We’ve been taking family walks every day. The Kid pretends that he hates it but thus far, we’ve discovered two wisteria plants that smell lovely, a mint plant that we’re trying to grow a clipping from, interesting artwork in our neighbors’ yards, a drama between a crow and a hawk worthy of daytime television, and a very cute dog that we’ve only seen once but we hope to see again, whom we have nicknamed “Muzzy”.
Yesterday on our walk, The Kid was blathering on about something to Alex and I tuned him out and noticed a leaf that had just been released from a tree, falling gently, swaying in the wind, doing its little sway back and forth until it landed gently on the ground.
At first, I thought about mentioning it to The Kid and Alex- “Look at that lovely leaf! I’ve never noticed how leaves fall before!”
Then I thought, “Why the fuck am I watching leaves fall to the ground now?”
We are living in strange times, friends.
I had a meltdown on Saturday and I can’t even really tell you what it was over. Partially, I think it’s that I am a person with a very loud inner critic, who rarely shuts up.
I’m really missing my job because I’m very good at it and I get lots of good feedback. My students compliment my teaching style and I get good feedback from my boss. For a few hours, Monday through Thursday mornings, my inner critic gets to shut her trap because there’s not much to criticize.
Not so at this mom and wife gig.
Granted, I parent some children with exceptional challenges but even then, I often end the day feeling like I’m a piece of shit parent. Partially, it’s because neither of them are very good about providing good feedback. Believe it or not neither one of them thanked me for making breakfast or doing their dishes this morning.
Every night, I lay in bed and think of ways that I could have done better:
- I shouldn’t have let The Baby watch an hour of his favorite Russian youtube cartoon about a sentient piece of lint named Booba and his best friend who’s a worm who only jumps out of things and screams, while I perused facebook and watched a Netflix show.
- I could have handled that situation with The Kid differently, perhaps so that we didn’t end the night with slammed doors and angry words.
- When Alex tried to talk to me about my day, I could only stare vacantly at him and tell him it was “fine” because I’m so drained.
It has hard for me to have nothing “normal” to hold on to. The Kid and I are missing our routines something fierce and, while I think we’re settling into it a little, the grief about missing normal things comes and goes in waves.
And while I’m grieving about not being able to be in a classroom with my students, there are some things that I’m feeling acutely grateful for, weird things, like the slow dance of a leaf falling from the tree.
My friend Joseph pondered if we, as a culture, will come out of this whole situation with a different set of priorities. What are we (most of us) doing with nothing but time on our hands? What are we saying is important now that being busy isn’t an excuse any more? Will working ourselves into oblivion and scheduling our kids down to the minute still be important? Will we keep prioritizing talking to family and friends more regularly?
What will life look like after this is over?
I find myself stepping out on the front porch and taking a deep breath or acutely feeling the sun warm my skin on a walk around the neighborhood.
I find myself seeing my children with fresh eyes, find a new sense of wonder about the people they are and the people they are becoming.
I find myself learning to listen more carefully to my mood and helping steer myself from careening over the edge by putting my phone down, being outside, listening to music, and making yoga a priority.
For once, I’m feeling markedly more aware of small things around me, the birds and the plants and the art.
On a broader scale, we’re actually talking about fair wages and people having safety nets when their jobs fail them. My neighbors are grocery shopping for one another.
I am actually getting to work a little bit. I’ve set up a “classroom” in my bedroom, complete with a small whiteboard, the plant from my classroom, a picture of El Gringo (a poster of a random white man from the 1800s who I sit in front of chatty students and warn, “El Gringo is watching you”), and I even have a shoe sitting on my table, a throwback to three weeks ago when I would toss my shoe across the room at talkative students while yelling, “LA CHANCLA!”
The thumbnail for my videos is a picture of me in this new classroom and my teaching series is called, “Let’s Pretend Everything is Normal with Beth”.
I’m trying to be funny, of course, but now I’m asking myself if I want everything to go back to ‘normal’.
Do I want to be so busy listening to my podcast or talking on the phone that I miss the falling leaf? Do I want to go back to just feeling like I have to spend the few hours between school and bedtime in survival mode? Do I want to go back to being so busy that I tell myself that listening to my mind and body must take a backseat to my to-do list?
I want the coronavirus to be done with, of course. I am horrified for our medical personnel who are facing shortages and long hours and tough choices. I am scared with my immunocompromised friends about what a COVID19 diagnosis could mean for them.
But I’m trying to remember the good things that are happening too.
In some small way, this feels a bit like we get to press the reset button on what life looks like for us and what’s going to matter from this point forward.
I hope that we, both my family and all of us collectively as humans, are able to come out of this caring more about the things that matter and remembering to focus less on the things that don’t.