As a bizarre, wrenching, exhausting, confusing year draws to a close—masks half-on, half-off, some kids vaccinated and others waiting for the word—how are you doing? I feel like I’m coming out of a darkened movie theater into broad daylight, squinting and a little shaky. It’s weird, right?
There’s a Yiddish proverb: Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease. And, right now, we’re in thorny, uncomfortable cure mode. We’re relearning how to live, how to interact. Teenagers are getting vaccinated. Safety guidelines are changing.
We’re reevaluating what’s important and what can fall away. Do my kids need to be enrolled in 400 activities each week? Do I need to take on so much work and schedule so many in-person meetings? Is my husband really going to turn my sunroom into his home office…indefinitely? (And, if so, has my bedroom become my permanent workspace? Negotiations must occur.)
I feel almost guilty saying it, but in so many ways, quarantine life was simpler, if not easier. We were all on the same page, or should have been. I didn’t need to interpret CDC guidelines about masking and swim lessons. I didn’t have to wonder whether my 4-year-old could safely jump on top of his freshly unmasked pal. I didn’t need to feel guilty about keeping my older son in remote academy as many of his friends returned to school. Couldn’t make a Zoom call? Pandemic! Need an extra day or two on a project? Sure, pandemic! Staying in for a while? Of course you are—it’s a goddamn pandemic! I had a ready-made, universally accepted reason for jogging in place for a bit, for treading water, for biding my time. Scratch that: for being good to myself and for living a simpler family life, too.
But now it’s showtime again. Jazz hands! I’m planning vacations. I’m signing off on my kids’ camp forms. I’m going out to dinner. I’m working on a book proposal. I’m enrolling both boys in sports and booking my preschooler for playdates like he’s a miniature CEO. It’s not that any of those things are bad—they’re great!—it’s just that now I have no excuse not to achieve, to do, to strive. Before, I had so many reasons to give myself a break. No more.
It’s ironic, because it’s Mental Health Awareness Month, and I write all the time about being less Type A, about being easy on yourself, about treating yourself as well as you’d treat others. But always being “on” is a tough habit to snap, especially when everyone is beyond excited about going back out into the world. I feel like saying to myself: What’s wrong with you? You were locked inside your home for a year! You should be racing through life like a contestant on “Supermarket Sweep”!
But dare I say, I kind of miss winter? So I think about this—another Yiddish proverb: Words should be weighed, not counted. So too should moments. As I begin to re-enter the real world and fill my to-do list, I also want to focus less on the quantity and more on the quality of my time. We’re so conditioned to measure our worth in terms of busy-ness; the more harried we are, the more valuable we are, too.
I can see it already, that reflexive compulsion to book every weekend, accept every request, take on more, and more, and more because it’s more familiar than the alternative, which is to make room for empty space and refusals and quiet. During quarantine, we had license to shut ourselves off. Not anymore. It’s up to us to determine our own rules. Shiver.
So I’m still navigating this unusual new yet familiar world. I’m hoping that I make decisions based not on obligation but on desire, for myself and for my own kids. I’m hoping that I give my family time to just do nothing (even if, yes, I really cannot wait to have my children out of the house for five whole weeks during camp). I hope I turn down the drive just a tiny bit. And I’m hoping I get my office back, too.
How about you? How are you reconciling this new-yet-old normal?