Monday, April 20, 2020

I don’t want to return to normal

When the school dismissal bell rang on Friday, March 6, 2020, I had no clue that it would be the last time I would stand at the top of the stairs in the middle school hallway for the rest of the school year. Although I adore my students, I was gleefully ready for Spring Break to begin. I was all set to board a flight to Chicago in just a couple of days for a much-anticipated solo trip to visit an old friend. I had a lot to do, and I was ready to prepare for my travels.

News about the Coronavirus had been circulating for weeks (probably months, but I wasn’t paying attention). I don’t watch the news, so I had not submitted to any fear or hesitation about getting on an airplane. A few friends questioned my choice of flying “at a time like this”, but I was unbothered. The morning I flew out from Jacksonville International Airport, the amount of people waiting in the TSA line confirmed that I was not alone in my indifference. It was business as usual in our small airport. And definitely the crowds of people at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport didn’t seem to allow Coronavirus to stop them, either. 

On the plane ride home a few days later, I spotted a handful of travelers wearing masks. Actually, the woman sitting next to me on the flight back to Jacksonville was sporting a blue surgical mask, and I almost scoffed at her for being silly. At that time, the CDC was still telling people that a mask couldn’t stop the virus. Surely people couldn’t be this afraid of getting sick. I honestly thought that this virus was being blown out of proportion. Perhaps even an election year distraction. In the 24-hours after I returned home, Covid-19 would be a major headline and a daily news story indefinitely. 

The day after coming back from Chicago, our Spring Break was extended by one week. Schools were then cancelled until April 15. The governor of Florida finally declared a lock down about a week or so later, closing schools until May 1. I found out yesterday that we would not be returning to school for the rest of this school year. Right NOW, it is projected we will be able to go back for fall semester (which is the first week in August).

Essentially, this means I will be working at home for another month, and then I’ll have my regular summer break. I’m looking at about 90 more days of a lifestyle that I’m starting to love. A new normal. 
Don’t get me wrong, I get the gravity of what is happening in the world. Covid-19 is a deadly pandemic, and I am taking it seriously. I wear a mask to the grocery store and anywhere else I venture to. I keep Lysol spray and hand sanitizer in my purse. I’ve been social distancing from friends. I truly miss my students and know they are struggling with online education. I see the panic on people’s faces when I am out and about (for essentials, of course). I know people are scared. Small businesses are struggling to survive and people are out of jobs (including my own daughter). Unemployment is at a record high. Our economy may never bounce back.

But I am grateful for this pause.

2019 was a rough year for me. A lot of positive changes, but there was some hell mixed in. I was TOTALLY one of those people ushering in 2020 with a quickness, full of anticipation for the future and relief that 2019 was gone. Although single parenting was an adjustment in 2019, by the time 2020 rolled in I felt like I had entered a good groove. Financially I was making ends meet. I was slowly getting my house in order, cleaning out clutter and anything that reminded me of my ex. But I was tired. I left my house at 6:30 each morning and most nights I made a mad dash from work to the softball field with my 14-year old daughter. On nights off from softball, I was usually busy with a side hustle. And let’s not leave out church on first Wednesday and every Sunday (because both me and my daughter love our church and happily serve before and after the actual service). I was busy. Always. But grateful, nonetheless. I was happy and content and doing alright.

But…

I never want to return to THAT normal. I don’t want to go back to the way things were. I struggled to make time for self-care (think diet and exercise). I had to wake up at 4 am so I could carve out time to read my Bible and get a quick workout. I felt guilty for dropping my daughter off at softball practice and squeezing in as many errands as I could. I never had time to cook. I was always irritable when bedtime approached. Just so I could wake up and do it all again. So yeah… I am embracing this slow, easy life. I prayed for this. 

A couple of months ago, during a moment of feeling overwhelmed, I prayed for a break. I prayed for God to give me patience to deal with my kid. I prayed for Him to strengthen our relationship (that had been struggling since her father moved out and moved on and stopped communicating with her). I prayed for what to do about my job… a position I once loved but felt increasing apathy for. Do I stay? Or do I move on to something else? Let’s not even talk about the money pit called travel softball. I love the sport, and my daughter is an awesome catcher. But traveling every other weekend, on top of rec games 3 times a week… it’s a lot. And don’t get me started on my adult kids, including my 19-year old son with Autism that is also battling depression and anxiety.

I was a tired momma. An exhausted teacher. A broke team mom. And an unavailable friend. I was even reaching the point where I was going to stop serving at church… just to get some time back on Sunday so I could just watch TV or do something mindless for a few hours once a week. I didn’t feel good about it. But something had to give.

And it gave, alright. 

I admit, when I first heard that schools would be cancelled until May 1, I cried. All I could think about was my students who struggle in their homes, and need school as a safe refuge. All the students who count on school for an escape from abuse and a daily hot meal. How were they going to manage for over a MONTH? So I prayed. I literally pulled my car over and prayed. And I felt instant peace. God was in control. And He reminded me… “Hollie, you prayed for this pause.” And at that moment, I fell into it. I embraced it. And now, I want to savor it for as long as I can.
Daily, I read a post from someone on social media that just wants to get back to normal. They apologize to 2019 for talking crap about it, and rebuke 2020 and complain about what a disaster it’s been so far. People constantly remark that they just want things the way they used to be. When is this shutdown going to be over? When will Covid-19 go away? When will we “flatten the curve”? When can we return to NORMAL?

When I read and hear these lamentations, I secretly cringe. My inner dialogue is saying, “no, no, no, no, no…”. I NEVER want to go back to my old normal. I want to cherish this slow-paced life I’m suddenly leading. I wake up and go to bed later. I enjoy working from home from the comfort of my couch or dining room table. I prune bushes and mow my yard. I’ve cleaned out clutter from my shed and garage that’s been bothering me for years. I even painted my living room a bright color that gives it a perfect cottage feel. I walk almost every day and appreciate the sounds of neighborhood kids playing outside. My teenage daughter and I are suddenly best friends in isolation, strengthening our relationship with walks to Circle K for Icee’s and M&M’s and quick trips to Walmart for paint supplies for her arts and crafts projects. Yes, these things are essential. 

I am loving life right now. I appreciate this pause with every ounce of my being. I know that one day soon, COVID-19 will be a memory. A part of history I’ll tell my grandkids about one day. I pray for our nation, especially the sick and they unemployed. I am not happy this has happened. But I know God has a purpose in it for all of us. I totally get to choose how I spend this time. I am not afraid, and I have an optimistic attitude. I am looking forward to a NEW normal. And I can’t wait to see what the future brings once I’ve had time relish in my time as a homeschooling mom. Or am I a work-from-home mom? Or both?

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