Can the New Normal Stop Changing, Please?
I can’t keep up with life right now.
Eight fucking months since we started this whole quarantine-social-distancing-wear-a-mask-work-from-home-and-home-school thing. Skipping Easter festivities feels like years ago. I’ve had my temperature checked more this year than I have in two decades. I’m an introvert and even I’m craving social interaction beyond my kids and quasi-husband.
Right when we get used to a change, another one is thrown our way.
Perhaps I was naïve, but I didn’t anticipate the severity of this pandemic. I didn’t go into a toilet paper buying frenzy. I had accidentally bought too much via Amazon and thankfully, we’re still using the original stash eight months later. Overnight, butter and eggs became black market items.
Everything was such a mad panic hysteria that we had no time to think. I bought a new modem and upped my internet to their fastest package. Set up home offices, despite a waitlist for an office chair because the demand for office furniture spiked. Moms’ Night Out became Zoom Night In so we could vent and compare strategies. Who knew the next time I could get groceries; even Amazon Fresh stopped showing delivery times.
Thankfully, the bar for education dropped significantly. My children could have shown a potato in lieu of their math homework on Flipgrid and still score an A+. Our patience was tested as we watched 7-year-olds hunt and peck at keyboards at the speed of lard. Appreciation and sympathy for teachers skyrocketed. I’m happy to buy a lifetime supply of tequila for my kids’ teachers to compensate for their suffering.
We got used to that normal until it changed again.
Wearing a mask became a “thing”. Back then, they weren’t easy to find. No one had cool and hip patterns on their masks; plain ones added to the apocalyptic eeriness of our new world. Grocery stores slowly opened with lines, special senior hours, and limits on pantry stables like a 1980s Soviet food shortage. Without bread, we became expert breadmakers. Until there was an absence of flour. Dino-shaped nuggets became currency among my friends.
With gyms closed, there was no workout equipment to be found. I suspect Peloton employees popped champagne daily from the influx of orders. It took me four months to find two matching 8lbs weights. People went one of two ways: gaining a COVID 20lbs or becoming quarantine fit.
Social Zoom calls dwindled. We discovered staying home all day, working while playing teacher exhausted us. The novelty of staring at friends in little boxes wore off. For entertainment, we relied on Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, and Disney+. There was so much to watch, right?
Then the new normal changed again.
School ended. Thank God! No more waking up to log in early, no more logging into iReady and Boom Cards, and no more worrying about our children’s failing education.
We quickly learned that a lack of structured activities from day camps meant children were bored, isolated, and prone to bothering parents during work Zoom meetings unless we caved and handed them an iPad. I’m one of the lucky ones who already had a Nintendo Switch pre-pandemic. My coworkers went berserk for months trying to find one at retail price. Our goal of “this doesn’t mean you can watch TV all day” for our kids switched to “you’ve played games for five hours, let your sister have the iPad”. My house now has three iPads, two Kindle Fires, seven laptops, one Nintendo Switch, and three TVs with five different streaming services.
It was hard to complain about juggling being a working parent while running an in-home daycare. If you kept your job, you were grateful you had the opportunity to stay at home and continue earning an income. For many of my friends, layoffs and furloughs trickled in. How were people in emergency and medical fields supposed to find childcare while working? I still don’t know how they miraculously made it happen.
Then the new normal changed…again.
Lacking a competent leader, state governments implemented their own pandemic laws and reopening requirements. Sometimes nail and hair salons were open, other times they weren’t. Sneaking into my hairdresser’s house for a badly-needed haircut, I felt shame that I was becoming part of the pandemic problem all in the name of removing split ends and getting face-framing layers.
In my area, schools reopened virtually. The fancy-schmancy private schools applied and received waivers to open in-person because (I assume) rich folks have an immunity to the coronavirus. Unlike the prior school year, this school year meant business. Procedures and attendance mattered. Homework mattered. Actual learning mattered. I’m a motherfucking Google Classroom expert. As a working mother, I no longer could rely on the excuse of playing teacher when I couldn’t attend a work meeting or jump on an issue.
It seemed like things had finally found a groove. Restaurants created outdoor seating, many places did temperature checks upon arrival, and stores finally stocked up on almost everything. Paper towels and hand sanitizer were still crazy hard to find but hey…at least we had toilet paper again. Virtual school was madness but it was consistent. I now have a stash of face masks in my car.
The new normal…wait for it…wait for it…changed again.
Nearby schools rolled out a hybrid model. Part-time at school, part-time at home. If coronavirus cases jump in the county, then we resume virtual all over again. Does it sound stressful? Because it is. I’m stress eating Pretzel Crisps (not even dipping them in anything, like a savage) as I type this.
Leading up to the first day of hybrid school, forgotten real-world issues went into play. How did I function in the days of yore? I hustled to make an allergist appointment for my son to get his nut allergy forms filled out and a fresh Epi-pen prescription. Despite being a public school, there were still uniform requirements and my kids have grown two sizes. The little kids couldn’t go back to paper and pen, they needed Chromebooks like the older kids; my Windows laptop isn’t allowed. Hustling to get new uniforms, a Chromebook, school medical forms filled out, getting items from the school supply list, and all the supporting ancillary action items has left me depleted.
Pause to shovel more carbs down my throat with the anxious fervor of a heroin addict needing a fix.
The drop off process is very intense. There is a set path around the side streets to enter the school from one entrance. Cars with older kids go in one direction, the other cars pulled up to the front of the school. With windows rolled down, we answered “no” to every mandatory “do you have fever or coronavirus” question. Then my kids exited the car without any help from us. Not ideal on the first day of school when they can barely carry the bags of supplies. We were explicitly told we couldn’t get out of the car to help lift their heavy backpacks on them.
I wish I could say I used the time they were at school productively. Instead, for 2.5 hours, I flopped on my bed and passed out. Later staggering out the door in a sleepy haze to pick them up, I figured being slightly early would make pickup easy. I was wrong. By the time I arrived, the car line was already 3 streets over from the school. I’m one of the lucky ones. Parents who arrived on time ended up blocking the main street.
Afternoons are still full of virtual classes and the various therapy services my son receives for his autism-related delays. Sometime before midnight I’ll tackle my paying job’s work and pray I stay employed.
Every change gets harder, not easier. I’m very hashtag-blessed that I have a roof over my head, a job, and we have the resources to make our situation work. Hats off to those that don’t have that. Still, I’m going batshit crazy. I can’t plan for separating from my husband when it takes two people to manage the constantly changing school situation (nor would I add an extra burden to kids already dealing with so much). Not knowing the status of our jobs when businesses reopen, I can’t plan on different living arrangements. The spiral of things pausing and changing due to this pandemic won’t stop spinning.
My daughter set up her toys to play school. She showed me her setup. There was a classroom, a small rabbit teacher, and little desks. Lined up across her entire room were an assortment of toy vehicles with furry creatures in them. “They’re in line to do drop off because it’s hybrid!” she excitedly said.
Sigh. Forget saving for her college fund, that money is better spent saving for therapy.
I wish I had comforting words of wisdom for you, Dear Reader. While I have nothing to ease your mind in the vein of It-Will-Get-Better, hopefully you can take solace knowing that others are going out of their freaking minds as well.
Tomorrow, I’m going to bake bread. I have an overabundance of flour from a panic purchase last April. If we can’t have our lives back, at least we can have carbs.