Sunday, April 11, 2021

Reflecting, Finally

I spent three months at home with two kids under 6. My husband’s job is essential, so he was out of the house 5, sometimes 6 days a week for 10 hours at a time. I would lie down on the bed almost immediately when he got home. I let the kids watch their screens, videos of kids they started to mimic. I won’t say ‘too much’ time, not anymore. 

We went on walks, put up a wall of homemade art, and I made their favorite ‘charcuterie boards’, which, if you’re a parent, you know are the easiest to make of all the meals. I wrote maybe one article a week, at the height of it, and I was grateful for those early morning hours making sense of scientific studies, even though I worried the whole time if I would ever write more than that, if I was losing so much steam in the process. 

We spent time at the beach with our families in July and August. Days here and there in houses other people had rented, that other people had created their lives in. I’m grateful for this stroke of luck. For these people. 

I wrote more stories. People cried during interviews. A rawness I swallowed as I continued asking questions. 

One of my best friends passed away in September. She had been sick for a long time. She beat Covid, and she lost too much. It felt devastating in a quiet way. When someone is so tied up in your growing up, in your becoming-who-you-are, letting go of them is like letting go of a part of yourself, too. 

Mourning her was so different, the fact that it even had to happen so far from fair. There were no long dinners, sharing memories and hummus in a dimly lit restaurant in Williamsburg. We texted photos and memories back and forth. We double masked to talk to each other in the parking lot. 

That same month, and the couple months that came after, hit so much harder. Work went back to its normal pace. Life was somewhere in between. A 6-year-old learning to navigate virtual math lessons in his orange and green bedroom. A 3-year-old learning to not touch the front of her mask. A 37-year-old learning to buy flowers from Trader Joe’s, to spread a puzzle out on her office table, to cut herself some slack. (The hardest part of all.) 

I missed my coffee shop, I missed my yoga class, I missed the stack of magazines at the book store. I can tell you it takes exactly 45 minutes to walk that loop around the neighborhood.  

Things felt stripped away in a way they never had before. I started therapy, and I think it’s helping. Someone else helping connect the dots between then and that.  

In the fall, we did a soccer league in our backyard with a few kids. It felt like breathing in a way I never thought something like that could. How could I, really. Our masks on, our blue Adirondack chairs side by side. Kids eating pizza and cupcakes together for the first time in months. A neighborhood birthday party like you imagine from the 1960s. 

Our stories are so similar to others, and also so undeniably our own. 

I saw my niece only a couple of times between September, when she was born, and January. I haven’t met my new baby cousin yet. Didn’t get a chance to congratulate my cousin, in person, on his engagement. Etsy gifts and Amazon thoughts take the place. 

One thing standing in for another. 

We spent long Saturdays with one of our favorite families, ordering lunch and sometimes dinner on the same day. Kids playing video games and walking, pajama-clad, down hallway runways. Something we never would have done if there had been sports and dance class and required activities. The pro list. 

Back in May, we went to a park. We hadn’t been out of the house much, at that point. Masks still felt new and awkward on our faces. We parked far away, put our picnic blanket down on a spot of grass far off from the rest. We were nervous as we ate our sandwiches and strawberries. 

We went to that same park this past Saturday, two days after my first dose of the vaccine. The kids put their hands out for their masks, Ellie knows how to adjust hers to fit around her ears. They feel normal on our faces. We asked to borrow someone’s sanitizer when we forgot ours in the car. We ate our snacks on the side of a bridge, overlooking a waterfall. School is open every day now. 

Is this what it feels like to feel normal right now? Is this grief, just the same as it always was and always has been, since forever? Some days those coffee shops full of people don’t feel far off and sometimes it feels like my home office might swallow me up. 

There’s jealousy and resentment, gratitude and grief, sadness and emptiness, all mixed together. Hope even too, sometimes, when we say we’ll meet in Boston in September to remember that first place we met our friend, when we swap links to beach hotels in Mexico, when we know we’ll be fully vaccinated by May. 

And maybe this is just now. Trying to connect the dots between then and that. Trying to make the deadlines, and the dinners. Watering the flowers and watching them grow.