing that matters. And as I have raised my daughter and, you know, done so in the midst of, let’s be honest, like some pretty crippling grief and depression and a fair amount of anxiety, I’ve had to really lean on my partner, you know, to do this thing together. And to lean into the fact that, like, all I can do is my best and sometimes my best sucks. 


[05:52] When we had our second child, he was also born with a permanent disability. He is profoundly deaf in one of his ears, and the other has normal hearing. And again, we were thrust into appointments and all that comes along with having a child with an additional need. And the mediocrity thing: Yay! Here we were again. Now I have two children, and again I am doing the best that I can. This all brings me to the point of this episode today, which is that right now, everyone, we all need to deeply embrace and lean in to the mediocrity. We need to embrace and lean into this is what we can control and this is what we can’t. I accepted a really long time ago that I have no control over anything. I can put my best foot forward. But ultimately what’s gonna happen is gonna happen. And I do admittedly have a pretty intense, the sky is falling disposition. Justifiably so. But I think that my impression of life is that it is really hard. And when things like global pandemics happen, it becomes harder. And all the things that you stress about on a daily basis all of a sudden are compounded tenfold, 100-fold. Now we are all stuck in the house together, 24 hours a day. And, you know, it’s really not a time, I would say, for self care. But it is a really good time to cut yourself some slack, OK? This is not the time to do your best. It’s just not. It is simply the time to do. Whatever that looks like for you.


[07:46] Some of you might be totally following that rainbow chart that’s been going around on the Internet with, you know, the scheduled 15-minute increments of activities. And I think in the beginning, I was going, that’s not going to happen, we’re gonna really lean into the thing that we typically lean into, which is television. You know, we are a TV family. I admit it. This is my confession. We love TV. And my kids love TV. Well, really, my daughter loves TV. My son really could take it or leave it. We don’t really limit how much television she watches. And, you know, we trust her to know when she’s had enough. And we talk about moderation. And someday she wants to watch all day, and it’s the weekend, and I’m fine with that. 


[08:35] We really haven’t had to put super-firm strict boundaries around that. But now that school is closed, and they keep pushing the date back when it’s going to reopen, some of the things that have always worked for us, we are needing to adjust. Because at some point that switch flips, and there is a real difference in her mood, her behavior, her overall disposition. If she goes from watching two, three, four, five hours of TV a day to 12 hours of TV a day. She becomes a zombie. And ultimately, it’s going to be really unpleasant for all of us to live with a zombie, a grouchy zombie at that. And so we are going to have to try to find some balance around here. So we decided together that we were going to make the schedule. And we collaborated on the schedule. And, you know, she really dictated what it was going to be. And I didn’t do the time, the corresponding times, that is just one step too far. Again, we are embracing mediocrity here. We’re going to do this in the way that works best for our family, which is certainly not to schedule things by the hour. But what we agreed on ultimately is that she is going to wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast. She’s gonna do a brain buster, which is this thing that gets your brain going. I don’t know. You find it on the Internet. And then she’s going to have her work time. So we are Montessori people. We are 100 percent on the Montessori Kool-Aid. We love it. So she’s going to have her work time. And my husband and I said tonight, we’re gonna have her and my son use the rugs, because that’s what they’re used to doing. They’re used to getting their rugs and spreading them out and doing their work and then putting it away. All of this stuff is already stuff that their amazing teachers have taught them, certainly not me. 


[10:30] But we’re going to reinforce that at home. And so in their work time, my daughter said she wants to do math and language and science and geography. Then we’re going to have lunch. Then we’re gonna have quiet time or reading. My kid hates to nap. She stopped doing it at 18 months old. Then we’re gonna do art. She said, “mom, can we do art every day?” Of course we can do art every day! Then we’re gonna have computer time. She wants to do ABC Mouse. Fine with me. Then she is going to do her own podcast. She’s really excited about it. It’s called Iris’ Dream Podcast. She’s been talking all about it. We’ve already made Episode 1 about the Earth. Episode 2 will be about rainbows. 


[11:07] Iris: This is Iris’ Dream Show, and I am your host, Iris Wachs. 


And then we’re gonna have some TV time and then dinner and bath and then reading and then bed. OK, here’s the deal with this schedule. I am so impressed that we created this thing that it’s even written down somewhere. I think we will probably end up doing about 20 percent of it. You know, if it means one less hour of TV time a day, that is fine. That is something. And here’s the other thing: everyone needs to just allow yourselves to feel how you feel about this. It is not awesome that we are all stuck inside. It is not awesome that the kids can’t go to school. I personally am a human being who needs some solo time. I need time to be by myself to recharge my batteries.


[12:00] And that is something that we are just not going to get right now. And because of that, because I’m not getting the time that I need, my patience is very thin. And so I’m getting annoyed. I’m getting annoyed with my kids. I’m getting annoyed with hearing “mommy, mommy, mommy” all day. And that’s something that I think we feel really guilty about saying as mothers. That we feel bad, you know, that that word can be grating and that this person following us around all day can be, you know, something that’s annoying. 


[12:29] But that’s just what it is. And I said to my husband tonight after she went to bed, we’re going to have to give each other space to take those breaks, you know, and we are going to have to build that in. And again, we’re going to do the best that we can. And so if you’re a single parent, and that means that you need to take a break to recharge your batteries, do that. Put that iPad in that hot little hand and go lie down for 20 minutes, for 30 minutes. It will be OK. Your kid will be fine. Their brain will still work again. Just lean in. Just lean into that mediocrity. It is so refreshing. 


[14:27] So what is your podcast about? 


[14:30] Iris: Well, my podcast is about the earth and how we can help the earth. And I was just really inspired to be like my mom, and my mom is Stephanie Wittels Wachs. And she also does Lemonada, and she’s helping me make this podcast. So I’m really excited to be here with all of you guys.


[15:00] Today I spent some time Googling Montessori homeschool resources, which is truly something I never imagined in all of my life I would be Googling, but here we are in the middle of a global pandemic. And I was mostly horrified by the amount of times the phrase “DIY” was listed, but there was some useable advice. Mainly you don’t have to laminate things. That was great advice. And you don’t have to be perfect, which as I’ve said, I’m all for. Another piece of useable advice was that we could structure our lessons in terms of units. Ao we can focus on one thing for an entire week or longer, even. So, for example, this week we are going to work on the earth. Maybe that means we watch some National Geographics about the earth, and we draw some pictures of the earth, and we go outside and we feel the earth, and we write the word earth in our journal and we talk on our podcast about why we need to love the earth. 


[16:02] What do you want to tell us about the Earth? 


[16:05] Iris: The earth is a magical place. Please don’t litter, cause if you do, then people who are coming after you won’t be able to see the wonderful, beautiful earth that you had. 


[16:19] So I think that’s something that we can really lean into and that I can totally get behind. And that way, like, her brain is working. I don’t feel quite as terrible. I feel like I’m doing my part. I feel like, you know, she’s not going to be the grumpy zombie and we’re going to do the best we can. But here’s the other thing: you gotta throw the other kid into the mix. We’ve got, you know, a nearly two-year-old, whose main objective right now in life is to nose-dive off the couch onto the hardwood floor. And so he takes just constant 24-hours-a-day monitoring. And so filling my daughter’s brain and working on her educational infrastructure, and then my husband and I both having to work full-time, that’s a lot to manage. So, again, we are going to do the best that we can. And I think that we will have some triumphs, and we will certainly have some failures, but I think that like the most important thing we can do for our kids is to just be here, to be present. To be here for them during this time that is really hard and difficult. And I think will definitely have them in therapy as adults talking about this trauma. 


[17:38] I mean, one of the things that I’m really concerned about with all of this is that their little brains are so impressionable right now. And the messages that they’re getting are “stay away from people. Stay in your house. Don’t touch people. Maintain your distance.” And as people, we need human connection. I mean, this is something that is innate to our well-being. This is innate to the way that we are wired. And so since my kid cannot get that from outside, I think the most important thing I can do right now for them is to physically hug them and embrace them and tell them that I love them and hold their hands and braid her hair and take a walk and go outside and, you know, listen to them complain about how awful of all of this is. And make room for those feelings and encourage them to journal and, you know, try to stick to our schedule as best we can. And again, just do our best and really focus on that bucket of this is the stuff that matters.


[18:38] Right now, what matters is that we are together, we remain healthy. We take care of our community. We are able to sustain ourselves because we are in a quarantine right now. And it is just so ridiculous to say that. But here we are. The big takeaway of all of this is that we can’t control anything. And I knew that? I guess I sort of knew that. I mean, I guess I didn’t really know that. I tried really hard to control everything for the bulk of my life. And then once my daughter was born, I felt very thrust into the unknown. 


[19:32] I promise you, I won’t sing the song from Frozen, although it is a really good song. And I’m going to say something controversial: I think I like Frozen 2 better than Frozen. Anyway, that’s neither here nor there. The point is I was thrust into this state of the unknown at the same time that I had this new being, this new life that I was responsible for and that came from my body. So I couldn’t help but put those two things together. That I have all of these expectations and hopes and dreams and desires and plans, but that honestly, when it comes down to it, I’m in control of very little. And being in the unknown is very scary. I mean, I literally have a degree in directing. I love to control things, but I can’t. And so I’ve started to live my life where I have to lean into the fact that the sky may be falling at any moment, and so what can I control? I can control things like how much I love people. I can control my own behavior, I can control my response to things. But ultimately, whatever the world is going to do, it’s going to do. 


[20:49] And now that we are all collectively, globally, in this moment of the unknown, and we are parenting in the unknown, I feel like it’s really important to lean into the fact that we are all going to do the very best that we can. And be OK with that, and be comfortable with that, and know that fear is part of it and anxiety is part of it. And doing a “bad job” and failing is part of it. And like laughing and having fun and loving as well. But it’s gonna be a rough go of it, you know? That’s just the fact of the matter. 


[21:32] So if you are as bored as I am and poking around the Internet, you can find me @wittelstephanie. In addition to being a mediocre parent, I’m also the co-founder of Lemonada Media and I am the host of Last Day. We are having our season finale tomorrow. I encourage you to go back and listen from the start. It is a very deep dive into the opioids crisis, which sounds really heavy, and kind of like a bummer, but it’s also funny and entertaining. I promise. A real binge listen. We have a lot of other shows at Lemonada that I think you would love. We have a show called As Me with Sinéad. We have a show called Mouthpeace with Michael and Pele Bennett. I encourage you to listen to them all because guess what? You have the time.


[22:27] Good Kids is a production of Lemonada Media. It’s produced and edited by Andrew Stephen. Our executive producer is Stephanie Wittels Wachs and our music is by Dan Milad. Ad sales and distribution are by Westwood One. You can find out more about Lemonada online @LemonadaMedia. If you liked what you heard, share, rate, review, say great things about us.


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