I was starting to like 2020. After a slow start, a major change of plans because of coronavirus, a long and difficult lockdown, I felt that my family and I had taken all the possible steps to be better prepared for what was to come (read: a possible lockdown!).
We settled in Greece, where the virus seemed to be advancing more slowly than elsewhere. We found a house where I could have my own office and Lorenzo started going to nursery. This meant my husband could take up some journalistic work again. All was starting to fall into place.
When the Greek government announced a lockdown two weeks ago, I was unfazed. Ok, we’ll stay at home more, we will alert the government when we go out. I’m OK, as long as schools remain open, I kept telling myself.
Then last Saturday, the dreaded announcement: all schools, including nurseries, will be closed for at least two weeks.
Oh, the despair. What to do now with Lorenzo? How to keep up with work? How to look for a new balance – once again? I had read so much evidence about how children and schools are not super-spreaders, so I was feeling confident schools would not be closed. But why such certainty?!
A couple of weeks ago, in a meeting, one of my colleagues said that the coronavirus is like children: unpredictable and uncertain.
There’s an element of truth in that: whenever you think you have something figured out as a parent, your child comes along and rocks that belief. A routine in place? They’ll skip a nap once and then it’s all up in the air again. You think you know what they like to eat? They’ll enter a regression and will only breastfeed for a few days. A work meeting in the morning? Your child gets an ear infection and keeps you up all night. So, scrap that too.
Here’s the thing. I started this newsletter as an attempt to vent at 2020, to tell you how miserable I felt this morning.
Then I stopped to take a call and I went out on the balcony so that Lorenzo wouldn’t hear me. And then I saw a wild tortoise (yes, they live around here!) trying desperately to get up a very steep hill to reach some cactus leaves. It went up and slid back time and time again. Boryana, the friend I was talking to, told me that it was quite a symbolic scene.
She was right. The tortoise eventually gave up on the cactus and chose a different path and eventually found something else of interest and disappeared.
That’s when I remembered Emily Dreyfuss’ latest piece in her quest for a good life and her mention of Stoicism.
"Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference,” goes the Serenity Prayer.
Quite fittingly, given my current geographic location, I really enjoyed her deep dive into the ancient Greek philosophy’s idea of eudaimonia. It’s often translated as “happiness”, but it actually meant “the good life” or a life worth living.
In this podcast Dreyfuss interviews philosophy historian Massimo Pigliucci about eudaimonia and about Stoicism more specifically. (If you’re a member, remember to download our audio app to listen!)
The idea is: focus on the things within your power to control, and stop worrying about the things you can’t. So, I can’t control whether schools will be open or not, I can’t control if Lorenzo will sleep a whole night or not, but I can control how concentrated I am while I write a newsletter during Lorenzo’s nap, and how many tabs I have open in front of me to do my work.
Also: I can control how long this newsletter is and simply stop writing right now, because he’s just woken up.
So, bye bye for now!
P.S. Remember my friend Boryana, the one I was describing the tortoise scene to? She’s organised a very cool festival where I will be moderating a panel on Bold Female Voices on Saturday 21 November. If you’re interested in hearing from bold journalists from Bulgaria, Slovakia and the UK about how to break taboos and tackle different subjects, please join us. Registration is free!