I’ve struggled to find my center since COVID-19 crashed into our lives.
In so many ways, I’ve been fortunate—my family and friends have remained safe and physically healthy. Our income hasn’t been negatively affected.
But just because things aren’t overwhelmingly awful doesn’t mean they’re good. I’ve struggled with the lack of childcare. The overnight switch to remote learning. The relentless uncertainty and fear. The grief.
The thing that’s been hardest, though, is that I’ve felt like I’ve been crowded out of the life I’d carefully built. A life with time to write and walk and nourish myself. Instead, I became, with no warning, the proctor of my childrens’ remote learning. There was literally, I felt, no room for my wants and needs.
Now, as we hurtle toward fall, at least in my little bubble of mostly privileged, mostly liberal moms, battles rage over whether schools should open or not, and how they should open, and the limp, unsatisfactory set of choices that parents and teachers are being forced to make. People e-shout over each other about pods and privilege, homeschooling and equity, about how we must take care not to widen the gaps that already exist.
Battles rage within us, too. My mind pulses with panic. In the past weeks, I’ve Googled homeschooling and charter schools and puzzled over what would be best for my kids, myself, our community, the world. There are, it feels, no good answers.
But here’s the thing: moms are exhausted. We feel like we’re holding the weight of the world. Because we actually are. We pull our kids into bed with us at night because they’re scared, because there’s a global f*cking pandemic. We are parenting through something we’ve never walked through before. Each day, we make decisions upon which our health and the health of those we love, and the health of those in the slipstream of our exhales, rests. Many of us are trying to figure out how to actively love and advocate for those less privileged than we are in a culture that can’t agree that mask-wearing is an act of compassion and community and not the wrenching away of individual rights.
Amidst this stew of noise and angst, I want to say something that may sound provocative, selfish, and maybe a little indulgent or even radical.
We need to remember to take care of ourselves.
I’m not talking about getting a mani/pedi or having a girls’ night on Zoom, although if that’s your thing, by all means, do it.
I’m talking about getting still enough to find our center. To find whatever place in us exists beyond words—the place that feels holy. Maybe it involves Jesus or Allah or the ocean or a pineapple. Maybe it’s a group consciousness in a room full of people who offer up their vulnerabilities like a hesitant gift. Maybe it’s a moss-strewn forest or the thick cord that hums between a parent and a child when we watch them sleeping.
I’m talking about the quiet sureness that makes the part of our gift that aligns with the world’s needs glow white-warm. The love-thick voice that reminds us we are a child of the universe, as worthy and woven into this life as all the other children of the universe.
A month or so ago, I became obsessed with fixing up my dim basement office that I rarely actually worked in. Before the pandemic, during the quiet afternoons back when my kids went to school, I favored writing at the dining room table. As an introverted homebody, that was my territory. Now our home is peppered with people. So I descended to my dreary basement and ripped off the dark wallpaper that lined the walls and scraped away layers of ancient wallpaper glue. I spackled and sanded. I even coerced my kids into helping me prime the concrete floor beneath the dingy old carpet squares. I bribed them with sugary drinks in exchange for their labor. We installed stick and peel tiles and we primed the walls and then painted them a lush and cheerful purple.
In so many ways, it didn’t make sense for me to do this project myself. As a mom and wife and writer and daughter, my spare time was precious even before a global pandemic turned our lives upside down. And yet, every time I could find 15 minutes, I’d sprint down to the basement to scrape glue with my putty knife or tape off the baseboards to get ready to paint or cut a few tiles down to size.
I was driven to complete this project. At the time, I thought it was because I needed a solid project, a task where I could, at the end of the day, see some clear progress, unlike the much muddier jobs of pandemic parenting or writing. I thought it was because it felt good to do physical work that left me sweaty and tired, or because of the pleasure of learning something new, like how to patch holes and divots in walls, or because perhaps, years from now, my children would catch a whiff of paint and it would remind them of this strange era of being cocooned together.
And perhaps it is some of all of those things. But also? I’d been, like so many of us, crowded out of my previous life—a life I loved—and I needed a way to reclaim a space of my own. The part of me that was being neglected was asking for—demanding—space to exist.
We don’t have to perform a home office makeover to reach that still voice within us. For me, I often get there during a long morning walk in the woods with my dog, soaking in the cycle of generativity and decay and resilience that occurs in nature with or without us. Seeing the smile on my dog’s face when she sprints toward me, both free and belonged. Other times I get there through yoga or a 12-step meeting or mostly, time spent stringing together words in my purple-walled room, in the space that I reclaimed as my own.
If I spend too much time reading the news or on Facebook or just trapped in my head trying to untangle the mystery about what school will look like for my kids this fall, and therefore what shape my days will take and what I might have to let go of to make space to write, that still sure place in me gets drowned out, mowed over.
Perhaps the most radical thing we can do right now—as women, as mothers, as sweet children of the universe—is to offer radical kindness to ourselves and others. To step away from the noise when it gets too loud. To literally or figuratively make room for ourselves. To go somewhere wild, soaking in strength.
To remember that this is a moment in time. An intense one. It feels unprecedented, but it’s not. People suffer and things break and we wilt and get lost and rebuild. Or maybe, even better, we construct something entirely fresh, something we can’t yet envision—like a neglected, dingy office remade into a purple-walled haven.
I’ve been finding raspberries sprouting in the crannies of our yard. I’ve never successfully kept a plant alive, except for an ivy plant named Chloe that I had for well over a year. But now, there are wild, crimson berries everywhere. Once, a white pumpkin sprouted just outside our compost bin. There is mystery and magic still, even in the broken places. Especially in the broken places. If we just get still enough to see it. If we stop tracing the same questions and step away from the noise and chaos and wait, instead, for something like an answer to arise.