We did it, everyone. We made it to October. Fall has truly arrived and despite the ever-evolving state of chaos that is the year 2020, we’re still moving forward and we’re okay, more or less. At least, that’s the answer that rolls off most of our tongues when asked. We’re fine, we tell each other, shrugging. You know, we’re managing. But how are we really doing?
The answer is sort of complicated.
September was daunting for many families, including mine. The decision to send our kids back to in-person classes was not an easy or simple one. Long conversations were had about risk mitigation, mental health, finances and our careers. And after six months of later bedtimes, slow morning wake-ups and wearing pajamas until noon, the weekday morning rush was NOT something I looked forward to tackling again. (For what it’s worth, we did not excel at mornings pre-COVID.)
But here we all are in early October, still making it through whatever “all of this” entails in each region and household. It feels like a milestone of sorts, getting through the back-to-school transition in a pandemic. So, what do we get? Coffee, a medal, a pass that lets us skip to the head of the line at the local COVID-19 testing centre? (That would be worth its weight in gold, currently, between actual cases, seasonal allergies and run-of-the-mill colds.)
If you’ve been all over the map these past few months, I hear you. The spring was surreal, summer was nice but weird and so far, fall feels like a bubble that’s about to pop. The tension is growing and we can’t control the needle, and that sucks.
My personal emotional rollercoaster looks something like this: a cloud of mild to moderate anxiety that’s tinged with guilt because like most parents, I am relieved that my kids are back in school. They need to learn and socialize, my husband and I need to work, and school has to happen. We cannot be full-time parents, educators, crisis managers and members of a community while being completely isolated and unsupported at home. Even the most anxious, cautious parents among us are desperate for those familiar school day routines. But within that craving for normalcy is a sense of fear, or at least feeling unsettled, because of the risks involved with sending our kids into a too-full classroom with inadequate ventilation. Are we doing the right thing? We ask ourselves again and again.
The answer is yes, because whatever is working for your family right now is the right thing for your family. I don’t mean that in a “meh, everything will work out as it should” sort of way, and I’m certainly not saying we should all do whatever we want, regardless of the pandemic (please wear a mask, wash your hands and take social distancing seriously). But in terms of choosing between in-person learning/homeschooling/private school/distance education, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do. The saying, “We’re all in the same storm, but we’re all in different boats” is extremely accurate. We all need to do the best we can with the boat we’ve got and be kind to each other. Life is hard for a lot of people right now, and empathy is crucial.
So how are we doing, really?
Right now, I’m good. My kids are happy and healthy and my household income has been stable. We are missing extended family and the little things we can no longer do, but overall, we are extremely fortunate and I feel deeply grateful for everything we have. But other days, yeah, I’m overwhelmed or frustrated or sad that I can’t cuddle my baby nephew, throw my son a birthday party or hug my friends. I’m bummed out about the family trips we can’t take and intimidated by the long winter ahead. I’m mad about the government’s lack of action on a safe school reopening plan, worried about the world and wondering how long our lives will look like this. But at the end of the day? We have food, shelter, access to education and plenty of love in our family. We will be alright.
I’m doing really well for someone living in a pandemic and that’s good enough for me. My baseline has changed, and that’s fine—in fact, I think it’s healthy. I’m no therapist, but I don’t think we should be aiming for perfection right now. Not everyone is going to write a novel, DIY their whole house or get super fit during quarantine. Most people won’t. If your pandemic success story is “stayed healthy” or “held it together,” that works. Even if it’s “barely held it together,” or “having a really hard time, but still going,” I applaud you. It’s a global health crisis, not a contest. Go easy on yourself.
But when someone asks how you’re doing, I hope you’ll tell them the truth— the parts that are good, the parts that are hard, the times you’ve ugly cried in the shower and then took a deep breath and carried on. Whatever your wins and loses have been, you’re not alone. We may not all be in the same boat, but we can all help each other through the storm.