In late March 2020, I sat on our reclining chair in the living room and watched the United States shut down. Within 72 hours, my children were home 24/7, I had multiple anxiety attacks about my husband going into his office for work, and my hands were cracked and bloody from overusing hand sanitizer.
I couldn’t process any of it, so I cried. I grieved. I grieved over our business, an art gallery, temporarily shutting down at the state’s request. I grieved for my kindergartner who wouldn’t see her friends for a long time (because let’s be honest, any of us who had a basic biology class knew that “fourteen days to stop the spread” was complete bullshit). I grieved for myself because all of my childcare was gone, but the job was still there and needed tending to. I grieved for my college students who were suddenly online learners and probably never wanted it to be that way. I anxiously grieved for my parents, in their sixties, who may not be able to survive COVID-19 if they caught it.
This probably sounds familiar, eh? The sudden changes, twists, and turns brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic brought most of us to tears and to our knees. Suddenly, life as we knew it was over.
Fast-forward a year, and cases are down significantly from April 2020. We know how the virus works. We know social distancing works. We know that masks work. At least 18% of the US population 18+ has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Schools are back in session, and according to the CDC, people who have been fully vaccinated are permitted to hang out mask-free with other vaccinated folks and to travel again.
It is, however, a change — and any change can cause grief. If you’re a little sad that this season of your life is ending, well sis — you are not alone.
There will likely never again be a time during our lives when we will have our children with us 24/7. I know; I know — “thank God,” right? Sure, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t happy to be “the person” for my children all day, every day. I remedied every cut, burn, or scratch. I dried every tear. I made the decision whether something was worth crying about. I resented the last parent-teacher conference where I was told my daughter is “too emotional over everything.” While the pandemic strapped me for any time whatsoever to myself, it allowed me to transfer that freedom to my children and give them the safe, comfy space that I know they deserve.
When our children are in school, we wonder. We worry. We overthink it. Despite the non-cholent way we brush our hair off our shoulders as we gossip over salads and lemonades with friends while our kids are in school, be honest: Deep down, we worry constantly.
Was that rambunctious kid mean to her again? Is the Spanish teacher snapping out on all of the kindergartners like she did last week? Did she It’s Tuesday — did I sent money for ice cream? For fuck’s sake, she better not solicit her friend for ice cream money if I forgot. Will she end up catching the stomach bug? Please God, no. Please. I can’t deal with puke.
The truth is that when something changes, we lose. We lose a routine; we lose our stability; we may even lose part of ourselves. And while “positive change” is the understatement of the past year from hell, it’s still a loss. It seemed unimaginable to us to settle into the “new normal” (can we cancel that phrase, please?) a year ago. We became grade school teachers, students of infectious diseases, and — albeit — zombies with hair that hadn’t been washed or died for quite some time. We became advocates for science. We stood up to friends and family members who wouldn’t take this horrific pandemic seriously. Those of us who were quiet spoke up, and those of us who spoke up learned to listen and to understand that we really are not in control of anything.
As we leave this phase of our lives as women, adult children, mothers, and employees, we will never forget where we came from over the past year. If you watch your partner leave for work after working at home for a year and sneak into the bathroom to cry afterwards, it’s okay. If you painfully watch your kids, donning a mask and a smile, hop onto the school bus and you feel a little bit angry inside, it’s okay.
If you’re grieving that this chapter is over, it’s okay.