We’re heading into the one-year anniversary of the shutdown, of COVID-19, of the pandemic – what seems like the end of life as we knew it. I was newly post-partum, heading back to work, and all of a sudden the world shut down and people were dying. The fear was real, and for my newly post-partum self, the emotions were visceral. In the beginning, we laughed it off, not really knowing or understanding the reality of it and the long journey that was just beginning. Some days were great, and I was able to find the silver linings easily – more time at home, more time with the kids, a comfortable house, sweat pants every day, curbside delivery, and Dine In CT. Some days were hell – WFH while caring for 3 under 4, a hubs who at times might not have understood I needed space, and the literal prison of not being able to leave my house or my yard, never mind the moments I CRAVED separation from the very beings who carry my heart outside of my body. And then the weeks turned into months and the humor turned more to normalcy, some days we were sane and some days we were not. Don’t get me wrong – we were fortunate then and we are fortunate now, and there are many others who have had it way worse than us. But if I were to go back and tell my pandemic self all the things I I realize now, this is what I would say:
Let. it. go. That load of laundry that sat wet in the washer overnight? Run it again. It’s not worth coming down on yourself for that. One musty load is a heck of a lot better than the MOUNTAINS of clean laundry that now sit in the hamper unfolded for days at a time (mostly till the kids run out of clean clothes to wear and we realize we have to get ‘er done). The fact that your husband can’t seem to find the hamper, and most of his clothes end up on the ground right next to it rather than inside of it? Leave it alone. Who cares, no one’s coming to the house these days anyway. The bruises put the Playmobil away the wrong way? They’re just going to play with it again tomorrow. If you fix it now, it just gets messed up again the next time around. At least they’re playing, and at least they’re attempting to clean up after themselves. One day you’ll realize these things really weren’t the end of the world, and your house was more than liveable, even when you thought you couldn’t go another day living in the mess.
Stop spending. It’s a pandemic and the world is shut down. Instead of buying 34059845098 new sweatshirts and sweat suits so that you can look like a scrub in style, save that money for things that will suit your family more. You aren’t seeing anyone anyway, and the few people you do see could care less what you look like. They just want you to be their wife and their mom. Plus, that temporary happiness you get from rocking a new sweatshirt is a lot less valuable than the long term wealth you gain from having more for your family down the road, even if it means less for you right now.
It’s ok to struggle. You will question your own mental health many days. You will wonder if you need to seek professional help, but never actually take the initiative to get it. You will experience middle of the night wakes with a racing heart and a racing mind, mostly as a result of the work/home stress and anxiety. And it will be an anxiety you aren’t used to, one you haven’t experienced before. One that triggers migraines and forces you to call out of work because you just can’t work up the courage to face the world that day, to do your job that day, to show up for your kids that day. And you know what? It’s ok. This is the hidden side of life. You’ll dig yourself out of it each time, and you’ll figure out a way to keep moving forward. You’ll find yourself again one day, and you’ll find ways to manifest that crippling stress and anxiety into something good.
Take care of yourself. And when you do take care of yourself, it doesn’t mean you’re selfish, or you’re less of a mom, or you’re less of a wife, or you’re less of a professional, or you’re less of a woman. And stop looking to social media or pop culture to figure out what it means to take care of yourself. If taking care of yourself means eating cookies and candy, do it. If taking care of yourself means finding time to exercise again, do it. If taking care of yourself means letting go of the expectations society has set for you or if taking care of yourself means embracing the expectations society has set for you, do it. If taking care of yourself means saying yes more or if taking care of yourself means saying no more, do it. And don’t feel badly about it. And definitely don’t apologize for it. Those littles who need you most will get a better you if you start taking care of yourself. You’ll be better for yourself and you’ll be better for them. It’s a win-win.
Be more present and practice patience. Stop thinking that things will go back to normal tomorrow. Don’t plan any parties or book any vacations. When you look up the definition of pandemic, believe it. But don’t let it consume you. Take things a day at a time, and work on managing the present moment in a way that helps you all survive that moment, or better yet, be happy or content in that moment. Turn off the TV, put your phone away, and do a craft even if your two year old can’t handle it, or play a board game as a family even if turn taking is hard. Live in the moment, stop thinking about the past or the future.
Show your teammate you care. Your number 1, your ride or die…he always shows up. Remember that. He puts up with your moods, your anal retentiveness, your stubbornness, and your princess requests. Go out of your way to make sure he knows how much you appreciate him and how much you value his teamwork. Stop comparing how much you do to how much he does. It’s not a competition, you’re on the same team, and you help each other out.
Play. Play with your kids, play like your kids, play like an adult. Do things that bring you joy, indulge in more wine, be silly, dance like a goofball. Now is a better time than any to literally dance like no one is watching – because literally no one is watching. And stop feeling guilty if you played more than you should have. Who cares if you’re 33 and have a hangover, or who cares if you have work in the morning. Because literally the world is at a stand still and we are living a new normal one moment at a time.
Accept yourself for all of you, and don’t feel guilty, shameful, or worthless because of it. You are you and no one and no thing can take that away from you. Live your life the way you want to live it, and stop putting pressure on yourself in comparison to others. Your hair’s falling out because it’s postpartum 3 and it’s the worst yet? Flaunt it. You have a pouch for a belly because your skin just won’t go back to normal anymore? Be proud of it. You can’t get that extra work done at night or on the weekends because your family needs you more? The world goes on. And don’t judge anyone else who may be doing things differently than you, or worse, don’t feel less adequate by what others are able to do that you can’t.
Enjoy the snuggles. The lazy mornings laying in bed. The pillows being thrown in piles for the world’s biggest “the floor is lava” game. The leftovers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The flat yard with the swingset. The dog who follows you and the kids around all day, just like the 6th family member he is. Pick up the phone calls and facetimes from family and friends. Ask others how they are doing and listen to what they say before moving on to the real reason you called. Be thoughtful. Say I love you. Accept criticism with grace and make an effort to make change. Grow instead of staying status quo.
You got this, I can’t wait to see who you’ve become on the other side, because if it doesn’t seem it now, I know you’ll be someone you’re proud of, someone you’re inspired by, and someone you’re empowered from.
Your same self,