I Should be Rising to the Challenge of a "New Normal"
It is midnight on a Thursday, which I suppose technically makes it a Friday. I only know this because of the small indicator time and date stamp in the top right corner of my laptop screen. Otherwise I have no concrete sense of time or place lately. The fact is that it doesn't much matter, doesn't motivate me to figure it out.
I am wearing clean sweatpants and a white v-neck t-shirt that I earlier splashed with red wine while holding two children and three stuffed animals, plus a TV remote. I forgot to change shirts. My iPhone is currently under the covers in the children's shared bed where I abandoned it, accidentally, hours ago when leaving their father to "handle" the wind-down routine. I couldn't do another minute... I just had to go.
I felt spent. I felt done. I felt worn down, again, again. From a day like all the others -- a week like all the others. This new normal of living and parenting in the time of Covid, trying to break me. Trying to shred my sanity bit by bit, lay it bare on the beige carpet along with the crumbs of forgotten snacks and the chunks of glitter I should have vacuumed hours or day ago.
I am weary and feel lonely, though I am always surrounded by people. The same three, my favorite three, wading in a pond of uncertainty as the sun peeks behind clouds above -- retreating, resurfacing, being replaced by stormy mayhem.
On the one hand, I feel I should be journaling again! Getting out more, enjoying the fresh air of Georgia! Strapping our masks in place and taking walks in public places; it's legal here after all. Confusingly legal. Alarmingly cavalier, this new set of rules thrust upon us in the absence of One Right Answer. It depends who you talk to, who you listen to, who you believe. What you want to believe. It's all so confusing, so stressful.
I should be falling asleep without melatonin and drinking more water! Should pick up running again (I used to love it! My body looked amazing when my running shoes were used for running!). I should be enjoying this goddamn gift -- the opportunity to spend two months at home with my beautiful children. Predominantly unemployed (thank you, Covid, for uprooting the hospitality industry and taking with it my weekly check for churning out social media copy for one of their largest names) -- I should be leaning in, no diving in, to the bliss. The unfettered, the unending chance to hold and dance with my daughters. I should not be weeping at the kitchen sink, defeated by the piles of crap everywhere and the unending pressure to make this workable for my family.
I shouldn't be complaining when there are people with real problems throbbing, bleeding their misfortunes into uncaring streets. I should feel blessed. I am blessed. I am tired.
I am should-ing all over myself, as my new therapist pointed out to me on our phone session this week. I am layering my shoulds on like clothing, like armor. I am almost (she didn't say this; I am saying this) resting on them to avoid the risk of going deeper beneath the surface. To finding out what is really blocking me from enjoying this time. Is it the fear of death? Is it the bold-faced knowledge that in 30 years when my children are grown and I find myself feeling irrelevant, I might read this blog post in disgust? You should have adjusted. You should have enjoyed it more...
Maybe I should be rising to the challenge of this life in quarantine, keeping that gratitude journal you all love to discuss. Not maybe. I definitely should. I should be doing all of it. Instead here I sit, frozen and incapable, waking with an eager ache to make each day feel scheduled and new. Fun and relaxing. Typing at midnight after not achieving any of that.
Will my children look back on this time and remember paper airplanes, tracing and decorating their hands on butcher paper? Will they picture me in sundresses, graciously allowing them to pluck flowers from the yard? Serving them fat cuts of home-baked brownie or pink rice krispies treats, made and measured by their wobbly, pudgy fingers?
Or will they recall the way their mother retreated, hid in her closet, handed them to Dad at the moment his isolated work day ended? For a shower, for a breath of air, for an hour of work she so desperately needed... to feel human again, to feel life outside of laundry, of spills. Of entertainment and the seemingly endless breaking up of fights?
I don't know, I can't say. Like I've always done, I just keep taking pictures. Unplanned and unposed, or requesting first that they let me. When childhood is over and they are packing up their things, will they look back and recall above all else, Mama asking "Can I take your picture?" or "Hold still just a minute."
Hold still just a minute.
I wish they could as much as I wish this wouldn't. I miss our life and our routine, the natural ebbs and breaks that allowed us all to recharge and rejoin each other as our best selves. I will walk away with regrets; I am absolutely sure of that. I will remember what I should have done and the ways in which my anxiety failed me, the ways in which I stood paralyzed in corners watching my should-self dancing on a screen.
Maybe I should be adjusting to life in isolation, but some days I feel like I am simply surviving. There is no gorgeous routine, no homeschool efforts ripped straight from a parenting magazine.
Oh, but there is laughter... and popcorn making its radiant rise to snackdom known. Pop, pop, pop. The melting of butter dripped on top and so many movies. Collages cut out of old magazines and new catalogues, a sea of pink joy pieced together on rainy days, hopscotch in the driveway, and cuddling on the couch when sun streams through the windows. There are impromptu dance parties and unscheduled naps in my arms, spread across my legs. Lots of books. Unprecedented moments of playing Barbies over the phone with a grandmother seven states away.
We've chalked our hair and painted our nails, sung "happy birthday" to neighbors and friends through open car windows, shrieked at the thrill of icy-cold pool water on late days of March. We will get through this, our little unit of four, even if there are times not as lovely as the others. Even if Mama is not doing everything that she should. Or maybe, just because she is doing everything that she can.