I Guess That’s Why They Call It the (Post-Pandemic) Blues

Did you ever get those dreams at the start of the pandemic where you’d be in a store or another crowded place and realize no one was wearing a mask? No, just me? Well, I had them a lot and always woke up feeling panicked. After a year of donning a face mask out in public, it became second nature and I practically feel naked if I go in anywhere without mine. So when I walked in to Target the other day, if felt surreal to see all these bare faces in front of me. Despite having my vaccine and knowing the most recent CDC recommendations, it still felt like a dream. That’s when it really hit home that we are on our way to approaching some semblance of “normal” soon. And while so much of me feels excited and hopeful, there is a part of me that isn’t ready to jump right back in to the pre-pandemic pace. And it has me feeling a little..well…sad. I realized that these feelings are what I’ve started calling the Post-Pandemic Blues, and from talking with friends, I know I am not alone.

My pandemic “naked” dream was being somewhere sans a mask! But now, those who are vaccinated can go without, a sign that life will one day soon return to some semblance of normal. And while I’d do anything to stop the loss and suffering caused by COVID, there’s a part of me that is not quite ready to give up the slower pace of the last year and a half.

I remember the feeling in my chest when I heard our governor issue a safer at home order last March of 2020. Everything in my body felt tight as I quickly became fluent in using terms I thought were reserved strictly for Sci-Fi movies- pandemic, quarantine, social distancing. I almost laugh at myself now when I look back at how naïve I was thinking this was a 2 week thing and we’d be back to normal before we knew it. I even wrote a post that March titled 14 Activities for 14 days (Or More!) of Social Distancing with Kids. That (Or More!) now feels like an bad omen- I clearly had no idea what was really in store.

The world changed in what felt like overnight, and the news each day made me feel sick to my stomach. My husband and I’s post bedtime conversations now included death tolls and infection rates. I checked the public health dashboard daily to try and understand what it looked like outside my own home. All the unknowns were terrifying. What if Joe or I got COVID and had to be hospitalized, or worse? What about the kids? And my parents? And all our family and friends? My mind loves to catastrophize in even the best of times, throw in a worldwide pandemic with a rising death toll and honestly it’s a recipe for disaster for the anxious mind. So we were cautious, we followed the science and stuck with our safe bubble. After awhile it felt natural to keep 6 feet apart as we found creative ways to stay connected with the ones we love.

I would never of called myself a homebody in the past, but I admit it has been so nice to have my family together so much this past year. I don’t know what the future will look like, but I hope that the connections made under our roof continue to only strengthen in the soon to be post-pandemic times.

Needless to say, the months churned on and I’ve adjusted to our “new normal”. I never could of imagined a year ago that there would be some aspects of the pandemic that I would come to love. Don’t get me wrong, I was first in line when I was eligible for the vaccine and cried tears of joy every time I saw a post of someone flashing their vaccination card. I’m ready for Covid to be a thing of the past, but I don’t necessarily want to let go of everything this past year has brought. Maybe it’s the introvert in me who has loved the smaller gatherings and less pressure to put on real pants. Perhaps it’s that I never had to worry about picking the house before someone came over, because no one was coming over. Or maybe it’s that I never realized how nice it is to just slow down. Whatever it is, it’s hard to ignore this touch of sadness I’ve been feeling since business began to resume as normal.

The pandemic has created a “new normal” that I never could have anticipated as a parent. I know so many of us just want things to be back to how they were…but I know a lot of people aren’t ready to just jump back in to the old way of life.

When the world shut down I had no idea how I was going to spend all day every day at home with the kids. No activities to occupy them? No places to go when I start to feel overwhelmed by the walls of our house? Four people home 24/7…that sounds like a lot of dishes and clutter all around (update: it is). I could just feel the stir crazy our busy little family was about to feel. But those hectic days filled with shuffling from activity to activity turned into quiet moments watching the kids run around in the backyard together. The morning chaos of getting everyone out the door on time turned into an extra cup of coffee, and perhaps even a solo run, while the kids went toad hunting with Joe before his 30 second commute to the basement office. We had nowhere to be and I have to admit it was so nice to be forced to totally slow down and just be with each other.

Of course I know my kids would of been close even without a pandemic, but with them having only each other, well, it’s been such a beautiful relationship to watch develop. They may not remember this crazy time together, but I hope the bond they built only grows.

I have 2 kids, they are 5 years apart in age. We didn’t plan it that way, but hey, if there is anything parenting has taught me its that planning is overrated. Anyways, one of my biggest concerns when I was pregnant with Croix was that him and Kennedy would never have that close sibling bond because of their age difference. After all, by the time he got to that fun age of being able to actually play with Kennedy, she would of been off to Kindergarten all day long. But then COVID hit, and that actually didn’t happen. Instead, these two got to spend a lot of quality time together and the bond they’ve developed is the most beautiful gift I’ve ever experienced. And yes, I’m sure they would have bonded had things been different, but for awhile there the only peers they had to play with was each other. Both really got to know the ins and outs of their sibling (even if that meant they really got to know what buttons to push on each other). They play, they fight, they laugh, they love. Some days I just step back and watch them together- Kennedy finding joy bossing Croix around and Croix just loving being in his big sisters presence. Kennedy knows how to soothe Croix when he bonks his head, and Croix loves to take Kennedy’s face in his hands and make her smile when he knows she is sad. Yes, the circumstances stink, but I’ve loved the upside of the additional time they’ve had together. I know that their bond will persist, but there is a part of me that feels sad knowing that next year Kennedy will be back to school and her regular activities as opposed to being at home where both can practice all the ways to drive each other nuts. They may not know it, but they’ve been each others best friends this past year, and I really hope that friendship only continues to grow as the world continues to open up.

There was another relationship in our house that benefited from the pandemic, and that’s the one I have with my husband. I know many marriages that have struggled during this time, but it has actually made ours stronger. I have loved having Joe home during the day. I have a greater appreciation about how hard he works and really admire what he does. I know not being around his coworkers has been hard, so it’s been nice to be able to fill in with quick chats and collaboration here and there. Plus I think he enjoyed not having to think about matching his pants with his shirt every day, something he struggle with in those pre-pandemic times.

While I know the pandemic has been really hard for a lot of couples, I feel like Joe and I’s marriage is stronger than ever. I have loved having him home and I know he has loved the extra time with us. I’ve always felt supported by him, but this past year has really made us one heck of a great team!

All joking aside, having Joe working from home has really helped me feel truly “seen” as a mom, and that in turn has made connecting as a couple easier than before. He has always been so supportive of my role as a mom, but there have been times where in the midst of the chaos of child rearing I’ve felt really lonely. I’m grateful for all the time I have with my kids, but I admit there have been days when he would pack up for work and it felt like he’d get to “check out” while I was left exhausted and unshowered with not a second to myself. Despite Joe being the most attentive husband and father there is, it was often hard to connect when he walked back in the door, refreshed from a 30 minute commute (aka, alone time) while I was still in the same clothes as the morning trying to calm a colicky baby while simultaneously cooking something that resembled an edible dinner.

But with him home this last year, I’ve felt like he really understands the inner workings of my day. While he’s down working hard in the basement he can hear the insanity that is taking care of 2 young children and barking dogs all day. He can hear the pitter patter of a naked screaming toddler who has decided that clothes and naps are no longer for him. Or feel the vibrations from the stomping of a kindergartner who is very mad at her mom because she dare suggest she clean up her room. And while he also hears the giggles and the music coming from our daily dance parties, it feels good to know that he now understands that all of our days are non-stop, and some of those days are also really hard. When he walks back upstairs each afternoon, he already has a sense of how things went, and he usually already has a sense of how he can help.

Joe has always been a hands on dad, but the extra time he got with the kids this year was a beautiful gift. He got to see more of Croix’s “firsts” as a baby and loved his daddy daughter lunch breaks while I tackled nap. Both kids loved being able to see his face throughout the day, even if just for a quick “hello”. It has been hard on all of us for him to transition back to the office!

Life just feels less stressful with Joe home. I’ve got my partner right there, even if he’s in the office and can’t be interrupted. With no commute, mornings are less chaotic and we get more time with him (or I get a tad bit more time for self care). We all love it when he pops up for a minute or two just to say hello or give a helping hand. I think knowing what each others days look like allows us to better support each other, and helps us relate on a level we wouldn’t have if he hadn’t had to work from home this past year. All in all, I just feel closer and more connected to him. He’s my best friend, and I admit that the hardest part of things returning to “normal” has been his slow return to the office.

And despite everything, it’s not just Joe I’ve felt more connected to in the past year- I think I’ve communicated more with friends and family during COVID times than ever before. It’s strange how staying home all the time with no options to socialize at the beginning really made everyone realize how precious friendships and family are. I admit that I’ve taken for granted how easy it was to pop over for a quick play date or even the ability to jump on a plane for a girls weekend. I’ve moved a lot in life and have amazing friends all over- but it took a worldwide pandemic to make me realize how lazy I have been keeping in touch with some of the people I love most in life. With all our busy schedules wiped clean, we had the time to check in with each other. We all really had to make the effort and get creative. There have been zoom happy hours and Skype birthday parties- and yes the technology may have always been there, but it’s so easy not to prioritize our relationships when we are jumping from one activity to the next. So even as things start getting scheduled on the calendar, I know I need to continue to put in the effort to keep all my relationships strong. Friends, family, Joe, my kids- if this last year has taught us anything it is just how precious time with those we love is.

The effort everyone has made to connect with loved ones has been the biggest benefit of this whole thing. From singing happy birthday to a relative in Amsterdam to virtual happy hours with my favorite college friends- the creativity to connect is something I really hope we all continue in the post-pandemic world!

So while I’ve always been looking forward to this pandemic being over, I can’t help but worry that as time passes so will the memory of some of COVIDs life lessons. I know it doesn’t all have to change, but I admit I feel scared that we may return to “too much normal”. Reflecting on all these months, I see so many silver linings that I didn’t expect. Things I didn’t even know I was missing. As we start penciling things back on the schedule, I know I need to make the effort to continue to nourish the relationships around me and remember to slow down. There is always time for my lacrosse girl zoom dates and group WhatsApp chats. My kids now have this beautiful strong bond and my husband and I have a greater connection and understanding of each other than ever before…that won’t just go away as we get busy again. But I can’t deny that I’m sad our time all together in the house all day is coming to an end. I think I have to remind myself that no matter what, I’ll never forget the silver linings of this last year. After all, there is no forgetting this past year, no matter how hard we try!

I may be sad my husband has to return to the office, but it’s nothing compared to the pets of the world! Talk about a group of furry friends who have loved having everyone home the past year!

We’ve been extremely lucky through all of this. We’ve been safe and healthy, and that’s what is really important. So as sad as I may be about some things changing, as much as  I may be feeling the post-pandemic blues, I am just grateful that we are coming out this relatively unscathed. There are so many others who cannot say the same. My sadness is a thing of privilege and my heart goes out to everyone who lost more than they gained in the past year. The loss of the pandemic is something that can never be forgotten. 

Kathryn is a mom of 2- her wise sensitive Kennedy (7), her sweet little joy, Croix (2), and 3 wild and crazy fur balls! After finishing grad school in NYC, Kathryn decided to embrace the cold and move to Madison. Despite plans to only live here for one year, she fell in love with her husband Joe and all the city has to offer. She loves staying at home full time with her kids during the week and spending a few weekends a month as a social worker in the ER. After a childhood of moving around internationally, she has enjoyed putting down roots in Madison but still loves to travel as much as possible. When not adventuring with her family, you can find Kathryn running around her neighborhood and local trails, writing with a strong cup of coffee, or covered in dog hair from all the furry friends in the house!

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