What lessons can we take away from a year of isolation?
I can’t stop thinking about the “before times.”
Today marks a full year to the day that my whole world went on lockdown.
I often think about how memories are corrupted every time we access them, and for this reason, I try not to access those memories I find so precious, but lately, I find myself thinking so much about how a year ago, to the day, so much about my life changed.
When I went back to my classroom last June to empty it out, I remember being taken aback by the agenda I’d written for my students. I had introduced the novel we were about to dig into and there were remnants of that lesson strewn around the room. Even then, I didn’t think about how that would be the last time I’d be in a classroom.
I’ve been thinking so much about what this past year has taught me.
It’s easy to be nostalgic for what’s been lost. I’ve had to cut my own hair, my son’s and my husband’s. I’m not a hairdresser, but I do okay. I can’t remember the last restaurant where I had dinner. When did my husband and I have our last date night?
It’s all so hazy.
It’s so unfair that we aren’t privileged to know when something is happening for the last time.
When is the last time I’ll be strong enough to pick up my son? I’m still able to pick him up and try really hard to enjoy it, despite his being so heavy.
When was the last time I hugged my mother?
When was the last time I wore a cute outfit and makeup and heels?
Maybe that’s why I’m clinging so hard to March 13, 2020. I do remember the last time I stood in front of my students and taught a class, and it was normal, and they were annoyed, and I was annoyed that they were annoyed.
What didn’t I know about March 13, 2020? I didn’t know it would be the start of my decision to leave my teaching career behind. I didn’t know more than a year would pass before seeing my dad and sister — I still haven't seen them since Thanksgiving of 2019.
I didn’t know that the weekend before that was the last normal weekend. What did we even do on that weekend? Was that the weekend we’d gone to the movies? Did we go to the park? Was it still cold outside?
It’s all so blurry.
Feeling that haze is a good reminder to work harder to take it all in. Even the shit.
Experiencing the lows is how we know we’re experiencing the highs, so I’ve learned it’s important to be present.
I didn’t say it was easy. I said it was important. The distinction is clear.
On Marriage & Partners
When the pandemic started last year, the NASCAR racing season was just starting to pick up. My husband is a tire changer in the Truck, Xfinity, and Cup series, so he’s gone 42 weekends of the year. At the time of the pandemic, he also had an office job.
During the Before Times, I would leave the house by 6:30–6:45 a.m. and be home by 3:30–4:00 p.m., and he’d come home around 6:30 p.m. and then it was dinner time, bedtime for the child, then by about 8:30–9:00 p.m., we were finally alone together. We usually had about 2 hours together before I had to be in bed to get at least 6 hours of sleep, which, I should note, is less than the recommended amount of sleep to be healthy.
March 13, 2020, rolled around, and suddenly my son, my husband, and I were home together all day every day.
I think it’s important to note that Justin and I have never spent so much time together in our entire relationship. We are college sweethearts, and when we met I was pre-med, and I spent A LOT of time studying. Then we were in a long-distance relationship for two years, then when we finally lived in the same city, he was working in NASCAR.
It is absolutely not a shock to see how the shutdown is a strain on a romantic relationship. Our society isn’t built around spending so much time with our partners.
In the before times, we might squeeze a date night in once in a while, but mostly our time spent together was us looking at our phones while watching a show and then walking upstairs to hit the hay.
Suddenly, we were sharing an office and spending every waking moment together.
At first, it was great, then it wasn’t great, and now it’s great again. I suspect these feelings come in waves. I am also an introvert who doesn’t like being touched, and so being around people all day every day with no break is really taxing on me, as I believe, it would be on anyone, except my crazy extroverted sister who told me she misses being in crowds of people.
I learned that I loathe the sound of his keyboard, and he hates the way I sneeze, which happens all day every day. Somehow, we still love each other despite spending so much time together, so the pandemic has shown me that I did pick the right mate.
On Reconnecting With Old Friends
In the Before Times, I felt like I barely spent time with my son. When I came home from work and picked him up from school, we went to baseball practice or swim. I would do chores and make dinner. The time I was spending with him was not quality time. On the weekends, it was more chores and errands, but once the pandemic started, errands suddenly became deliveries and curbside pickups, and baseball and swim were canceled.
Before the pandemic started, I had vowed to myself that I’d be a better parent on the weekend and work harder to spend quality time with the child. It sucks when Justin is gone on the weekend because we see families hanging out together, so, I thought, we’re going to do one really cool thing once or twice a month while Justin is at the racetrack.
The weekend of the shutdown I had tickets for the kid and me to see the Charlotte Symphony play the score to the Empire Strikes Back while the film played behind the orchestra. We were P U M P E D. Then it was canceled and rescheduled for this weekend, and just the other day I got an email that it was rescheduled for next March. March 2022.
Parenting during the pandemic has been challenging. There’s this societal pressure to make sure our children don’t “fall behind” in school. This is stupid and doesn’t take into account that our children are also coping with a pandemic. There’s the added pressure on parents to make sure the mental welfare of our children isn’t negatively affected by the pandemic. Spoiler alert: Our children are experiencing this trauma right alongside us. They miss their friends. They are sad. It makes parents sad. It sucks, yo. All of our mental welfare has been affected negatively.
I definitely learned that stay-at-home-parenting and home school are not for me. When he was just born, I questioned my urge to return to work. I felt guilty about wanting a writing career and enjoying my teaching career. I was sure this “selfish” urge made me a “bad” mom. It does not.
The pandemic has taught me that I’m the right mom for my kid. It’s been tough, but it’s been more positive than negative, and I’m grateful that this happened while he was at an age where he still wants to spend time with my husband and me.
All this time together has been really special, and I think Justin and I have done pretty well at making sure we don’t burden him with the struggles of the pandemic. We take family walks and have done some COVID-friendly family excursions. I do hope he looks back on this time when he’s older and doesn’t think about masks and hand-sanitizer and not seeing his friends for a year, but of picnics and the beach and scooting around the neighborhood, reading the entire Harry Potter series and playing Uno and Battleship with me every day.
On Reconnecting With Old Friends
As an adult, I’ve never been part of a “girls’ night out” circle of friends. Sure, I’ve longed to be part of a thick-as-thieves group of women who have kids the same age as mine who enjoy gin and tonics at the same rate that I do, but as anyone will tell you, making friends in your 30’s is nearly impossible.
Before the pandemic, I missed my girlfriends from college and grad school and enviously looked at the social media posts of my local female friends who had girls’ nights and thought often about ways to make mom-friends or friends with women (they need not have children) who wanted to spend a weekend reading books and drinking wine in a cabin in the mountains away from our partners and city lives.
Then the pandemic happened and suddenly it seemed the world realized that Zoom existed, and it didn’t have to be used just for meetings.
I remember I was responding to an old college friend’s Instagram story, and suddenly we were chatting, and I mentioned missing socializing and movies, and he invited me to his bi-weekly movie nights. It was the third week of the shutdown, and it was the first time I realized I’d hit the pandemic wall. It was such a joy to dedicate time to re-watching old movies and to have a group of folks to vent and laugh with.
We went through the alphabet, two letters a week, thinking we’d never get to “z” and then we did, and it was fall, and so we took a little break. We recently resumed them because the pandemic is still happening.
A year ago, I wasn’t writing as much, but then one of my best friends from grad school reached out about sending each other pages since we were both working on a book, and we’ve been pumping out pages ever since. Once a month, a group of my closest girlfriends from grad school, meet up on Zoom and we talk about books, and well, it’s been so great to reconnect with people I’ve always loved.
If anything, the pandemic has taught me that connecting with people requires effort. It doesn’t just happen, and the effort is rewarding. I don’t know which of these “gatherings” will continue when the pandemic ends, but I hope they do because they have been nourishing, and honestly, I think they’ve helped me fend off the bouts of melancholy I was experiencing early on last spring.
On Cooking and Baking
I love to cook. Well, I did love cooking.
When the pandemic started, I was joyfully making everyone breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but then it seemed the kitchen was always a mess, and that maybe I needed to shutdown Chez Gloria. I felt like a short-order cook.
Why were there so many meals in a day? Why did everyone want something different? Why was I the only one cooking? Who was going to make me breakfast?!
Like so many others, I tried my hand at a sourdough starter which resulted in a hockey puck loaf of bread. A baker, I am not.
This pandemic has really squashed my love of cooking. More often than not, I find myself dreading making dinner and lunch and breakfast. I do a lot less cooking than I did before the pandemic, and it’s because I’m still so burned out from it.
I wouldn’t say my “relationship” with food has changed, but I definitely feel like my relationship with the kitchen is on the rocks.
COVID has definitely brought my decision fatigue issues to the surface as well as seeing that the “silent burden” is real and that I need to communicate to my partner about it.
I’m really looking forward to this pandemic being over so I can cook for larger groups of people which used to bring me so much joy. I’m hoping this will bring back some of the zest I once had for cooking because even a year later, I dread the witching hour that is dinner time.
One of the hardest things about this pandemic has been seeing how selfish people can be. I’ve been heartbroken by videos of people refusing to wear masks. I don’t know if it’s because I had so many students who worked at grocery stores, but I kept thinking about how I wanted to protect them from having to get yelled at for doing their job and enforcing a company policy. I’ve been frustrated by the inconsistent messaging of governments, local, state, and national about what is expected, which has made it easier for those not worried about the collective good to follow rules.
It’s shocking to see people who are part of your bubble act irresponsibly because they don’t realize they are part of your bubble. Coworkers and their spouses not thinking about the families of their coworkers and spouses has sent me into fits of doom scrolling at 3 a.m.
Having family that lives abroad and seeing the difference between a society that believes in the collective good and the individual has definitely informed lessons I want my son to learn, and it’s shifted the way we talk about our family unit.
As this pandemic has continued, I’ve been holding out hope that there will be a public shift in actions that help the public good versus the individual, and I’ve learned that this is unlikely.
While there have been so many scenes of Karen’s and whatever the male version of a Karen is flooding our social media feeds, there have also been countless stories of selflessness and community. I’m in awe of the healthcare workers who have had to quarantine away from their families so they can continue to do the work of helping to heal the rest of us.
Teachers have had to change the way they teach and learn how to adapt to virtual classrooms overnight and have done so in stride. I’ve been blown away at my son’s teacher (and being a former teacher, I know the incredible work my former colleagues are doing).
Folks who work in restaurants, grocery stores, and other open businesses have risked their lives so we can mostly live the way we did before. As much as there is selfishness there is more selflessness which gives me some hope.
Overall, I feel somewhat awful saying that the pandemic hasn’t been a grossly horrible experience for me. I’m fully aware that this is because I’m privileged and because my husband and I have worked our guts out to make sure we planned for contingencies.
The pandemic has been a time that I’ve been more creative than ever before. I’ve written as much, if not more than I did when I was in my MFA program many moons ago. I learned how to be a “play on the floor” mom, though I still don’t enjoy it. I didn’t get in the best shape of my life, but I do take walks almost daily and that seems to give me a serotonin boost to last me a few hours.
My biggest worry, I almost said fear, but I’m not afraid this will happen, I’m concerned it will happen, is we will return to “normal” times and go back to unmanageable hours, untenable workloads, and unreasonable expectations for productivity. I don’t want to go back to seeing my husband for two hours a day, at the end of a long, often shitty day of work, and be expected to be a warm and loving partner. I don’t want to go back to being the mother of an overscheduled kid who doesn’t get quality time with his mom.
The pandemic showed many of us what we were missing when we were running around. Sure, I learned to cut my own hair (not very well, but well enough) and not be afraid to take on DIY home projects, but mostly, I’ve learned to stand still. Well, not completely still, but more still than before.