If you had told me in March 2020 what life would be like twelve months later, I would not have believed you. But here we are, one year and half a million US deaths into this pandemic, and we’re only just beginning to see how it might end.
As global disasters go, this one came at an okay time for my family. My husband’s job remained secure, and I had just begun taking classes in preparation for a career-change. While not ideal, it was possible for me to pivot and provide the nearly full-time childcare my family needed; and for that I am grateful. If we must look for a positive spin, my kids’ ages also suited quarantine life. They’re not babies anymore, but they’re not teenagers either; and they can still get most of what they need from home. In this regard, I’m thankful for the pandemic’s timing and the privilege of more time with my children.
Time is a funny, shape-shifting metric. Its passage seems to accelerate and slow at whim, never more so than in the past year. I remember the day the pandemic took hold in my life – although of course I didn’t know what that meant at the time. It was a Thursday in mid-March, and I was in class when we got the news that the campus was closing. It was gray outside and everyone moved in a bizarre, electric-like way as they walked to their cars under a cloud of uncertainty. On my way home, I impulsively stopped at the grocery store to get produce and sweets. Of course, I had no idea what humanity was getting into, but I knew that fresh fruit and chocolate would make it easier.
I also stopped at Murdoch’s and bought two bags of chicken feed for my small backyard flock. It felt good to take charge of the situation and to be prepared. After all, two bags of chicken feed last about two months at my house, surely this would be over by then! The St. Vrain Valley School District closure email came later that night, and regular life as we knew it came to an end.
We leaned in as a family. We spent more time outside, had lazy mornings, went camping. For those first few weeks I could see my children thriving. They ate well, they slept late, they played hard. They had their dad home more. It was noticeable on their faces. The youngest, who had just recently turned two, was thrilled. Both sisters AND her parents home all the time? Life was awesome!
But the pandemic dragged on. The chickens ate all of their food, we had to venture out and buy more. It became clear that we’d need more than fruit and chocolate to get through this. My plan to hunker down and let this pass over us would not work. We, like most everyone, got tossed around in the pandemic’s unrelenting waves.
As the weeks turned into months, we sought to find and follow a guiding principle. What will we base these endless tough decisions on? What are the lessons that we want to impart to our kids? Are we sticking to scheduled learning as a way to remain part of a community and to teach discipline? Or are we throwing that out and pursuing more self-motivated learning opportunities unique to this wretched situation? Is our strongest health and safety loyalty to my parents, folks in the demographic who tend to suffer the worst outcomes of the virus? Or is my loyalty to the mental health of my kids? Is it my job to get my kids unscathed through this? Or is it futile, and even wrong, to minimize and hide the negative impacts of this global catastrophe? How do they learn resilience, flexibility, and gratitude but also remain out of reach from the greediest parts of the pandemic? Do my needs fall into this equation anywhere?
I have heard and uttered the phrase “we’re just doing the best we can” more times than I care to imagine. And it’s 100% true. Frustratingly, our knowledge of what “the best” is constantly shifts and evolves. I would do anything to keep my family safe. Anything includes lots of reasonable safety measures like hand washing, mask wearing, limited social contacts and cancelled soccer seasons. But it also includes all sorts of unreasonable measures too if I thought they would help. This has been my biggest personal struggle in pandemic mom life. Where does the line between reasonable and unreasonable lie? As I’m finding, this balance needs to be rediscovered nearly every day.
We are slowly finding our way. We are stretching into ourselves. Certainly there have been missteps. And there has certainly been plenty of lost sleep, too many carbs, messy kitchens, short words.
I thought the 2013 flood taught me all I needed to know about time and patience. When the rivers exploded that September, I was in Boulder at the hospital, holding my one-day old infant daughter. Separated from my two-year old for the first time (who was safe but trapped at my house along with my visiting parents), I had no power to get to her, and no control over when she’d “get out.” I just had to wait. When we did reunite, five excruciating days later at a friend’s house in Denver, we began the second stage of waiting. Waiting to go home. Waiting to learn if there would be a town to go home to. Weeks, then months passed. I thought my life would never be the same. But on it went, pushed down a new but navigable path.
Now we wait again. We wait to see family, to see friends, to rejoin school. We wait to begin the activities we used to love. We wait to return to our regular lives. With vaccinations underway and warm weather on the horizon, I am beginning to look forward. What will life be like this summer? This fall? Might it be almost normal? What will we want to dive back into when given the chance? What will we leave out as we build our post-pandemic lives? And again, I am brought to my knees by the gratefulness that I, unlike many others, am lucky enough to get to choose.