After This

A green sprout emerging through rebar, Photo by Faris Mohammed on Unsplash

“After this, story, then calendar…then goodbye song,” she says before looking up with an eager smile, “THEN LUNCH!” Each day during virtual preschool, this is how Grace repeatedly rushes through every step in her visual schedule in anticipation of her favorite part.

We all want to get to the good stuff. Or the better stuff. Or the less traumatic, most-anything-is-better-than-this stuff.

Here we are a couple of months into this thing, and many are realizing it’s going to be a longer journey than we’d planned on. Early on, many of us were adding in things to placate ourselves. Now we are feeling it in our waistbands, but maybe not deriving the same emotional gratification from these quick fixes that we thought would pull us through. (I type as I eat a piece of chocolate cake….)

Sometimes I’m grateful for the extra moments when I get to watch my daughters grow and their relationship develop in ways it might not have when they were in school. Sometimes I’m crying quietly in line at Costco because I dared to really take in the scene of masks and distance and count all of the little things I took for granted before. Sometimes I can’t shake graphic images of people suffering unimaginable pain, lonely and afraid.

I’ve seen the term “new normal” used a lot, and I despise it. I liked my old normal in all of its COVID-free, comfortable, somewhat predictable mundaneness.

This new normal is when my daughters, who rarely get a break from each other, are reaching an age where possessiveness and bickering mean I’m often more of a referee than a mother. This is me feeling too overwhelmed with fear and worry most nights after their bedtime to do much of consequence. This is me regularly wondering when I will again feel safe leaving the sanctuary of our home to take my family to a public place.

The horror of it all will be easy to remember. News reports remind us of families who are losing loved ones, sacrificing time with family members to contribute to the cause, facing realities we can only imagine while bemoaning our life stuck at home. No matter the degree of suffering, we are all living out unique circumstances and stories with one very pervasive, very ominous shadow looming over our heads.

My grief and discomfort always impel me to look to the “after,” the better times yet to come. After this, I will take better care of myself and make all of the doctor appointments I’ve been forgetting to schedule for years. After this, I will remember to hold my loved ones tighter and tell them I love them more often, because you never know, do you? After this, we will finally take that trip to the shore. We will remember to check in on friends who live alone. We will never miss an opportunity to tell our children’s teachers how grateful we are. We won’t grumble about work because we should be so grateful to still have jobs.

But in always looking forward, always looking past now, we are missing something.

When I look closely at my days, most have good in them. This is when Grace got her first loose tooth. This is when I first made homemade bread with my daughters. This is when the girls learned magic. This is when I realized that socializing my children, although challenging for the introvert in me, is an important part of their happiness and well-being. It’s also when I realized, despite my introversion, the value in physical time with some of my best friends and family.

Life now is a tremendous challenge. Just getting through the day can be overwhelming. And then we all have to get up the next morning and do it all over again. There will be dark memories forever emblazoned in our minds, but the little glimmers of happiness and hope are the ones I will carry in my heart well after this.

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