This year has been unprecedented. COVID19 has led to indescribable suffering for so many people. We have been living in a state of fear and isolation for months. Even when our family went to Florida at the beginning of February, my emerg-physician brother-in-law was giving us regular updates about the spread and impact on the other side of the world, cautioning the children not to touch anything in the airport. I am so grateful we got to have that happy time together before having to stay apart.
I also keep thinking about how lucky Ari was to have a totally normal 5th birthday party on March 7th- right before it all became too real - where he got to huddle up and hug his friends, cook food and decorate cupcakes, blow out the candles on his big birthday cake ('cause let's be honest, blowing all over a shared cake is a thing of the past now) and celebrate together.
A week later was my nephew Sammy's 2nd birthday, which was downgraded from a play centre to an intimate family gathering, but I sadly missed because my youngest, Ezra, had a cough. At that point we were already being cautious and not wanting to take any risks. And just a few days later schools were shut down - as it turns out, for the remainder of the year. The wonderful yoga studio where I did my teacher training, and the very special studio where I taught (and attended) classes have both closed their doors permanently. We had our family Passover Seder over Zoom. We transitioned to virtual birthday parties and playdates. And hardest of all, we celebrated from afar as we welcomed a new member to our family: my new niece Lucy, who I have not gotten a chance to hold or sniff or snuggle in 2 months. I have completely missed the stage where she curls up with little newborn froggie legs.
And now on top of everything, the world is angry and outraged at unfathomable racial injustices. Brave people are taking to the streets in their masks to protest and contribute to the revolution that is underway.
Our definition of a hero has changed to not only include people like my brother-in-law, who are serving on the front lines of healthcare, but also grocery clerks and mail and delivery carriers. It has become a lot clearer to us what is essential, and we have had time to reflect on what we value most. We have learned how to better express our appreciation, and offer kindness to those who need it most (including ourselves!).
These are not easy times. But there has been a lot of good too. On a lighter note, there have been some great memes circulating the internet during these times:
if 2020 was a food, it would be matzah
when life gives you lemons, make lemonade (with a picture of a lemon with no juice or pulp inside captioned "2020")
endless memes about social distancing
jokes about how when given the chance to be left alone with our thoughts we're choosing to bake bread instead
hilarious memes about dogs who just want their owners to leave them alone or wear a cone to stop us from touching our own faces
infinite memes about toilet paper, hand sanitizer and Lysol
There was even a mosaic artist in Chicago who created mosaic artwork to fill potholes, featuring toilet paper and Purell.
Sometimes I feel like if I hear the words "unprecedented" or "new normal" again I will scream. There is nothing normal about this. And yet in many ways this hasn't been a terrible time for me. I am enjoying the extra time with my kids and the time to focus on my own self development and health. The weather is improving. It's now socially acceptable (actually expected) to stay home in my pajamas reading a book or watch Netflix. In fact, staying home is one way to be a hero and keep vulnerable people safe. I have been sewing very cute masks. I have taken, and graduated from, an online course on the Science of Wellbeing - which has also improved my happiness scores on a number of surveys I've taken before and after completing the course. I have taught myself calligraphy and experimented with different art mediums, experimenting with the best way to study and create a portrait of my dog Mitzi - just for the fun of learning. I have taken up a regular meditation practice. I have exercised - not as much as I'd like, but more than before.
But this sunny outlook takes effort. And as much as I love sharing ideas and highlights on Instagram, I believe in being transparent about the hard times too. The dark reality is that I lost my job and am now unemployed indefinitely. I miss my people; my village and support system. I love doing crafts, and being creative and resourceful, but I do not have the patience of a teacher, and my kids do not love distance learning. My children are grieving the loss of social lives that they worked so hard to build, and the loss of contact from caregivers who played a big part in shaping and nurturing them every day. And this week (wait - it's only Wednesday)… - the past few DAYS have been a sort of climax to the chaos.
I am no stranger to functioning in a heightened state of panic and anxiety - running on pure adrenaline while operating in shock. But just when I was starting to manage, or even enjoy, my "new normal" (ew, I just said it), the rollercoaster took me for another ride.
It's amazing how busy it can be being home with your kids all day, playing the role of teacher and chef and parent and playmate. I'm not even working, and I have endless lists of things I want to do, whenever I find the time and energy. On Monday, #1 on the list was to clean out my mosaic studio. My partner from the public art installation we installed last year dropped off a bunch of glass tiles that I wanted to find a home for. And actually I hadn't put away the tools and tiles I already had from that mosaic installation a year ago either. I have so many projects I want to do, and while I've been able to create a few small things in the messy chaos of my studio, this was the day I was going to put an end to the mess and the clutter. I was going to restore my studio to it's former, organized glory.
I spent a lot of time sorting, organizing, putting away and labelling boxes and jars. As I took a step back to assess and admire my hard work, I noticed that one of the shelves of my bookcase looked off. I didn't want the items on that particular shelf to crash to the floor and break while I fixed the shelf, so I started unloading them carefully, one by one. As soon as I did, the entire shelving system collapsed, glass jars and all, all over my head and body. My beautiful rainbow of potential creativity became my worst nightmare as shelves and jars full of stained glass and tiles came crashing down on top of me.
Just like when I was in labour, I could hear myself screaming, and even observed that I was LOUD, but it didn't feel like the sound was coming from me. Ari, who was playing nearby and heard the crash and screaming, came to my rescue, getting his tablet and calling his Aunty Mara, ordering her to pick up the phone because there was "no time to lose"!
Some of the hardest moments of single parenthood for me have been when I've been injured. That is when I've felt the most vulnerable and alone. When I threw my back out in the middle of the night and lay on the floor with my cell phone out of reach and no one to call to for help, or when I smashed my head into the granite counter top while vacuuming and felt completely alone even though my 2 year old was rolling trucks up and down my body while I lay on the floor crying. These moments are extremely rare, but they are terrifying. In case of emergency, what happens when you're the only grown up around? Well, this time, as I escaped the rubble, applied pressure on my injury, and ruminated metaphorically about how my dreams literally crashed down on top of me, my superhero 5-year-old son saved the day. Later that day, in a moment of calm reflection, he said to me, "I'm glad you have a sister like that." Me too. Luckily, I was barely injured. In fact, I'm completely fine now just 2 days later. And while in that moment, sobbing on the floor waiting for my sister to arrive, I felt like I couldn't handle any more trauma, it turns out I can. I have proven time and time again just how resilient I can be. I have shown that I can break over and over again and I can piece myself back together. In fact I'm getting better at it every time. And sometimes, just like a mosaic, I am a more beautiful person after I put the broken pieces back together than I was before. It is going to take a lot of work to rebuild my studio, but I can do it. And I am confident that it will be better than before.
The next day, we were already feeling much better and made shields out of cardboard for my little knights in shining armour. Look at those handsome faces!
But just in case we were bouncing back from this incident too quickly, that day, after spending the whole day building the kids up to an exciting outing to get ice cream - using it as an incentive to get in the car to pick up the groceries I missed day before, clean up, do school work, take the dog for a walk, and go to sleep at naptime - after we got all sunscreened up and loaded into the car, the car wouldn't start. My car battery was dead. I was a bit disappointed and frustrated, but Ari was devastated. After a good sob-fest, we made the most of the situation, had some Oreo ice cream cones in the backyard (recipe: ice cream + Oreos in blender), and had a good talk. In the end, it wasn't about the ice cream. Ari, the boy with the big feelings, eloquently told me that it wasn't about ice cream at all. It was about "going somewhere - when we haven't been anywhere in so long". I get it, buddy. I really do.
We may not always have a smile on our faces, or they might be all red from crying. Our shoulders may slump in defeat. But let's enjoy these moments as much as we can. Because there's something sweet to be savoured in the middle of all of this suffering. And we've been truly learning that anyone can be an everyday hero.