I am a self-proclaimed control freak. I always have a plan, and if I can’t yet make one, I make a plan for planning. I am the queen of lists. For family camping trips, I have a four-quadrant list for each family member. For my planning addiction, COVID was a nightmare I didn’t see coming. Suddenly, I was unable to plan past the next week, let alone think about holidays or family vacations. I was plunged into the control freak’s worst nightmare.
After our first major lockdown and then loosening of restrictions, it came time to figure out what to do about school. There was no clarity about what our options were, whether we had to keep my son in Zoom Kindergarten or lose our spot at the coveted lottery school, or if we could defer a year. And then it hit me. I didn’t have control over this situation anymore and I just had to let it go. As any control freak will tell you, this was an uncomfortable moment. I had to lean in to that discomfort, breathe, and sing “Let it Go” to myself over and over.
Somewhere along the twists and turns of COVID lockdowns, missed birthday parties, soccer games, and school closures, I started to realize I had to loosen my intense grip on defining every detail of our lives. COVID pried my fingers free one by one and told me no, you can’t beat me at this. You can’t predict what is going to happen, and you can’t stop this train. I realized painfully, that I needed to embrace my newfound lack of control. Slowly over time, I found myself singing my new theme song over sinks full of dishes and while picking up ten thousand Legos off the hardwood floor. I started to pull back from excelling at every aspect of my job and started picking my battles.
And something else emerged. I started to realize I was becoming a better mom.
In the slowing down of life, there was also a profound refocusing. No longer making lists to pack for my next business trip or the Pinterest worthy birthday party coming up in two months, I pulled out a cookbook and tried some new recipes. I made a fairy garden in the backyard with my six-year-old that took us all day one Saturday. I made pumpkin donuts and lit scented candles in the summer because fall is our favorite season. I listened when my four-year-old asked, “Mommy, will you snuggle with me?” and sat on the couch more often to watch TV.
I slowed down.
I really looked at my kids and listened to their questions and engaged in curiosity.
I continued working from home due to our inability to return to the office, and even though I missed wearing nice clothes and seeing my coworkers, I no longer had to choose work over my kids. Since I had my oldest son seven years ago, underneath my joy in being a mom was a persistent, nagging sense of guilt. Guilt for working full time, for putting my kids second when work was sending me off on yet another flight.
COVID grounded me both literally and figuratively. And my mom guilt evaporated.
When I was trapped on the treadmill of working outside my home and being a mom, always dropping one ball to pick up another, the most important thing to me was to always ask my kids how their day was and to make sure they felt loved by me every day. I told myself if I did that, it would be enough, even when I could barely make it all work. Now, I am more present with them than ever before. The noise of all those external pieces of my life is quieted, and I’m left with the clear sound of their voices. And it feels good.
I’m very fortunate to still be working from home, but some days are better than others. When my two boys get home from school at 3 in the afternoon, there are many days they watch TV or play video games for two hours before I finish calls and can finally emerge from my office to play and start dinner. But at least I am right there, not off on a trip sleeping alone in a hotel room missing them, torturing myself with guilt for being away for so long, compensating with list-making and party planning. I need only step out of my home office and right into their little world and leave work behind for the night, singing my theme song as I close the office door.