Dear Me: A Letter To My Pre-Pandemic Self

How to Write Letters to Legislators - WPCNHF

Dear Me,

I am writing to you from the future, in the year 2021. It’s early March, and as I look outside my living room window the world looks basically as it always has. The sky is shades of platinum that only a Seattleite knows how use to interpret the day’s upcoming weather. Our crocuses, resilient little things, emerged from the damp soil in our garden this week, despite my intentional neglect of all living things that don’t reside under my own roof. Woodpeckers frequent the giant cedar tree outside my kitchen window. It’s only a matter of time before they move over to our neighbor’s aging basketball hoop to show off to their would-be mates, their beak-on-metal birdsongs acting as our daily 5AM alarm. Our grass is starting to look like it needs mowing (Even though it’s full of giant 6-foot deep septic test holes, but that’s another story back-then-you doesn’t have to face yet so I’ll spare you the drama.). And even though the view from my window looks commonplace, this year has been anything but.

You don’t know this yet, but change–MONUMENTAL change–is coming. I don’t want to jinx the time-space continuum or anything, so I won’t tell you exactly what’s going on. But know this: this last year has been the strangest, scariest, saddest, self-stretch-iest time I’ve ever experienced in my life. There will be days that you experience first-hand what it feels like to be hanging on with just your fingernails at the end of your rope. And there will be days of self-discovery that make every struggle, every sacrifice worth it all. This year will tear apart your world–it will tear apart the world–but you will survive. And you will thrive. Because pain is part of the process of metamorphosis.

During The Big Change you will do things you never thought you could do. You will do things you said you would never do.

Like homeschooling.

That’s right. Homeschooling.

As in, your kids won’t enter a school building for an entire year and the classroom will move to your couch. And you’ll try to teach them and they’ll try to learn from you and some days you’ll get it all right and other days you’ll just notice all the gray hairs you’ve accumulated in the homeschool classroom. You’ll experience the elated joys of those “A-ha! Moments” that drove you to be a teacher decades ago. You’ll experience the despair of long-division and subtraction with regrouping. You’ll teach the kids vital life lessons like how to care for their own bodies and minds and souls. You’ll also teach them how to be bored (Lot’s of time for that with The Big Change!), how to scrub toilets (I miss our monthly housecleaner with the same ferocity that I miss sunshine in the middle of February.), and to just leave me the heck alone if the bathroom door is locked (Don’t tell them I hide chocolate in the top right drawer of the vanity.).

And through this homeschooling process, you’ll discover your kids in whole new ways. Some of the most important learning you’ll do during The Big Change is about these little people and what drives them and what they need out of you and out of life. You’ll realize some things your kids really needed that they weren’t getting before–the pieces of the puzzle just didn’t fit together until you spent all day, every day together without interruption for an entire year. And you’ll have enough fortitude after The Big Change to embark on some difficult journeys with your kids that you didn’t have the strength or the drive to face before. It will be hard and it will be good and it will be necessary. And you’ll all be better for it.

Speaking of homeschooling, you’ll get to see a lot of your kids during The Big Change. I don’t know if I should tell you this yet because you’re probably going to freak out, but basically *you and your kids won’t leave your house for an entire year*. Forget travel, concerts, museums, and restaurants. Even the little things will seem huge to you after The Big Change. You’ll look back fondly on the good ‘ol days when you could have daily adventures like dropping the kids off at school, going inside a physical store to do your grocery shopping, and visiting with the neighborhood moms at the bus stop every afternoon. The inside of Costco will feel like a distant dream of Nirvana.

The walls of your home will become your personal fortress and you’ll do everything you can to make it feel right. You’ll spend an unfathomable number of hours and dollars building a sound-proof home theater that doubles as an entertainment venue and a family-evading escape room. You’ll start meeting with an architect to draw up plans to blow up one whole side of the house and create an oasis in its wake. You’ll discover that new septic systems cost twice as much as new cars, but are at least half as much fun. A therapist-suggested “Mindfulness Exercise” will set you into a panic attack when you become mindful of the scuffs and dust and grime that cover every square inch of your home. You’ll leave the Christmas lights on the house year-round simply because they’re bright and they make you happy. Your home will become so much more than a home. It will, in a sense, become your whole world during The Big Change.

Your home will also become your husband’s workplace. You know how he’s always said that he wanted to work from home, and when we bought this house he insisted on having his own room that he could claim as his office *just in case* he ever got to work from home? Well, his dream came true (Maybe we’ll blame him for what happened next). Hubby has been working at home every day for over a year now, and he’s in paradise. Seriously, this is one of the best things that could have happened to him. Future Hubby will love not having to commute. He’ll love shutting his office door and having nobody interrupt him for hours on end. He’ll love having a recliner in his office where he can read and take naps during his breaks. He’ll be the happiest, most productive version of himself.

And you’ll be happier for the work-from-home scenario, too. He’ll be home with the kids if you need to run out of the house for an errand or a walk or a good cry in your car (this happens with regularity during The Big Change). He’ll be less stressed, and that energy will pass on to you and the kids. He’ll pop upstairs for lunch and breaks and you’ll get to connect in shared moments that you’ve never had in your entire 15-year marriage. You’ll see his incredible work ethic played out every single day, and you’ll love him more for it. It will be a serendipitous outcome from a most unexpected change.

There will be other unexpected positives that come out of The Big Change. You know those neighbors who you’ve always loved but hadn’t gotten to spend much time with before? Those neighbors will essentially become a second family to you. They’ll walk through life’s biggest challenges with you, give your kids a vital social outlet, celebrate milestones with you, and lend you rolls of toilet paper when there’s not a scrap of T.P. to be found on the planet (Don’t even get me started on this one. But maybe you should start amassing a significant supply of toilet paper and stockpile it in your basement. You know, just in case future-you might need it or something.).

You’ll make sacrifices for the greater good, and this altruism will color every aspect of your life. You’ll be more humbled and more grateful than you’ve ever been before. You’ll be reminded that you are not in control, and that’s exactly where you’re supposed to be.

You’ll connect with nature when the great outside becomes your only outlet. You’ll walk hundreds of miles around your neighborhood and the fields behind your house. You’ll eat dinner across the deck from your best friends in the middle of December just so you can do something “normal”, frostbitten fingers aside. You’ll embrace the (admittedly terrible) weather, and every member of your family will own full rain-proof regalia so you can venture outside even when none of you wants to.

You’ll wear one of three versions of the same outfit every day, and you won’t change out of yoga pants for a year (I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but you’ll be the most comfortable self you’ve ever been).

You’ll learn new Big Change vocabulary: unprecedented (We’re going to try something we’ve never tried before, and we’ll just see how it goes); robust (multi-faceted systems that continue to be multi-faceted and we will continually point out their multi-faceted-ness); asynchronous (the old-school pre-recorded setting on your DVR); “out of an abundance of caution” (This shtuff is super scary and super overwhelming and we don’t understand it at all so we’ve gotta shut it all down NOW!); Zoom (a necessary evil); maskless (selfish); essential worker (someone who can’t do their job from behind a screen); birthday parade (A 5-minute drive-by birthday party. See also: best invention for over-stressed parents EVER.); social distancing (people actually respecting your bubble of personal space); vaccine (liquid gold).

And through it you’ll persevere. It will be the strangest, scariest, saddest, self-stretch-iest time you’ve ever experienced in your life, but you will hold on to what is most important: Your health, the helpers and the helping, and your hope. By the end of the first year of The Big Change you’ll start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The darkest days will be behind you, and the end will be in sight. So you’ll continue to persevere with hope for the better days that lay ahead. Because life–no matter how unprecedented it may be–will always be worth living well.

Love,

Me

The 5 Stages of Coronavirus Grief

Image result for sunrise on ocean
Yesterday marked one month since the first case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the Coronavirus, was confirmed in the United States. This confirmed case was reported in Kirkland, Washington, just 3 miles away from our home. From that moment forward, our world started slowly–and then very rapidly–coming to a halt. Coronavirus had come to our community (How dare it?!) and our lives began to change day by day, moment by moment.

First the schools started to close. And then all of the schools closed. Then we started E-learning. And then E-learning was shut down and our beloved teachers were effectively given a government-mandated gag order. Then the restaurants started shutting down. And then all of the restaurants shut down. And then all of the parks closed. And then all of the gyms and the movie theaters and the dentists and doctors offices closed.

Little by little our big, open world began to shrink until all that was left was our own homes. And that is where we find ourselves today. Many parts of the country–and the world–are in a literal lockdown to try and stop the spread of this virus. This virus that, three short months ago, nobody had ever even heard of. And it’s all just so…crazy. Never in a million years would any of us have predicted something like this could happen, let alone that it actually would happen. To us. Here. Right now.

With all of this change, I’ve definitely done some grieving. I’ve grieved over the communities around the world that have been shattered by sickness and death. I’ve grieved over the European vacation that we had to cancel.  I’ve grieved over the friends and family that I desperately want to see but am not allowed to be in contact with. I’ve grieved over the pace and routine of life that I used to have. I’ve grieved over an unknown future.

As I was thinking about this grief, it reminded me of the 5 stages of grief that psychologists use to describe the stages we go through while mourning. And, perhaps not surprisingly, the stages fit quite well with what I’m experiencing right now with my own Coronavirus Grief.

  1. Denial and Isolation
    The first stage is to deny the reality of the situation: “This isn’t happening, this can’t be happening.”When we first started seeing news clips about this strange new virus that had surfaced in China, it felt very distant. And even when the news moved much closer to home (the first couple dozen confirmed US COVID-19 cases, and deaths, all happened right there in our community), it still felt like something beyond me. It felt like something happening to others, but it wouldn’t actually touch my life in any tangible way. I was happy enough to ignore it and try to move on with my life.
  2. Anger
    But before long, the Coronavirus did start to touch my life in tangible ways. And I didn’t like it. At all. When my kids’ schools started closing and the very-important-things I did in my life all started getting cancelled I was mad. The injustice! I resented the virus, a thing that does not care one iota how I feel about it. And then I would feel guilty for being angry about my very-important-things being cancelled when there were much bigger problems in the world…and that would make me feel even more angry.
  3. Bargaining
    So as I continued my journey of feeling helpless and powerless I attempted to regain control through my actions. If only I could organize our days at home better the time would pass more easily. If only I could write letters to our political leaders, they would give us access to our education again or impose orders that would keep people safer and healthier. If only I could do something different, something more,  then things would all be better.
  4. Depression
    But things have not gotten better, at least not here. We’ve had neighbors die. Our healthcare workers are being forced to reuse personal protective equipment because they don’t have enough supplies to tend to the large number of patients. Our friends and family members are becoming unemployed. We miss people and places and just a basic sense of freedom. And all of these things are, well, sad. The loss we are experiencing day-in and day-out is a heavy burden to carry. It. Is. Hard.
  5. Acceptance
    Despite it all, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Eventually, and after much exasperation, I have come to realize that there is, in fact, nothing I could do to change these circumstances. I am not responsible for what has happened, I am not responsible for the actions of other people, I am not responsible for the policies that are put into place during these times.I am responsible for one thing, and one thing only: me. And that, I can change for the better. I can choose to find joy each day. I can choose to help others. I can choose to do what I think is right. I can choose to throw out the rule book and eat ice cream for breakfast. I can pray. I can choose love and hope in the midst of pain and confusion. And in the end, I know that this will make a difference. Probably not for the world, but for my world.So that is where I’m at today, approximately one month in to our foray of worldwide pandemics. I will continue to look for the good, to love mine the best that I can, and eat lots of home-baked carbs along the way (Trust me, the carbs help.).

    And some day–maybe 3 weeks from now, or maybe a year from now–we will come out of this thing. We will come out as changed people, because grief never allows us to remain the same. We will look back at what we have overcome and how we persevered, and we will be better for it.

    We’ve got this, friends! I can’t wait to see you on the other side, better than ever.

 

 

Change and “The 3-Month Rule”

bigstock_House_And_Hearts_21369591

“Just when I think I have learned the way to live, life changes.” – Hugh Prather

I’ve had more than my share of “life changes” over the last few years. In less than a decade I have: graduated from college, gotten married, bought a house, raised a puppy (which is a lot more work than I ever gave it credit for!), started a career, ended a career, supported my husband through graduate school, birthed two babies, and moved six times to three unique corners of the globe. With so many changes, it seems at times that the only constant in my life is change itself.  Moving to Ireland has no doubt been one of the biggest adjustments I’ve ever had to make. Living in a place that I’d never been to before, with people I’d never met, in a culture that is wonderful but different in so many ways has taken some getting used to. It’s taken some time.

And that’s where the 3-month rule comes in. In my varied experience playing the “change game”, I have discovered that it takes exactly 3 months for the pieces to come together after Big Change. The first week is always chaos, the first month is exciting yet draining, the second month is a mix of “what did I get myself into?” and discovery, and by the third month you start to figure things out. At the three month mark you finally feel comfortable in the new scenario, like you can actually handle this New Thing. And that’s where I find myself now.

Today marks 3 months since we arrived in Ireland. I finally feel at home, like I fit in here. I know how to drive places without GPS (and I don’t even have to think twice about which side of the road to drive on any more!). Our house feels like the place where our family lives. I remember to turn on the hot water boiler exactly 42 minutes before my kids need to take a bath. My son goes to school. I know where to find everything at the grocery store and I know my favorite vendors by name at our farmer’s market. I have a favorite park. I am serving at our church. I know our neighbors. I have friends. I am at peace with my Big Change.

But that still doesn’t mean that it’s always easy. There are times where I miss my friends and my family and I just want to talk to them and I go to call them and then realize that it’s 3 AM in Seattle so I hang up the phone. Or when I crave something from home that I just can’t have (where are the pumpkins, Ireland?!). Or when I start a conversation and realize that nothing I’ve said actually makes sense to the person I’m talking to. So, yes, there will still be adjustments and some things that I just have to get over. But that’s all part of the beauty of living through a Big Change: it changes you.

And that really is the best part of this whole experience: I know that I will walk away from this a different person, a better person. My life is being enriched by the people I am meeting, the places I am seeing, the new ways I am learning to think and to live. I am learning to trust God in new ways and to call on Him (no crazy time zones to worry about there!). Nobody ever said that change was easy, but I think that it is necessary. And now, after 3 months, I can honestly say that I appreciate this change.

Here’s to 3 months down, and many more to come. The learning curve is over–let the fun begin!