I have always been a person who needs space. Time to myself, without other humans in my general vicinity. I enjoy socializing, but it drains me of energy, and in order to recharge, I need to be alone. So wouldn’t social distancing be ideal for me? Sure! If it weren’t for my husband and small children who also inhabit my two-bedroom condo. Throw in a baby who doesn’t yet sleep through the night, and you have the perfect recipe for a snippy wife and mother.

Everyone gets cranky from time to time,Everyone gets cranky from time to time and it’s not like sheltering in place has turned me into Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But there were two subtle indications that perhaps I wasn’t handling the lack of alone time as gracefully as I would have hoped. Firstly, I was catching myself being short with my husband. Not angry exactly ... not mean, G‑d forbid, but not kind and uplifting either. I’m usually pretty good at maintaining my patience with my children, but that means that the frustration floodgates run a much higher risk of bursting open on my husband. I can make all the excuses in the world, but at the end of the day, it isn’t the way I want to speak to my spouse.

Secondly, and this one should be more comical for the mothers out there, were the noises coming from my 3-year-old. When I would ask her to do something, she would respond with something like, “UUUGH, I can’t do that right now, I have to wake up the kids!” or “I don’t have time, I’m too busy. UUUGH!” At first I wondered where in the world she got her penchant for the dramatic, and then I realized, it’s from me! She gets her sound effects from me. Hers are perhaps exaggerated in a childlike fashion, but there’s no mistaking the source.

I once attended a class on being “responsible.” It wasn’t about the traditional way that we interpret the word, however, meaning doing what is expected of us or being prudent. Rather, that each encounter is an opportunity for us to produce the proper response. Furthermore, until we do, in fact, learn to generate that response, we’ll be faced with similar trials meant to teach us this lesson.

The Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, taught that if you find the behavior of another to be highly bothersome, it’s because you yourself need to work on that trait. It may not be as blatant or severe, and it may not even manifest in the exact same way, but nevertheless, it represents one of your own flaws that needs correcting.

I’ve heard that some people are using quarantine to do push-ups or bake into oblivion. I decided I would use this time (and lack of space) to change the way I speak to those closest to me, literally and figuratively, using three methods.

1. Master Silence

The first technique I’m trying to master in my remastery of speech is actually not speech at all, but the opposite: silence. I’m not at the spiritual level yet where everything that pops into my head is worth expressing. I try to ask myself: “Will my words infuse more shalom (“peace”) into the situation, or will they stir up chaos?” It can require a great deal of self-control not to voice a dissenting opinion or make an offhand comment, but sometimes, it simply isn’t necessary.

2. Take a Pause

Similarly, my second goal is to be pause-itive. Not to respond emotionally, but to take a moment and think through my response. This one is probably the hardest for me. When I’m tired or hungry, and my family is rubbing me the wrong way, I have a tendency to snap at them. Add to that being trapped at home with small children for weeks on end, and that’s enough to test anyone’s patience. I’ve considered taxing my daughter for saying the word “mommy.” (If I did, I think we could retire pretty comfortably.) Nevertheless, it’s worth it to me to take a breath and respond in a calm, measured “yes, dear?” so that I’m modeling effective communication for her.

3. Apologize When I Fall Short

Lastly, I’m making an effort to apologize if I fall short of the first two goals and say something I shouldn’t. No one ever learned to ride a bike without a few spills onto the sidewalk. Acknowledge it and move forward, while showing your family members the respect they deserve.

These may seem like lofty objectives toNo one ever learned to ride a bike without a few spills try and obtain during such trying times, but that’s exactly the point. There is a passage in the Gemara (Menachot 53b) that discusses the relationship between the olive and olive oil—that in order for the oil to be expressed, the olive must be crushed. In other words, the best inside of us can only be released when pressure is applied.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M.l Schneerson, further explored this concept in a maamer (Chassidic discourse) titled Ve’atah Tetzaveh, based on the phrase from the Torah portion of Tetzaveh, “And you shall command the children of Israel and they shall bring you pure olive oil, crushed for the light ... .” He concludes that “the light” refers to the essence of the soul, and that we have seen the Jewish people demonstrate incredible strength and self-sacrifice during periods of history when their very lives were at stake (i.e., when they were being “crushed”). Thus, it was through being crushed that the Jews revealed their light—the best their souls had to offer.

During our lockdown, I’ve baked dozens of challah loaves, two kinds of muffins, zucchini bread and cinnamon rolls. My push-up count is low, but I’m hoping to come out of quarantine with a better handle on positive interpersonal communication even when I find myself under a bit of pressure.