I remember vividly the day normal disappeared. The day the Pilates studio I teach at closed its doors and the superintendent of my children’s school district decided schools would be virtual for two weeks and grocery stores shelves emptied of any and all paper goods. That day, I picked up my kids from school and let them play for a while on the school playground, because I knew once we got home, we were staying home.
For at least the next two weeks.
Maybe the next month. Tops.
Fine, maybe six weeks.
But certainly not for the entire summer. Certainly the pandemic wasn’t going to impact school re-opening.
As the pandemic stretches into the heart of summer, I frequently find myself thinking: if I knew then what I know now.
If I knew then what I know now, I would have bought bikes for my kids and invested in half a dozen backyard games. I would have established better news consumption habits, because the ones in place now are borderline over-the-top. And I probably wouldn’t have purchased the expensive heels for that “first night out after the pandemic.” There will be a first night out after the pandemic, eventually, but at this rate, and after this much breaking news consumption, I think a pair of comfortable, worn-in flats will do just fine for that first night out.
When I asked my children, they both agreed they wished they’d known distance learning would be the way they’d close out the year. That they’d miss seeing their teachers. That their mom would make them do work over the summer since they didn’t take distance learning seriously at first. (Sorry not sorry, kids.)
I then posed the question to my social media: what do you wish you knew back in March about pandemic living? The answers ranged from lighthearted to heartbreaking, from hopeful to hopeless.
Many, many people wish they’d known, back in March, that pandemic living would be a marathon, not a sprint. From binge watching all the Netflix shows too fast to exhausting all the kids’ activities too early, many people wished they’d realized that two weeks—or six weeks, tops—was fraught with wishful thinking and they needed to pace the distractions for themselves and their children.
A number of other people wish they’d known how to better prepare for pandemic living. Some stocked up on too many rice and beans and bottles of water, while others wish they’d stocked up on the necessities. Back in March, few of us realized how quickly paper towels, toilet paper, and cleaning products would become invaluable and impossible to find commodities.
Others wish they’d known that sometimes our houses would look like real life version of zombie apocalypses and that we’d find the grace to laugh about it rather than cry. Or that it was worth investing in that home office and that standing desk.
Still others wish they’d known how much their relationships with people in their lives would change, that they’d learn more than they ever imagined about their friends, neighbors, and community. For better or worse. The pandemic, and the Black Lives Matter movement, have revealed things that we may never have known about the people in our lives. Some of those things will be hard to un-know. Some of those things will be things we don’t want to un-know. Some of those things will lead to permanent changes in relationships…maybe even permanent terminations of relationships.
One mother who works at a local hospital wishes she’d had knowledge of all the heartbreak back in March. She wrote she wished she’d known “that I was going to lose my uncle and have to say goodbye via FaceTime as the nurse held his hand and cried with us. That I would then in return do the same for one of my patients since her daughter was unable to be with her. That I would have to enter a freezer truck to place the bodies of patients who have passed from COVID as they await transfer to funeral homes. That I would be going through the same thing as my patients’ families.”
Another is the story of a local teacher who wishes she knew back in March that the next time she’d be in her classroom, she’d prepare not by creating lesson plans and finding new ways to engage a new group of students, but by drawing up her will.
Back in March, none of us could know what it would take to live through a pandemic. In the earliest days, the focus was just on making it through the days and remembering to breathe, adapting to a new normal, and finding ways to support and show our appreciation for the health care and essential workers who kept everything running.
In the earliest days, we didn’t know that there would be no easy answers. We didn’t know that we’d crawl into August still asking each other the hard questions. We didn’t know that there was so much we didn’t know, and that four months from now, there will be things we wished we’d known today.