I don’t even know what a normal year looks like anymore.
After almost exactly 39.5 years on the planet, I had a sense of seasonal trends and rhythms when the pandemic hit in March 2020, as well as the ebbs and flows and important dates of my own personal life.
I bought Halloween costumes in late September, took pumpkin patch photos in mid-October, starting planning for Thanksgiving (including my favorite tradition of a gumbo party on the Saturday afterward) in mid-November, bought Christmas presents and booked a babysitter for New Year’s Eve in early December. For my kids, Thursdays were library days, and graded papers came home on Friday, and they swam on Tuesdays. I was room mom and PTA president and kept all of my engagements and responsibilities straight.
Now I just turned 41 and I barely know what month it is, let alone what I normally would be doing at this time.
Is it Tuesday? Is it fall? Do I need to order Christmas decorations yet? When is the school’s Crazy Hat Day? Are we even having Thanksgiving this year? Should I be selling candy bars for some fundraiser somewhere?
It’s exacerbated by the fact that even when my pandemic-weary and grief-riddled brain can pull together a mental calendar, it all changes anyway.
Georgia was supposed to have cheer camp on Sept. 11-12. That didn’t happen because of Hurricane Ida. Ruby was supposed to have fall break on Oct. 8. That’s not happening for the same reason. Open Houses and parent conferences all have been pushed back, and so now even things that typically happen every year at the same time are happening at different times.
And then there are the things I have to tap out of because I’m just not mentally up to it right now. I had to submit a form for Georgia’s grandparents’ day at school, but I didn’t write the date down because I was too busy trying not to cry at the fact that my mom wouldn’t be able to go. I don’t think my gumbo party is going to happen this year, not just because of COVID but also because I am not prepared to host any kind of celebratory event. I’ll still do Thanksgiving and Christmas for the kids, but I know it will feel hollow for me.
I was not expecting the many ways in which this prolonged, extended pandemic combined with the sudden death of my mother would mess with my head and disrupt my executive functioning skills.
Last week, for example, I went to look for a “Sign-Up Genius” link in my email so that I could volunteer for a class party. Instead, I found an email from 2013 that I’d written to my mom with the subject line “Baby Genius!” in which I proudly detailed how advanced Georgia’s raspberry-blowing and clapping skills were. She had written back to confirm that, yes, Georgia was a genius and also did I want to have dinner together on Sunday night? And then I started crying and 30 minutes later, I was all cried out but school lunches weren’t packed and water bottles weren’t filled and also I never signed up for my volunteer shift.
Grief is a full-time job. Parenting is a full-time job. The pandemic is a full-time job. And on top of it, I actually have a full-time job.
I’ve always prided myself on being able to keep a day planner more or less in my head, but that’s all out of the window now. I’m trying to be gentle with myself and allow myself moments to fall apart.
And of course I’ve started writing everything down – but by now I’ve learned to write it in pencil and keep a good eraser handy.