Tomorrow is New Year’s Day, and it’s hard to believe it’s going to be yet another new pandemic year. At the end of 2020, we all felt hopeful that the awful year we had just experienced was finally over. We thought 2021 would be better. And it was. Vaccines helped us get almost back to normal for a while. But for those of us with young kids who aren’t yet eligible for vaccines, we never really got to feel normal.
We were stuck. Stuck being vigilant, not going on trips, not eating in restaurants. Just…home. One day bled into the next, into the next, into the next. There is comfort in constancy and the safety of being home. But there is also monotony. And while I’m infinitely grateful that we were all safe and healthy through the entire year, in many ways it feels like no time passed at all. Because we’ve made so little forward progress.
At 42, something shifted for me this year that made me deeply feel that I am in the middle of my life. Maybe it is this sensation of my feet being stuck in mud, unable to move them, held in place. Maybe it is the hours my body has spent sitting in the same office chair, staring at the same bright computer screen backlit by the sunlight of my yard beyond my window, just out of reach. Maybe it is the hours of video calls listening to my own voice echo off the four walls of my home office, alone but never alone. And I know it is the news from several close friends of their health challenges that has sharply highlighted our mortality.
In my head I repeat an ongoing refrain, that I should be grateful for having my health, a comfortable home, a true love in my husband, my family close by, my two curious boys, and I truly am. But this internal pressure to always feel grateful has become an impossible expectation. And along with it, an attachment to all these things for which I am grateful that makes me terrified of their loss. Where I used to have walls in place to protect me from such a vulnerable state, somewhere along the last nearly two years of tragedy, I lost that trusty defense mechanism and began clinging white-knuckled to the people I love. When so many people have been lost, my anxious mind hurriedly searches for strategies to continue to protect mine.
The pandemic has raged on long enough that I know this desperation to protect myself and those around me intensifies as the case numbers rise. And here we are, on the eve of another COVID year, in the middle of a new surge.
In the middle – again. Not in the beginning of COVID when we were so unsure of what was to come – not on the other side of this yet either. I’m just here – in the middle age and the middle year. Waiting for something to happen to tell me which way to go, waiting for progress beyond this pandemic, waiting for good news, waiting for clarity.
When I look at my boys, I see they are still in the beginning of everything. Wide-eyed, joyous, still shouting “Wow, that is A-mazing!” when they see a stunning sunset, and running full-tilt across a cold California beach as the waves crash beside them. For them, everything is new and interesting. When I squeeze them at night before bed and they don’t want to let go and pull me so tightly I can’t get away, I breathe deeply and soak in that newness and that sense of starting, to see hope for what is ahead. They help me see it, even when I feel that I can’t.
Maybe at some point I can dig my feet out of this mud and let myself look forward to something new again. But for now, I’ll squeeze my boys a little tighter tonight and try to look through their eyes at what is to come.