Incoming unpopular opinion: I kind of miss full-blown COVID-19. Not because I particularly enjoyed swabbing my brain via my nostrils every time my throat had a tickle, and I certainly do not miss the severity of it that threatened and took so many precious lives — it’s nothing like that. What I mean is that I miss the slowdown. I miss the grace we gave each other and ourselves. To be honest, I miss the bread we were all baking, but that doesn’t have much to do with the rest of this blog.
During the height of COVID-19, there wasn’t much expected of us — nowhere to really be. Work and school became incredibly accommodating, and we even cut ourselves some slack. It hasn’t taken long for us to completely forget all the things that changed (externally, but internally too) during those months that turned into years.
We’re now being beckoned back to the office, threatening the vulnerable seedlings of a work-life balance. We’re putting pressure on ourselves to make up for lost time. My household is at the mercy of dance, lacrosse and soccer schedules. We’re lucky if we get to have dinner together most nights. On the nights we do, sometimes we eat at 9:30 p.m. because I refuse to believe I can’t work eight hours, shuttle kids, and prepare a meal from scratch. At the end of most days, I’m completely exhausted from going full speed every day, giving my all to everyone, and still not feeling like I did enough or crossed enough off my to-do list.
I paused recently to slow down without the pressure of a global pandemic. My husband was on the road for the first time since pre-COVID (for anyone not connected to a flying MOS, that means he was on a cross-country, multi-day flight exercise). The house had just been cleaned top-to-bottom, the kids and I were working our way through a leftover all-crust spinach lasagna each night for dinner (do yourself a favor and make this), so there wasn’t much demand on me — a perfect scenario if ever there was one. Bored of my phone after a week of mindless scrolling and sudoku while waiting at double the practices during my return to intermittent single parenting, I did something I hadn’t done in months — I opened a book.
Okay… this isn’t 100% truthful, so let me out myself. I was opening a particular book because I was on the hunt for a particular quote about winter that I could use in the magazine I curate and edit for work. So, my intent was — in all honesty — to “work” on Saturday, not relax, and it was by accident, rather than intent that I found myself relaxing. I found my quote, but I read on, unable to turn away from my fascination with the concept of “wintering” which Katherine May discusses in her book with the same title. Though wintering can be a time of inward focus and slow down during a difficult time, I think it also works well as a practice to adapt at the end of each year. It’s taking the hint from the days that days end earlier and earlier with darkness — stop going in 1,000 different directions. Just be. Reflect on your year and store up strength and goals for the spring and the new year laid out before you.
I was struck by a concept in my reading that shook me… hard. It applies to the hurried life we have once we find ourselves in post-pandemic and post-PCS at our house — the feeling of trying to do everything… every day… for everyone: “The problem with ‘everything’ is that it ends up looking an awful lot like nothing: just one long haze of frantic activity, with all the meaning sheared away.”
This made me sit back and think about all the “everythings” I’ve endured and enjoyed just this year (never mind the stuff that dates back farther that will have to be unpacked another day). Can we sidebar for one more truth time-out? I didn’t recall most of these things on my own. I had to turn to the photos on my phone to refresh my memory. So, point taken from that quote.
In January, my 12-year-old son learned how to make scrambled eggs. Despite still not having drywall in some places, thanks to a Christmas Day 2022 pipe burst, we hosted dear friends for a weekend because they’re the kind of friends who don’t mind a little demo. It snowed on us as we walked through National Harbor, and we detoured to pose in front of a giant chair in Maryland that I never would’ve found on my own. Later that month, after weeks of seeing the inside of our walls, drywall went in, then vanities, lights and paint.
In February, we moved out of our house temporarily to have our hardwood floors refinished (thanks to the same burst pipe). We stayed in a horrific rental house for three nights — screaming next door, wet towels in the washer, a used bar of soap in the shower, and plenty of hair in the tub that didn’t belong to us. We cut our stay two days short and camped in our own basement since it was the better of the two options. Rattled from that “staycation,” we got out of town days later to Upstate New York. We hiked in the freezing cold, fed horses, and visited the final resting place of a dear friend while a bald eagle soared overhead.
By March, we were under contract on a house in North Carolina. In the months that followed, we’d watch it go from framing to a home ready for memories to be made.
In April, my baby turned 10 years old and wore one of my favorite t-shirts to school for retro day (which was a moment of both ouch and aww). My son crushed it weekend after weekend as an attack on his lacrosse team. My husband spent some of his favorite moments of our time in Virginia on the sideline coaching him. April also brought my brother, sister-in-law and niece up for a visit. This was the first time I held my only niece, and it was one of the best moments of my life. I can’t wait to help her get into and out of trouble as she grows up. In an especially busy month, we also rolled eggs at the White House and celebrated my husband’s 40th birthday with a scratch-made cheesecake (when you can’t bake bread, bake cheesecake — I guess). My daughter and I walked 20 miles around D.C. to honor fallen aviators, including the friends we’ve lost. Then there was a bout of strep that ran through the house, but we finished strong with a rare date night — front row for everyone’s favorite military spouse comedian, Ashley Gutermuth.
May was the start of all the lasts in Virginia — lacrosse playoffs, dress rehearsals, class parties. In May, the big orange moving truck rolled up and hauled everything away, not to be seen again until mid-June in another state. This was the month I worked full-time and through a large national event while living out of a suitcase and sleeping on an air mattress. I, by the way, would not recommend that. We ended the month with one last family picture in front of the house that is no longer ours.
June was hotel life. It was award ceremonies for the kids and an office farewell for my husband. It was the beginning of me, once again, becoming a full-time remote employee, something I hadn’t done in three years. It was completely surprising my husband with a (very) delayed birthday shoutout on the scoreboard of the Bowie Baysox scoreboard and capturing his reaction on video. It was another farewell for my husband, this time from his lacrosse team, this time with a few tears. If you ask him, though, it was just dusty outside. It was a day-long dance recital and moving five hours away the next morning. It was unpacking, beachcombing and porch sitting.
July was more of the same, but with fireworks and extended family. It was receiving a housewarming care package from a dear friend with the essentials from Hawaii.
August was more extended family, and the beginning of new school years in new schools with all the jitters. In September, we kayaked the sound, planted a garden and got reacquainted with tropical storms. My husband and I celebrated 15 years of marriage. A kind stranger on the beach captured a picture of us in her sunset photo, then flagged me down in the parking lot to send it to me. Lacrosse started again. Soccer started again. Dance started again. Homework started again. We found an open weekend and ferried to Ocracoke but didn’t stay long enough to relax… must go back and try again. October found us looking to the skies for C-130s again and finding my husband’s plane overhead. Costumes, pumpkins and such — trying to squeeze it all in and feeling the holiday pressure creep in.
It’s mid-October as I type this, so the rest of the year — as experience proves — will be utterly chaotic in the interest of making it memorable, and we’ll vacation somewhere to be determined.
I share my year in review to prove the point that even when it feels like we’re not doing anything while we’re busy doing everything, we are. This is only what I have photographic proof of. I certainly didn’t take selfies on the frustrating days at work, all the I-95 traffic, the stress of buying and selling a house, or the impossible days of parenting. The stress isn’t documented nearly as much as the fun. That’s because we remember the stress. That’s what wakes us up at night, not the fond memory of watching fireworks in the backyard. We’re doing enough — maybe even too much. Our brains are hardwired to retain the cringe-worthy, embarrassing, stressful scenarios over those warm and fuzzy moments, we must consciously pause, look back (even if you have to use your phone — no judgment here, clearly), and recognize all the amazing we managed while we thought we were just barely holding it together. We must remind ourselves we’re resilient, and though we remember everything for everyone else, we need an annual reminder of this.