Malkie Grozalsky
Opinionated, post-denominational, NY Jew

If I Had My Time Again…

Sometimes, it’s like I’m stumbling forward
Hustled forward
Jostled from behind by time.

Sometimes, it’s like I’m being dragged
Yet always lagging
Trying to keep in time with time.

But if I could stop the clock for just one day
If I could freeze a moment for a moment
Rest before the measure’s over
Hold the beat for just one day
If I could wind it back and start afresh
Just a day to catch my breath
To make mistakes and set them right
Delay the coming of the night.

I haven’t written in a couple of weeks because I was thinking a lot about the election. I was worried before, I was worried after, I’m still worried — but I don’t want to write about the election. In fact, I am so sick of everything that’s been these past four years, I just don’t want to think about it anymore. At least not today, not right now.

I’ve spent the last few days thinking a lot about Covid-19 and how it has impacted our lives. Let me clarify, I’ve actually spent the last 8 months thinking about Covid-19. In truth, this novel Coronavirus has dominated my thoughts so much that I’ve had to consciously stop myself from thinking about it. The US death toll passed a quarter of a million yesterday; that’s 250,000 people dead — how is it possible to think of anything else?

I’ve spent a lot of time crying during these past 8 months. At the beginning of the pandemic, in the early month of March and April, and then in May, and June, I focused a lot on loss. I thought about all those who were dying alone in hospitals —how scared they must have been, and about the family members who were helplessly waiting for updates but couldn’t be there in person. I worried about my children, and how they were managing as 2 weeks became 4, and one month became 8. How they were dealing with projects left in school unfinished, leaving college dorms, and not getting to perform the lead in the school musical one week away from opening night. I cried about jobs canceled, camp canceled, Broadway tickets that went unused. I worried that our friends and families would get sick, that we would get sick and that one of us could die. I worried that we would get sick and not die but be left with debilitating conditions that would impact the quality of our lives. I worried and I cried.

To help take my mind off all that was worrying me, I (like many others) started cooking and baking a lot. In the earlier months while there was a shortage of toilet paper, paper towels, and of pretty much everything that could be used to fill that need in a pinch, there was also a serious lack of yeast and flour in NYC. Thankfully, I’ve always been a fan of buying more than we need of any item so we always had plenty of paper necessities, but at one point I was coming dangerously close to the end of my baking supplies. I’ve been a part of an online group of women for almost 20 years. I’ve never met the majority of the members of this group in real life, but we’ve shown up for each other in many ways through the years. I commented on a post on the group’s Facebook page and mentioned that I was running low on both yeast and flour. A little while later I had a message asking for my address to send me supplies and about a week after that I received a big box with 20 pounds of flour and two huge packages of yeast. I’ve heard stories just like this from some of my other friends; shared trauma truly has the ability to bring people together.

We started having dinner together as a family every night, something that in ‘the before times’ we only were able to do on Friday nights, and because I no longer was commuting I had time to make elaborate weeknight dinners. I discovered that my children love international cuisine and are happy to eat Indian, Thai, and Middle Eastern dishes on a regular basis. I learned that it is easier and way more satisfying to make homemade hummus than it is to open a pre-made tub, and that one can truly never have too many cans of chickpeas. I’ve also found out that even though the kids complained in the beginning about setting and clearing the table, they would rather do those small chores and eat together than eat alone — and that even when they say they don’t feel like sharing anything about their day, once we sit down together at the table, words flow.

“If I had my time again
I would do it all the same
They claim, that that’s ridiculous
Surely you’d want to make a couple of fixes?
All those boxes left unchecked
All the dreams you left neglected
You’d go back and put it right”

I’ve been thinking a lot about how our lives have changed during these Coronavirus times. I used to wake up at 5:45 every morning, and was out of the house by 6:35 am. I would take the subway to work from Brooklyn to the Upper West Side with two of my children, wave to my middle child as he raced ahead to meet his friends or get a cup of coffee on the way to school, drop my youngest off, and head to work to be there by 8:00 am. My youngest would come to my work (3 blocks from his school) and do his homework in my office until I was ready to leave work at around 5:30. We would get home close to 7:00 pm and I would make a quick dinner. Sometimes my middle son would be home for dinner, but most often we all ate at separate times, and in separate places. I would clean up from dinner, set out a plate for my spouse who often would get home just in time to put the youngest to bed at 8:30, pack snacks in the backpack, put out clothes for the next day, and finally sit down to relax when the youngest went to bed. My oldest son was in his first year of college, living in the dorms not too far away in Manhattan, and I spent a lot of time worrying about how he was balancing his independence and his responsibilities as a student, and figuring out how to give him guidance without micromanaging his life. By the time the weekends came each week, I was too exhausted and depleted from all the thinking and activity of the week to do anything else but decompress. I had no alone time, our family time was limited to bus and subway rides, and Friday night dinner. I dreamed of retirement, of moving out of New York, of getting out of the rat race. I was really nearing my breaking point. And then came Covid-19.

My eldest moved in with family friends in upstate NY when his dorms closed in March so he could have more space to spread out, and would not have to return to sharing a room with his 16 year old brother after getting a taste college life. The rest of us were all working from home and doing school remotely, and somehow we managed to figure out how to carve out individual spaces in a our functional but small NYC apartment. It’s pretty remarkable when I think about how well we’ve actually managed to make this all work. Like everyone, I am anxiously awaiting a successful vaccine so our lives can return to normal, but I am no longer sure exactly what that means. At the beginning of the pandemic, I wrote on Facebook that I was worried that life would never return to the way it was. As someone who absolutely hates change, the thought that life would look different than the way I was used to it looking was terrifying. Now that we have lived within a fairly insular bubble with just a very small number of folks outside our immediate family in our ‘pod’, I can’t really imagine going back to the way life was in the ‘before times.’

Of course I want my boys to go back to school full time, to have sleepovers, and play dates. I want to visit with friends, host meals in my home, eat in restaurants, go to Broadway shows, and travel. I want to be able to worry about my son in his college dorm, and whether he is making smart choices, eating well, and studying enough. I want all my children to be able to be children again, and yet I will miss these sweet days of togetherness. I wonder if my spouse will rush back to long days at the office once it is entirely safe to be there, and whether my job will continue to allow me to work from home most days — especially now that it’s been proven that I can work remotely without issue. I’m curious if we will be able to maintain family dinners once extracurricular activities are back in full swing — I will be really sad to see those end. I feel a little bad, guilty even, that I know I will look back on this time with nostalgia. I don’t want to go back to the fast paced busy life of before, especially now that I’ve had a taste of how much better life is for me when we all just slow down a bit.

Before we were forced to pause most things, I never had the time or energy to bake fresh pita for dinner, or work on a crossword puzzle, or play a board game with my family. I didn’t go for walks, or regularly exercise on the stationary bike that lives in my bedroom —just getting through the days and weeks took every ounce of energy I had. These days I do all those things. I no longer feel as though I am constantly running against a clock, and even though I will turn 50 in a little over a month (!) I finally feel that I have the time I need to enjoy my life. In the before times we never would have even considered getting a pet, we barely had time or energy to take care of ourselves and our children —but Covid changed all that. In just about a month, our puppy will be coming home to live with us and thanks to Coronavirus we will have the time we need to a manage a needy newborn.

I want to be completely clear, I am not saying that I think the deaths of 1.34 million people worldwide is a acceptable price to pay to improve the quality of my life, and I am also not suggesting that this is the silver lining of a deadly pandemic as I don’t believe there can be silver linings when there has been so much suffering and loss. I would gladly go back to the rat race if folks could have their loved ones back, and I wish that others would not be facing economic ruin — there definitely is no question about those things at all. The question is really why must it be either/or? Why are the only options it seems that we have are to run ourselves down so that we have nothing left for ourselves, or to grind to a complete and absolute stop of ‘regular’ life? Why can’t we figure this out?

“If I had my time again
I’d sample all the samples
Look at things from different angles
I would not do it all the same
If I had my time again”

I’m a little sad that I can’t celebrate my ‘big’ birthday with my friends, or take a trip, or even go to a fancy restaurant, but I plan to reschedule my 50th for when it is possible to do all those things. In the meantime, I plan to cook myself a special dinner and bake myself a birthday cake. I will cuddle with the puppy, listen to my favorite music, and maybe play a board game with my family. Or, maybe I will order in a pizza and a cherry pie and eat it while sitting on my bed watching trashy reality tv; in any case it’s my birthday and my choice. What I do know for sure is that I will be grateful for all that I am, and all that I have — and for that moment, it will be perfect.

About the Author
Malkie Grozalsky has spent all but 5.5 years of her life living in Brooklyn, NY, and is proud of both her accent and her attitude. Malkie was raised in an ultra-Orthodox home, belongs to a Conservative synagogue, and has a graduate degree from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. When Malkie is not at her job as a synagogue administrator, she can be found cooking, baking, and micro-managing her spouse and three sons.
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