Life with a Smile: Changes are coming – not sure I’m ready

Published 11:00 am Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The change of seasons is happening in earnest now. The snow pants and parkas have been stowed away until next year. The daffodils are in full bloom, and I grudgingly had to wake my lawn mower from its winter hibernation to deal with the unruly tufts of grass that are springing up in my front lawn.

It’s not just the flowers that are opening up. The country is following suit, as millions of doses of coronavirus vaccine find their way into arms every day.

We’re not out of the woods yet, and the states like Texas that have decided the pandemic is over are surely acting irresponsibly. But change is coming, and I find myself oddly conflicted at the prospect.

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On the one hand, I am overjoyed at the thought of the return of some sense of normalcy. The kids are thriving in school. They love their teachers and their friends and the playground and even the school lunches. I’ve been fortunate to have my parents in my “bubble” throughout the pandemic, but I miss my extended family. I would love to see a movie in the theaters, and the idea of eating inside a restaurant again makes me giddy.

But a year is a long time. Plenty of time to build new habits and reshape the rhythms of our lives. The kids and I started talking about easing back into extracurricular activities like sports and music lessons. I want them to have those opportunities, but I’ll admit that the thought of a jam-packed calendar doesn’t fill me with joy. There was something peaceful about knowing that we’d eat an unrushed dinner together every night. No frantic dash to practice, no careful choreography of carpools and performances. Just us. Together.

I was always a doer, so our lives were a bustle of activity before the pandemic. Playdates and dinner parties and trips to attractions. In a year at home, I’ve gotten pretty comfortable watching TV with the kids or working on art in my studio while they play. I don’t miss the activities as much as I thought I would when this whole thing started.

Then there’s the issue of risk. My ability to measure risk has been impacted by the pandemic. I can feel it. Returning to normalcy just doesn’t “feel” safe and I don’t quite know how to take those first steps. The pandemic is different from a natural disaster. When the tornado is gone, everyone knows it’s gone. Forest fires get extinguished. Flood waters recede. Someone in the emergency management department gives the all-clear signal and we creep from our homes and assess the damage.

There won’t be an all-clear signal that marks the end of the pandemic, no universally understood transition from “unsafe” to “safe.” So where to begin? The CDC has offered some guidance for those who have been vaccinated – how to gather safely in small groups with other vaccinated folks – but for those of us with children, that guidance still leaves many questions unanswered.

I’ve read compelling articles with lovely, illustrated graphs showing how little risk the COVID-19 virus truly poses to children. Although their individual risk is certainly not zero, the biggest concern with kids has always been that they would be disease vectors, carrying the virus to their vulnerable parents and grandparents. With their parents and grandparents protected, how do our calculations change? Objectively, letting my kids play at their friends’ houses in our neighborhood is an order of magnitude safer than driving them in my car to a family-only hike in the woods. So why doesn’t it feel that way?

There are no easy answers. There never have been.

In some ways, the gradual reopening is surely a gift. If we tried to transition directly from standing still to running full tilt, we would fall on our faces. To keep the analogy going, I’m doing good to manage a slow shuffle because my feet have gone to sleep from sitting on the couch for a year. We’ve gotta work through the pins and needles before we can walk comfortably again.