There was a time, before the pandemic, where a text was the least you could do. It was the bare minimum. But not anymore. Now it’s a lifeline.
My friends and I all met when our kids were in preschool together. We started a group text as a way to keep in touch when our littles headed off to their respective kindergartens. We would chat sporadically, set up a playdate now and again. But when the world shut down, our message alerts came nonstop.
In rereading those early first chats, I’m struck by what we were consumed with. Toilet paper, of course. Disinfectant spray. But most of all, we were horror-stricken at the thought of having to be with our kids during a lockdown. We couldn’t do it, we told ourselves. How? Our jobs were pivoting to online, and we had to sit and work while our kids were in the house? It was foreign. It seemed impossible.
We texted back and forth our Google results: How to get through an anxiety attack. COVID numbers in Massachusetts. Instacart coupon code. And always, no matter what, every single Shabbat, a picture of a challah one of us baked, and selfies, wine or beer glass in hand, saluting each other. Another week conquered, another week survived.
The initial two-week lockdown turned into months and stretched into a year. We grew introspective during a summer of protests, hopeful into the election cycle and then frustrated as the winter months set in and true hibernation took hold. We took on new responsibilities at work, switched careers, sorted through marriage trouble, volunteered within an inch of our lives and mothered like we had never mothered before. We updated each other text by text, meme by meme.
“Guys, my kid is on hour 6 of iPad time. Is that OK?”
“GO FOR 7.”
“TRY FOR A WORLD RECORD!”
“You gotta do what you gotta do!”
Our successes felt sweeter when shared with the group (look at my eight-braid challah!), our failures shared and spread around (look at my child in a cast!). Don’t we all need a mom squad cheering us on as we sort through this balagan? Someone deep in the trenches with you, supporting without judgement?
Friday night, without fail, I snapped a photo of myself with a drink in hand. Someone would text a cocktail recipe and we would all try and make it. It was a reminder to breathe. To sit down. To take a minute and forget the online Zoom class, not think about the curve. During Shabbat, to be thankful for what we do have.
We hit a wall in January. As we approached a year of isolation, our adrenaline wore out and what we found underneath was despair. We sent each other The New York Times article about “The Primal Scream.” It almost felt like a joke. An article written about mothers at the end of their ropes? This was news? Were there people out there who didn’t know this?
“Read this,” we demanded.
“We know,” we told each other. “We know.”
And then, like dominos falling, each of us took turns having a breakdown. A text would come: “I can’t do this anymore,” one of us would type.
And then the rest of us helped in a way that felt specifically Jewish: We sent food. We ordered dinner for whomever lost it that week, knowing at the very LEAST it was one less thing for them to worry about. They would be fed; there would be no pots to scrub. Because the truth was, we couldn’t do this anymore. But we did. Each night we reached our limit and without any hope or any fanfare, we did it again. And again. We got through the day fueled by coffee and dreaming and texting about a post-pandemic life: mimosas at a restaurant, a spa day, a book finished in a normal amount of time. Hobbies.
Finally, we had a warm enough day this March where we could venture out to a local patch of grass, sit six feet apart and sip iced coffees. When my friend walked into the coffee shop and I saw her masked face, I cried. I hadn’t seen her for over a year. I felt like I had so much to tell her about my past year, so much that texts and Zooms and memes couldn’t have expressed. But when I looked into her eyes and saw she was crying too, I knew there really wasn’t anything to say at all. The details weren’t important. We had all been through the same sad mess, alone yet together.
We spread out on picnic blankets and another friend passed out wrapped boxes. I opened it to find a pink wine glass. “Friday Night Virtual Happy Hour Shabbat Shalom,” it said on one side. “You’ve Got This” and the thumbs-up emoji on the other.
I hope one day when I’m gone and my kids are emptying out my cabinets, they will keep this glass as a little bit of history. They’ll know that I got through this pandemic thanks to the cheers and encouragements of my friends—electronically, of course, but no less heartfelt.
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