Whatever “Normal” Was, We’re Not Going Back To It

When work initially shut down in March 2020 (henceforth referred to as the “days of yore”), I was confident we would be back in the office in a matter of weeks. My colleagues and I would squeeze in around the conference table and someone would say, “well, that was weird, huh?” We would laugh big mask-less laughs and would definitely not be interrupted by a child asking to be wiped.

I miss my early pandemic optimism.

Thanks to photo memory apps, I have a daily reminder of a version of myself from a year ago. That version that went all in with “make the best of it” nervous energy. We decorated cardboard boxes as cars and had a drive-in movie in the living room. We celebrated “quarantine-oween” and the kids trick-or-treated through each bedroom. We baked homemade bagels, taped hearts to our windows and smiled for a front porch photo session. I took pictures of early Zooms, reveling in the novelty of preschoolers on webcams.

March 2020: decorating windows

There was a lot of novelty. I had never been a remote employee, never been a stay at home parent. I was used to leaving the house at 7 a.m., eating lunch at my desk, and treating weeknights like an obstacle course of dinner, books, and bedtimes. In those early days, I adapted to working at the kitchen table and jokingly referred to my kids as coworkers. The nervous energy burned off, and the ensuing year introduced me to a new version of myself.

Naturally, I was overwhelmed by the challenges of pandemic parenting (still am). I was scared by the risks that hovered in every public space in which I had previously been comfortable. I was anxious about learning a new set of rules for working, shopping, and socializing. I was frustrated and angry about the ease with which others resorted to disinformation and self-serving propaganda. I still am.

I will never unlearn those experiences. I will always carry a piece of that sadness and anger with me.

I’m sure most us have drifted away from the versions of ourselves we were a year ago. It’s like a Twilight Zone episode. The conference room table appears the same, but every person around it is irrevocably changed.

In fact, the opening credits for the original 1959 Twilight Zone series explained, “It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge.”

That’s kind of where we have existed this past year, right? We have floated between evidence and emotion, between fear and knowledge. Of course we are changed. The masks and plexiglass dividers may eventually fade away, but there will be fragments of these years that will haunt us forever.

However, we can also carry with us the lessons learned in quieter, uplifting moments. I learned about our community and loved supporting our local businesses and restaurants. My kids didn’t have to be in childcare for over nine hours a day. I didn’t have to rush to get out the door in the morning and I never once had to scrape ice off my car windows at the end of the day. I have to admit that, in a way, it’s been . . . kind of great.

February 2021: A lighter moment – attending online first grade from inside a ball pit

The extra time challenged me to examine my excuses. As it turns out, with time and resources, I will actually tidy up and work out regularly. On the other hand, I won’t take better care of my yard (sorry neighbors). I learned that for some things, it’s less about having the time and more about taking it.

When I am reminded of my early pandemic optimism, I have so many mixed feelings. There is now a heaviness where the hope used to be. And yet, while I’m grateful for every bread crumb on the path back to normal, I have to acknowledge I’m not the person I left behind in that place. I’m okay with that.

Related: Read more COVID-19 related content from Iowa City Moms.

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Susie is a mom of two, book-lover and frequent challah baker. In addition to working at The University of Iowa, Susie is a PTA volunteer and sorority advisor. She loves date nights in the Ped Mall, catching a show at the Englert, and most of all, cuddling her family on the couch.


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