Two weeks ago, my daughter went back to school twice a week. Two weeks later, my son went back to school twice a week, on the same days as his sister. I was home alone for the first time in I don’t remember how long. It was quiet. The day my son went back to school, I unexpectedly got a notification that I almost ignored that I could get a COVID-19 vaccine appointment. The next day, I got an email saying that the kids would be going back to school full time, in person, five days a week next academic year. The next day, yesterday, I got my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

One year ago, I started writing my COVID-19 diaries, trying to make sense of what was happening in the world, what was happening to my family, what was happening to me, and to try and document this strange and surreal time, like I documented everything else that has ever happened to me, in some form or another. I didn’t know how long the pandemic would last.

It’s been a long year.

I don’t know if I was the only one, but I was smiling the biggest smile I had smiled in a long time behind my mask as I waited in the well-organized, socially distant line to get my vaccine. I wanted to make small talk like in the before-times, asking if everyone was as excited or relieved as I was feeling in that moment, but I once again tamped down my extroverted, ADHD tendencies to follow the new social norm of not talking to strangers lest we breathe COVID on each other. I remembered how I had cringed a few days earlier, waiting to be called in for my daughter to get her eyes checked, at an old man who was trying to chat up some of the other people waiting area. It was a mother and her daughter, and I immediately understood the gendered dynamics of the interactions, but also how COVID had made these interactions even more painfully awkward for all those involved. The dude wasn’t creepy and friendly to a fault; COVID restrictions meant that you couldn’t be accompanied to an appointment unless you absolutely needed a caregiver, or were under 18, so I could only speculate if he was just lonely from being restricted to his home for the past year. I hope he gets his vaccine soon and can get back to socializing in appropriate settings.

I hope we all do.

I am lucky, privileged, #blessed – I did not lose anyone remotely close to me during the pandemic, neither my husband or I lost our jobs, my kids did fine with online schooling, they got to keep swimming and dancing, despite not having swim meets or large recital shows. Both kids are very adept at digital communications, so maintained and even grew friendships and social circles. In a fit of optimism, I joined a summer pool where most of their friends from year-round swim team are members, with the intention of signing them up for summer swim team. I hope I can give them that, I hope we can give all the kids that, as a reward for doing their best under less than ideal conditions over the past year.

For the first time in a year, we are making plans, however tentative. We still can’t plan a trip to Canada to see friends and family, but maybe at Christmas, as much as the thought of traveling over the holidays gives me pause. But it’s a reservation that’s normal, about snow and delayed flights and transporting presents and not about causing a super-spreader event. There is a sense of relief and normalcy in that.

I don’t know what comes next, or what comes after that. Things will never be the same, but at least if things could get closer to feeling familiar as opposed to how they’ve felt this past year. Maybe even familiar has changed, as we have gotten more and more used to masking, social distancing, etc, over the past year. But at least somewhere between what it is now and what it once was. I think that’s the goal, to reach a sense of familiarity, so that we can exhale a little, unclench, keep our shoulders drawn down from our ears, to sink back into our lives, rather than nervously try to skip on top of it.

But we have been changed by all this. And we will remained changed. Those changes we will carry forward with us, for better or worse. Maybe that’s the comfort I’m trying to find, the comfort with how I have, how we have, been changed. I am in a lot of ways unfamiliar to myself: I sew, I bake bread, I became a more chill mother, I became more outspoken co-worker, I drink more, I weigh more, I have visibly aged in this year. I look in the mirror and I do not understand the person looking back. I look around my room/office/sewing space and I don’t know how there is now a sewing nook overflowing with fabric and in-progress sewing projects.

There is a reason why there is a before-time, but what do we call this period we are on the cusp of exiting? The during-time? And then, the aftermath, before we can claim an after-time? I am already entering the aftermath, and, for all of the optimism, it is sobering, and sometimes hard to face. In the during-time, you could say, I’m doing the best I can. Will we be able to extend ourselves the same grace as we move through the aftermath? I’m finding it hard, already. What are the things that will stay? What are the things that I want to stay? How can I get rid of the things that need to go?

There is a story I am reminded of here, of how my dad used to golf, but once he retired, he never picked up his golf clubs again. When I asked him why, he said it was because he didn’t need it anymore now that he had left his job that had caused him so much misery. He golfed as a coping mechanism, and now that what he needed to “cope” with was gone, the mechanism was no longer needed.

Not sure how the husband would react if I never touched my large fabric stash ever again once this was over…

How do I accept the person I have become during the pandemic?

This is why there is no just going back to normal – we have changed and been changed. If we just try to go back to who we were, we’ll break.

It’s spring again. The days are getting longer. The trees are on the cusp of blooming, probably during the run of warmer weather we’re supposed to get next week. They are being reborn, again, as they are every year. Spring is literally about to push through, now that the conditions are right.

May we all find the conditions we need to push through and bloom, whatever that may mean.

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