Back in May of last year, I wrote a blog post, “Lockdown was really hard. But I miss it.”
At the time, I genuinely meant it. We had just emerged from the first national lockdown in Israel, it was an entirely new concept to us back then, and while we were a little shell-shocked, dazed, and confused, we were also (naively) jubilant to be returning to some semblance of normal. We all thought that slowly, but surely, things would return to the way they were before. Remember that?
I wrote about the opportunities that the forced time at home had afforded us, and the shift in my outlook: “This week, as extra-curricular activities start again, we will be back to full speed ahead. Besides the filling out of health declarations, the wearing of face-masks and some remnants of social distancing, I wonder if life will be any different to how it was before. Will more people seek a way to redress the work-life balance, and slow down our fast-paced, over-programmed lives, or will everything go back to the way it was before?”
That was almost ten months ago. We are currently still at home, with no educational frameworks for our four children. Who could have known back then that in February 2021, even while vaccinations were being rolled out, we would be emerging from our fourth lockdown, still wondering what our lives will look like post-pandemic?
It has been a long and difficult year for all of us. For some, this year has meant anxiety and crisis: job loss, loneliness, depression, insecurity and constant uncertainty. I’ve seen others find opportunity in this strange situation — they have pivoted, started new businesses, and discovered a resilience they didn’t know they had. I look around at other parents of young children, those who are working and those who are not, mothers and fathers alike, and I see everyone performing an amazing circus feat — something between juggling, jumping through hoops of fire and walking a tightrope. We are frustrated, and we are all so very, very tired.
Almost a year has gone by without the normal everyday things we used to grumble about, like after-school activities, or parent’s evenings, waiting outside the classroom on too-small plastic chairs, chatting with other parents while the teacher runs late. Almost a year without attending parties, ceremonies, or graduations in school and ganim, a year in which parents have not stepped foot inside their children’s schools at all, in fact. Almost a year without the frequent birthday parties of the children’s friends (that’s a big one when you have four kids), without tzofim (Scouts) meetings, or overnight trips. Barely any playdates. No school plays, concerts, no student council. I genuinely feel sad for the children when I think of everything they have missed out on this year. Although thankfully, some of them at least, remain in ignorant bliss. Children adapt.
I miss those friends we meet up with once or twice a year for a tiyul or lazy picnic in a magical spot. Or the friends we see at choir, or crossfit, or community events, the ones we exchange pleasantries with, or smile at and nod hello. I miss those pleasantries. Not to mention the cinema, theatre, concerts, birthdays with extended family, shabbatot away at saba and savta’s (there has been far too little of saba and savta in general.) We miss each other, and I understand those who feel a little cheated: cheated out of their retirement, their maternity leave, or even their last few years of good health.
We have missed out on so much, but what have we gained?
I can only reflect on my experience, but over the past year our lives have been compressed: Work. Home. Park. Perhaps shul. Hobbies (online), if we have the time, energy, and resources. A lot of late-night television to numb our brains. Almost one year with too little personal space, too many people on too few computers, in a home that suddenly feels much too small. Life has become insular, and we have all turned into ourselves a little.
And yet for me, somehow this year has brought with it a slow awakening of a creative process that may not have happened otherwise. The frustration and uncertainty, the extended period at home, and the break from the previous rhythm of everyday life has cracked something open within me. There is something that needs digging out and exploring, that needs protecting and nurturing with care. It has given me the chance to imagine something different: a different kind of family life, a different career, perhaps even a different kind of me. Refocus. Shift. Pivot. Dream. Create.
At the end of the first lockdown, I wondered if we would manage to slow down our lives, or whether everything would go back to the way it was before. In the end, it wasn’t in our hands to determine. The last year has forced many of us to slow down, to look inside, to re-evaluate, and to re-imagine. Many lives have been irrevocably changed.
I am sure that we will all be processing and reflecting on this strange and challenging chapter for a long time to come. Ask me a year from now if I miss it.