I’ve been struggling to write anything that could, in any meaningful way, brighten the uncertainty and fear spread across our world right now. Admittedly, it isn’t coming easily. Everywhere you turn, you’re beaten over the head with COVID-19 updates, and no matter how stretched your nerves are, you pay attention in case there is something new and vital to know. There often is. I’ve watched my world, my country, my state, town, school district, neighborhood change shape hour by hour over the last few months. The digital universe, where I spend a good portion of my time thanks to my day job, has divided even more than before into people acting out in anger and fear and people acting out in compassion and connectivity. In my own home, my youngest child’s respiratory struggles, which were quickly discounted by our pediatrician as his body’s reaction to mucous, took on new, lengthier and harder to pin down symptoms. Weeks later he’s still coughing. Fevers come and go for each of us without a recognizable pattern and we’re all coughing here and there, a little. Muscle aches and exhaustion are also on display. Under normal circumstances, I’d be scheduling follow-up medical appointments. Now though… well, that’s where the uncertainty comes in.
I know the next question on your mind. Yes, we’ve been practicing social distancing for a couple of weeks. We actually made the decision to withdraw to our home before any of us showed symptoms. We saw the way the winds seemed to be turning and decided to err on the side of caution. If we do have the virus, I’m hoping that means we had few opportunities to spread infection. My son’s principal informed me there were a few cases in their school of pneumonia and RSV before the schools were shut down. Who knows – RSV may be what we’re facing. “Who knows” being the key. When the fevers came back after seeming to have gone away for a few days on antibiotics, I dutifully called in to his pediatrician. I was told that they didn’t need to hear back unless the fevers were consistently over 101 degrees Fahrenheit. They haven’t been. And from what I’m reading and hearing, the best way we can help is to stay home and stay quiet unless our symptoms turn into a life-threatening emergency. Fair enough. Except for the uncertainty.
Uncertainty breeds anxiety. Anxiety may be helpful to inform you in a hostile situation, where you need to be prepared for an attack. Trying to find a new normal in a swiftly changing landscape is not a good time for anxiety to inform your thoughts though. For all I know, the symptoms I experience could easily be the combination of allergies and anxiety. Or…
I swing between planning ways to make our home a pleasant little self-contained universe for the foreseeable future and wondering whether I should be preparing for loved ones or myself not surviving to the end of this year, or even to the summer. Those latter thoughts seem wild and far-fetched once I calm down – until I listen to the next news report or read up on the latest statistics and projections.
Then there’s the “mom guilt.” Can I get a knowing nod from all the mothers out there?
I’m among the fortunate few who were able to continue working from home. I have a space carved out for my workstation and was able to make the transition to remote-working without missing a step. My husband was able to do the same for as long as his company was allowed to stay open. That means television and phone apps have been raising our children these last couple of weeks while we were on conference calls and typing away at our computers. Now that the schools have had a little time to regroup, we’re going to be helping them with distance learning starting Monday. My husband should be able to help now that he has been laid off, provided everyone is feeling healthy enough to focus. I’ve seen stacks of great resources come through my email inbox. Teachers are reaching out and sending videos. It’s been inspiring. And we’ve all been so exhausted that we’ve barely scratched the surface. Enter “mom guilt.”
“How will this affect my children? What long-lasting consequences are we inflicting on our children by allowing them to loll about on the sofa glued to instant gratification machines? Will they live in constant anxiety and agoraphobia after we get through this? Will they become germaphobes? Other kinds of phobias? In how many ways am I failing as a parent?”
Uncertainty spins me in circles, examining every “what if.” I’m good at spiraling through those circles. I’m good at taking ownership of the worst “what ifs.” I’m an expert at the dance steps to Uncertainty’s tempo. And if I let my dance partner, Anxiety, lead, we’ll keep looping around that dance floor until my feet fall off.
So, STOP. Catch your breath. Have a laugh. It’s allowed.
Yesterday, I had conversations and wrote exchanges with family members. I had a video conference with treasured friends. I laughed. This morning was the first in weeks where I awoke symptom-free. Coincidence? Possibly. But I’d like to believe the sense of connection and the joys that filled my heart yesterday were at least mostly to thank.
I’d be surprised, after the last couple weeks, to have another symptom-free day tomorrow, but that’s okay. We’re doing everything we can to take care of ourselves and do our part to support our community. And I’ve found a new dance step. An important one. I imagine it’s a flourish-type move, like a leg extended defiantly into the air after a complicated set of spins. Something both lighthearted and fearless. Because those are exactly the symptoms of joy to me: Lighthearted and fearless.
The world is facing trials of illness, infestations, conflict, more. Where do we see strength? We see it in actions of generosity. Of community – even the kind that can’t be together physically. We find strength when we remember love, compassion, hope, forgiveness and joy. It’s within each of us. And in challenging times, we’re asked to choose which dance we’ll join.
I don’t know what to expect from tomorrow, or the day after that. Whatever they bring, I can say this with certainty: I intend to do my best tango through the uncertainty to come.