The boys went back to preschool Monday. I spent the day wondering how they were doing and finally focusing my mental energy in a single direction at a time, feeling relief in my muscles as I shook out the knots from so many weeks of damage control. I hid in our home office for most of the day, but at one point did a lap around the downstairs, observing the silence. It was at once soothing and empty. At the end of the work day when I finally finished my last call at 4:30, the boys bounded into the house and I jumped right back into damage control. “Are they hydrated enough?” “Did River go potty at school?”
As they sat watching TV and eating ice cream, decompressing from their busy, technicolor first day back, I paced. The house cleaners had also come and there was a marked absence of mess. I had no idea what to do with myself because I have become so used to leaping from work straight into frantic cleaning and throwing together dinner, no breaks, no breather. That evening, with no disaster to tend to, I decided to do a short Pilates workout and then took a shower before cooking dinner. It was a very unfamiliar experience. Later, as we put the boys to bed, I realized that I had been running on adrenaline for so many days that I didn’t really notice how difficult it was. I lay in bed awake for hours, caught up in the come-down.
Yesterday, the slowing down turned into a slide. I slipped from the high of novelty at being able to work and having a clean house, to a slow roll of realization. As I cooked dinner, I found myself staring into space over the cutting board full of chicken pieces that I would turn into nuggets and the plates of egg wash and breadcrumbs. An emotional hangover began to wash over me. As I dipped the chicken – flour to egg to breadcrumbs to pan – I felt wave after wave hit. Dizzy, I leaned my head down to my chest and closed my eyes, my hands covered in egg and flour dangling in front of me. The headlines popped through my mind like a highlight reel – “The US nears 100,000 lives lost, too much for humans to comprehend,” “Schools may re-open in the fall but with modifications,” “Coronavirus may never go away, even with a vaccine,” and countless others. Not to mention the terrible and infuriating murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
And behind the headlines come the questions that I can’t seem to shake. Will Everett actually start Kindergarten in the fall? Will he have to sit inside a chalk square and not touch his friends as he experiences school for the first time? Will this be his frame of reference for years to come? Is it safe for my kids to be at preschool right now? Am I being selfish because I need to work? Will there even be a livable world on the other side of this where my children can grow up?
I have been shielding myself, keeping these feelings a safe distance away, far enough that I could still focus on what I needed to do every second of the day to keep all the pieces together and the children alive. Now this protective shield is unfolding because I suddenly have the space to process.
For weeks all I have wanted was space and a moment of calm. Now that I have that moment, grief has rushed in. It’s like I want to tell my old life what is happening, to reach out to myself three months ago and warn her about what is coming or even just to tell her how strange it all will become. I’ve often thought about how one of the strangest things about this pandemic is that I can’t even call my friend Christine in Austria or my friend Hieu in Singapore to tell them what is happening here and to share how crazy it all is because the same thing is happening to them. The only people who don’t know are the ones we lost before, like my dad. I think about what I would say to him. “Dad you’ll never believe how crazy things are. Hundreds of thousands of people are dying from this strange virus. Schools are closed, we can’t go to work. We have to wear masks everywhere we go.” It’s like a voice from another world entirely, but it’s mine.