Processing a Global Pandemic
As we just reached one month at home, I am writing during a scary and confusing time. This is a time where terms like “unprecedented,” “quarantine,” and “social distancing,” words that were previously not part of our regular vocabulary, are now part of our daily norm. I skipped my monthly blog entry for March because I didn’t feel like myself (or even a shadow of myself), and because nothing I had planned to say pre-coronavirus even mattered anymore at that point. I can’t help but note the irony in the fact that my February blog post was about all of the roles that I fill and how I thrive in a hustling environment. I found myself in a lull that month and I had quite literally said, “I can’t just be a wife and a mom,” for fear that I would lose my own separate personal identity if I didn’t have my own fulfilling commitments and interests that defined me as an individual. Exactly two weeks later, the COVID-19 pandemic rocked our entire lives and forced me to become what I had just stated I was afraid to be.
In an instant, I became primarily a wife and mom while simultaneously balancing my career and the newfound role of makeshift preschool teacher, all entirely from home. All of my additional commitments and priorities disappeared into thin air and so many of the things that once mattered so much in my life now seemed inconsequential. There have been a number of times that I’ve recently cursed myself for the irrelevance and uncultured nature of the February post, but I guess nothing will shift your perspective entirely quite like a worldwide crisis. When the pandemic started to hit the United States and the shelter-in-place order shortly followed, I lost myself. The first few weeks were rough, to put it lightly. I felt like my identity had slipped away into an abyss as my daughter and I were forced to completely readjust our way of life. I fluctuated often between the extremes of resentment and gratitude for the fact that my husband continued to work outside of the home on his essential job as well as our new home construction (gratitude for the fact that we still even had our jobs and that he was able to maintain a sense of normalcy, and resent for the fact that my life felt upside down while his remained mostly the same). I was continually striking out after exhausting my otherwise effective coping skills for anxiety and stressful situations. I felt like I couldn’t really enjoy anything or follow any of the normal routines I had in place for myself because I was mad at the situation. I was slipping back and forth between the denial and anger phases of the grief process. I was grieving all of the things we had planned for this year, all of the canceled events that we had been looking forward to, and the uncertainty for the future. I was kicking myself for the absurd number of times that I said, “2020 is going to be my year!” before the year even began and all through the month of January. I had an annoying optimism that I expressed openly and often about my vision for just how great this year was going to be.
Aside from my own self-centered viewpoints, the most difficult part of this experience hands-down has been watching my daughter process and try to sort through emotions that she simply shouldn’t have to at her age. As hard as it was for me to let go and send her off to preschool for the first time this past fall, I never could have imagined or prepared for the gut punch that I would feel when it all came to a roaring halt with no warning. Every time my sweet girl looks up at me and asks me when the germs will be gone, or when she will be able to see her friends and teachers at dance class and preschool again, or lies down at night and asks me if she will get the germs, or simply tells me that she just feels sad, the lump in my throat and the weight on my chest literally takes my breath away.
For being just shy of four years old, my daughter is very resilient and has, in many ways, handled this transition more gracefully than I have. We limit her exposure to pandemic-related conversation and constantly reassure her that we are all safe and healthy at home. The biggest obstacle for her is the lack of social interaction as this child has yearned for playmates and has been a social butterfly from the moment she could talk. She spent her first two years at home, and then came dance class at age two and eventually preschool at three - environments where she could thrive and create her own experiences. Now we find ourselves back at home, isolated without warning, and her little heart aches for her newfound social life and independence created outside of our home.
Don’t get me wrong, I realize how extremely fortunate we are to be healthy and safe in our home. I don’t neglect to see actual tragedy all over the world or lack appreciation for the tremendous and heroic sacrifices people in healthcare are making every day. I know there are so many people who are going through unimaginable things right now that would justifiably constitute an eye roll at my insignificant inconveniences, and I’m not naive to any of that. We are all experiencing this earth shaking event for the first time, so I would argue that wherever you fall on the wide spectrum of reactions to how this is affecting your own life is legitimate. Empathy is necessary, and gratitude and grief absolutely can exist in the same breath. Once I got past the initial shock of going full speed to an immediate indefinite stop and giving up control over all of the plans and expectations I had for this year, I began entering the acceptance phase of this process and the anger I had been harboring slowly dissipated. Last week, as I took a break from my own work and worked through a preschool lesson with my daughter, I absorbed watching her learn new things. We were in week four of homeschool, but this week was different because I was no longer distracted by my anger or selfishness. I watched the effort my daughter put forth in her lessons and the determination she had to make me proud for her. I learned how much she loves math and I noticed how she still frequently switches between her right and left hands with all tasks. I listened to her sing, “Jesus Loves Me,” in the sweetest voice as she basked in the sunshine in our yard on a quiet afternoon. I observed things I never would have witnessed or had the time to even notice if it weren’t for this situation. Mamas whose hearts ache for your own personal reasons or for your children that are missing out on events in their lives, I am with you. If you’re still struggling through this process, what really shifted my thought process was the realization that my child will only be this age once. I will never have another opportunity like this to spend so much one-on-one time with her. The world will eventually reopen, our schedules will slowly begin to fill up, and our children will grow and have their own commitments and ultimately, they will one day leave us to lead their own lives. This is our chance to slow down and breathe in these moments with them.
In our home, long gone are the arguments while rushing out the door to one of our thousand commitments. The anxiety of bouncing from one thing to the next is a thing of the past and the word “no” has taken a back seat to puddle jumping, mess-making, and staying up late together. These are the days of princess dresses, sidewalk chalk, kite flights, and watching uninterrupted Disney movies in Mommy and Daddy’s bed. These are the days that never would have existed if it weren’t for this horrible tragedy that has forced our entire world to shift everything about the lifestyles which we were previously accustomed.
These moments together are a gift in an otherwise noisy and fast-paced world. They are ones we likely wouldn’t have been able to experience, or they would have been rushed and few and far between. Though we are solemn about the health crisis impacting our world, we can be equally grateful in embracing the beauty of our families that have been restored and our time that has been slowed down indefinitely. Throughout this process, I have learned the importance of grace in my own life. It's acceptable to have bad moments or bad days, to feel sad sometimes, to allow exceptions to what I would previously have considered normal or acceptable, and to be flexible with my expectations. We don’t have a choice in many of the things going on all around us, but we do have a choice in our outlook and how we proceed. As we have heard so many times recently, we are all in this together. Ultimately, the act we are committing in this quarantine reflects the love of humanity and the sacrifices that we all have to make together. We will get through this, day by day, and hopefully we will come out forever changed for the better on the other side.