When my son was in pre-school, his favorite book was The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. Reading this book became a central ritual in our morning drop-off routine. Every school day, for three years, my husband or I read the delightful tale of a caterpillar filling his belly in preparation for the metamorphosis that would occur within his cocoon. I am reminded of this story as we begin cautiously reemerging from our pandemic mandated cocoons. I find myself struggling with a variety of competing emotions. I am overjoyed and filled with gratitude simply to be healthy. And yet, there is a lingering feeling of impotence canonized by endless days of uncertainty, callousness, and death. Ever-present anxiety reshapes itself to wonder who I have become during these many, long months, and who I will emerge to be in their aftermath.
In these past fifteen months, I practiced resilience. I expanded my horizons. I abandoned the rigidity of my self-imposed schedule and became adept at flexibility, practicing self-kindness by lowering expectations. My most treasured companions became my children. I regularly met them anew, constantly reminding myself of the developmental growth that naturally occurs at their ages, reframing their progress and regression through the lens of the isolation, uncertainty and grief that will forever be a reality of their experience of these formative years. We tried new things. Some evolved to become beloved hobbies and traditions (We now make our own ice cream). Others were brief phases or abject failures (I will never learn to sew). Days blended together, forming a seemingly endless fog of what my husband has come to call “Blursday.” My only yardstick by which to measure the passage of time became my children, their physical, emotional and academic progress.
I forgot how to be me. Like many of my peers, I needed to press the reset button—to take us out of the “stuckness” brought on by the complexities Covid-19. Grateful to be alive physically, I longed to feel alive in soul and spirit. I began to think beyond the hour or the day, and reached out to reconnect with the world beyond my cocoon.
On Sunday we visited to Ann Arbor, my adopted hometown, where the children were born, where I became a mother. We ate sandwiches from Zingerman’s Delicatessen, as the children chased muskrats along the banks of the Huron River. I talked with some of my favorite people, those rare, dear friends who have made an indelible impression upon my heart. Simply sitting at a picnic table with friends felt refreshing, knowing they were keeping an eye on my children, and we on theirs, because the bonds that tie us together demand we care as much for them as ourselves. I looked into the familiar eyes of friends, without the imposition of a screen or the distraction of multi-tasking. We were present together. I felt safe. I poked another small hole in the cocoon.
On Monday we visited Carole, the incredible woman who is our partner in raising our children. For seven years she was our family’s nanny, immersed in diapers, feedings, crafts and shepherding our children through their pre-school years. She and her wonderful husband are now our children’s “extra” grandparents, and despite the miles, she remains an active presence in our home, much like my own parents, through the magic of modern technology. Today we met, in person, her infant granddaughter. A pandemic baby, she arrived in our world amidst a backdrop of darkness and sorrow. She is a reminder of potential, of a better tomorrow. I poked another small hole in the cocoon.
Time moved forward, and our carefully curated reset tour continued to exceed expectations. Sharing space and presence with treasured friends and family soothed my wearied soul. Observing nature in backyards, searching for fairies on Main Street, running into the dearest of friends in parking lots, these life affirming encounters woke my spirit, adding much needed kindling to my eternal flame.
My cocoon has not yet disappeared, but like the cicada shells littering my yard, it is close to disintegrating. I recall the countless mornings of reading “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” remembering that, in an effort to give the children a giggle, we often changed the last sentence. Upon poking his way out of the cocoon, the titular character was, of course, a beautiful butterfly. We, however, would replace butterfly with a different animal…polar bear, unicorn, bunny rabbit—whatever struck our fancy in the moment. And the children, knowing this, would listen intently, wondering what animal would emerge today. So it is with me, shedding my cocoon, anticipating who will emerge, and knowing that she will be beautiful.