So I Don't Forget This Pandemic

 

 

I regret that I didn't write more to document daily life through the pandemic. The camera roll on my phone captures my year rather well, given that it's comprised of pictures of my family wearing sweat pants and a fabulous collection of screenshot memes about quarantine, but sadly, I rarely wrote.


There's a paltry total of 14 posts in my 2020 blog archives. This year, 2021, hasn't been more prolific. It's not that I haven't had thoughts (just ask my husband about my penchant for launching into them while he tries to fall asleep), but these thoughts rarely trickled down to my fingertips and formed into coherent written sentences. 

 

This disappoints me, but it isn't surprising. Given that so much extra energy was devoted to new mental and emotional loads -- whether processing continual emails from kids' teachers and principals, or balancing additional concerns about everyone's mental, physical, academic, and social well-being -- it made sense to lack energy for creative outlets. Frankly, I struggled to stay on top of the mind-numbing alternating school schedule for my kids ("are you in-person or remote tomorrow?"), so I clearly didn't possess the necessary discipline or mental dexterity to publish sensible blog posts. Plus, after teaching on Zoom for several hours most days, whenever I had a chance to get away from my laptop in my makeshift bedroom office, I bolted.


Still, I don't want to forget everything about this pandemic year.

 

I want to remember the emotional highs and lows. Those times when I walked through the house, aware that my kids had been on devices for absurdly long stretches of time -- hours, days, maybe weeks straight, it seemed. These moments made (and still make) me feel impossibly inept. I don't want my kids to waste their lives on screens. I don't want them to forgo legitimate hobbies or fall into sedentary lifestyles. At the same time, when you endure months of quarantine when everyone is fatigued, edgy, and has "nothing to do," you don't always have the energy to fight the screen time battle.

 


I want to remember one fall afternoon when I was teaching on Zoom, leading an unremarkably okay-ish class session, and a loud rhythmic pounding emerged from my youngest daughter's room. Again and again, thump, thump, thump, whack!  I blinked hard, thinking the noise was bound to stop, but it didn't. My oldest yelled from her room, "Whoever is pounding, stop! I'm in class!" My middle daughter began to shout: "This is impossible! Stop it! Just stop! You're driving me crazy!"

 

My youngest yelled back, "I can't stop. I'm in music class. I'm the drummer!" 

 

I asked my students to disregard the background chaos and tried to keep teaching. Still, I momentarily put my head down on my desk, a brief indicator of defeat, as if offering a concession, "This is it. This is my actual life now."


I want to remember the days when I didn't care to get showered, the stretch when I was depressed and numb, and how I would sit in my car in our driveway to get away from everyone. I wondered whether my kids (or I) would be normal, functioning people after quarantine. Those were low days. I want to remember, a few months later, when I began completing more house projects. I felt pleasure again from crossing items off my to-do list. I was proud of myself for creating to-do lists in the first place.



I don't want to forget the evenings when my husband was home for dinner. For most of our married life, his job has required him to be miss multiple dinners every week. This wasn't the case during quarantine. Each night I was able to set five plates, not four, on the table. I want to remember how he and I moved around the kitchen after meals, shuffling around each other, the kitchen island, and the open doors of the refrigerator and dishwasher as we cleaned up together. 

 

I want to remember how even though I tried to incorporate one or two new recipes most weeks, it still felt like we ate the same food continually. I'm convinced that I fed my family approximately 37 times every day. 

 

I don't want to forget how my family members were always there, always in places where I wanted to be. There were no discernible boundaries between work and school and life. I'd hear the filtered voices of my daughters' teachers and classmates over Zoom as I moved throughout the house. At some point, my oldest daughter routinely set up her classroom space at our kitchen table, not her bedroom, and each day she'd grow irritated when someone used the kitchen for actual kitchen purposes -- you know, like getting food. Instead of even engaging her in conversations about this bad logic, l learned to make my lunch quickly and walk away. 


I want to remember the evening when I got so angry at my kids' terrible attitudes and behavior that I responded with my own terrible attitude and behavior and threw a plate on the kitchen floor, feeling frustration and shame when it shattered and I had to sweep the shards. I don't want to forget the many times when I laid on the floor in my closet and prayed, asking God to help my girls process everything that Covid had flipped upside down in their young lives.


I want to remember how my emotions -- whether happy or sad -- always felt closer to the surface. My eyes teared up the first time I wore a mask to get groceries because everything felt and looked so foreign, so strange, like I was walking through a science-fiction, not real life. I cried at every episode of Some Good News. I cried, yet again, one random day when I drove past a full bike rack on an otherwise empty campus because students had left for spring break and never returned. That physical sight -- a line of locked and unused bikes, standing idle at attention -- reminded me of how the world had flipped so abruptly.


I don't want to forget how conflicted I feel when students reach out and ask me for letters of recommendation because, out of all their professors during the last year, I'm the one they "got to know the best." In my heart, I'm touched each time I hear this sentiment, yet troubled because I only know my students in the most basic and fractional ways now. Our relationship is stripped down to faces on screens and faltering conversations as we perpetually mute and unmute ourselves. I mourn how much they've missed from their college experience.

 

I want to remember how my family shuffled downstairs on Sunday mornings to watch church services, with the kids still in their pajamas and everyone laid out on couches. And how when we adopted our cat, Peanut, for the benefit of our girls, I quickly realized how much her calming presence also benefited me. I don't want to forget how I sometimes browse my closet, running my hands over my professional clothes, wondering if I'll ever wear skirts, dresses, and cute shoes again. 

 

A part of me doesn't want to go back to doing things or going places. I really don't. My social battery depletes more quickly these days. I like sitting at my kitchen table five minutes before my classes start, knowing I only have to walk up the stairs and click a link, not drive to a parking deck and trek across campus. Between classes, I like tossing a load of laundry into the dryer, taking a quick walk around my yard, or chopping vegetables for dinner prep. You can do these things when you work from home. I enjoy not being expected to show up anywhere. Part of me wonders how it will feel when I'm expected to show up everywhere again.

 

I don't want to forget how the pandemic forced us to roll with the punches, let go of expectations, and become more flexible. Or how, in spite of it all -- all the fatigue, confusion, frustration, loss, uncertainty, and disposable masks -- we still tried and trusted God. We attempted back yard picnics, family game nights, and doing our best to make some moments special, even if nothing was normal. We socially distanced. We masked up. We kept putting one foot ahead of the next.

 

I might not have written much, but I hope I still remember. I don't want to forget this year.

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