Remember March? When the world came to a screeching halt? Yeah, me neither.
In the midst of the blurry days and weeks, so much has changed about life that pre-COVID sometimes feels like a dream. Remember when we didn’t have to turn around a block from home because we forgot our mask? When the anxiety of planning a visit with aging parents didn’t shave years off your life?
There was once a time when grocery shopping didn’t require hours of prep on the front end, and a few months ago, every conversation with my two teenage sons didn’t revolve around formerly commonplace activities that are now forbidden.
There is a lot I will be anxious to safely return to–hugging without panic, cheering for my sons in a crowded gym, concerts in favorite venues, spontaneous date nights at our favorite tiny restaurant, classes NOT taught on Zoom. But there are other COVID changes that our family is embracing, that I hope to keep implementing long after we’ve slammed the door behind this nightmare virus.
Five things I hope we’ll continue to do post-virus
It’s easy to support local businesses.
We live in an urban area with access to pretty much anything I would ever need to buy, but that didn’t stop me from using the Amazon account more than was necessary. At the beginning of the pandemic, I started to worry about many local businesses that I had never even visited pre-pandemic. In one of the first weeks, I placed an order of books for my sons at a local bookstore.
Then my husband picked up new running shoes with curbside pickup. After the killing of George Floyd across the river in Minneapolis, I became more aware of supporting BIPOC-owned businesses. One new weekly tradition is Friday Night Takeout, which led to the discovery of Hearthside, a Black-owned business in our neighborhood that makes fantastic pizza and burgers. When a friend started chemo treatments, I ordered gifts from a local Black artist, and I was thrilled to learn that a new Black-owned bookstore is opening for business in the Twin Cities.
My family can’t single-handedly keep every business open, but COVID-19 taught us new spending habits that we won’t leave behind: the business down the street needs us.
Meal planning doesn’t have to suck.
The first time I went to the grocery store in a mask was just as our state started a shelter-in-place order. I found no oatmeal, no flour, and one box of expensive square-edged spaghetti. When I returned to the car after hastily unloading my sparse cart, I burst into tears and sobbed the whole way home. It was so stressful!
After that small breakdown, I started fastidious meal planning for two-week increments. I would order groceries for curbside delivery or put on a mask for a Costco trip. That has morphed into weekly trips because we kept running out of fresh produce (hello, hungry teenage sons!), but I’m no longer deciding on a whim that I’m hungry for baked ziti and then running to the store for last-minute ricotta.
I’m making a weekly plan and sticking to it. Yes, I probably still spend too much mental energy thinking about feeding my family, but an organized plan has saved time and money. (With an occasional frozen pizza night to save my sanity.)
Learning new things is awesome.
I have been learning some new skills and trying to get my sons to do the same. One of my sons is learning to drive while the other has invested hours in customizing shoes; they’ve both learned new skills in the kitchen (even though that requires a bit more nagging on my part.) I can now sew a face mask in mere minutes, and I’ve already worked my way through a 50-lb. bag of bread flour experimenting on sourdough pretzels and popovers, French baguettes, and pizza crust. (Don’t worry. I’ve shared with neighbors, too.)
We’ve also read books on our country’s history of racial injustice and listened to podcasts about the history of our democracy. Sure, we’ve spent way too many hours on Twitter, watched way too many episodes of meaningless sitcoms, and read a few mindless novels, so not all of our time has been invested wisely. However, this slowed down life has reminded us that we can all be lifelong learners with plenty of material left to study!
Family memories can be simple.
This isn’t necessarily a new lesson, but this era has reinforced it on many occasions. While our family of four has enjoyed some epic vacations through the years, this summer we’ve kept things simple. We’ve built in some weekly traditions like short trips with a Spotify playlist of family favorites and Friday Night Takeout from favorite local restaurants.
My sons have spent hours (days?) playing one-on-one at our driveway hoop while my husband officiates and I spectate with my feet up and the dog in my lap. My younger son and I started doing workout videos together, and in the evenings we are binging older sitcoms and experiencing the nostalgia of Phineas and Ferb on Disney+. Driving lessons with our fifteen-year-old have become a new form of entertainment as he drives me to run errands and takes us to check out new-to-us state parks. The original plan for the summer included a trip to New York City.
While I can’t wait to introduce my sons to the Brooklyn Bridge and true New York pizza, this summer we can settle for more backyard fires and drives around our local lakes. This summer will eventually become fodder for family folklore.
I need to stay in the present.
One morning a few weeks ago I wandered into my son’s room and saw a pair of Vans we bought for his birthday in December. The sight of that pair of shoes reminded me of wandering the mall with my husband and an indoor birthday celebration with friends — activities now forbidden because of COVID. So I cried over a pair of Vans.
Similarly, when I think ahead to Christmas without a trip to my parents’ farm or a school year with intermittent distance learning, I cry again. Emotionally, I’m healthier if I stay in the present and encourage my teenage sons to do the same. Sometimes staying in the present means attention to the smallest task.
Can I find joy in watering my houseplants? Contentment in a perfectly made gin and tonic? At dinner many evenings we go around the table and share a gratitude from the day: a productive day at work, a delicious bowl of curry, a phone call with my mom, a winning game in Fortnite. We name the moments in our day that brought us joy, focusing on the now rather than the forlorn yesterdays or the unknown futures.
So yes, there are many aspects of the Before Times that I can’t wait to get back to. I hope that I will be aimlessly wandering the aisles of Target again sometime soon. But I will also be frequenting our new favorite local businesses (in person, not online), making a weekly meal plan, baking my 100th loaf of sourdough bread, and spending simple, intentional time with my family because I don’t ever want life to return exactly as it was before.
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