COVID hasn’t made anything easy. Things that we used to be able to crave—feeling attractive or desirable, cutting through responsibility with a spontaneous act, diving headlong into anonymity through travel, all seem too selfish. And yet, it’s almost more essential now.
Our washing machine has been inoperable, with a one-week exception, since October. We are caught in a limbo of protection plan contractor requirements, labor shortages, and supply chain gaps. The girls and I had COVID over the holidays—we sweat through our clothes and bedding. The laundry piled up, tainted by the virus we had so assiduously avoided for two years. I’ve gone back and forth between doing laundry in the bathtub and taking it to a wash and fold place in town. I recognize our good fortune of working cars and healthy bank accounts that allow us to find solutions. Still, the relentless powerlessness saps my strength and, worse, my confidence.
One of the lowest points of quarantine was wanting not just to leave the house, but to crawl out of my own skin. There was nowhere to go and no one to become. Forgiveness, patience, and grace, things I’ve easily told other people to have for themselves were a lie when I said them to myself. The monotony of being home was nothing compared to the repetition of my inner monologue. I learned to tread carefully with myself, like sneaking down a hallway. Avoid the mirror, stand up a little straighter, think a good thought.
Sometime last year I found this photo on my phone. I put it here to write about marriage, parenting, work, and personal time. I never wrote anything. I can chalk that up to the pandemic and sheepishness that people don’t want to read about some random iPhone picture. Yet, I still feel that same pull to write. When I began blogging it was all about pregnancy and motherhood. I’d spend hours at the keyboard with a nursing baby or a sleeping baby. I wept, quested, searched, and felt a profound connection through the act of writing. Or was it sharing? In the early days no one was reading it, maybe Sean. Over time I found other people and in their words, whether comments on my blog or posts on their own sites, I began discovering a place where I belonged.
My daughters are still here, defining a huge part of who I am. And while they don’t begrudge me the stories I’ve told, things are different.
I’ve kept the image on my phone because there is so much wrapped up in it that reminds me of things I’ve done right.
Let’s start with the belt. I bought the belt for work after Briar was born. I loved the width of the leather, actually filling denim belt loops. The gold buckle, which you can see is rubbing off, helped me feel pulled together. I always lose earrings, I look like a horror movie victim in lipstick, and I don’t know, the belt made me feel less like a mess. When Ave was three she put a red sticker on the inside, “Mama, if’n you look inside your belt I’ll always be right there in that heart loving you.” That sticker held on for about 5 years. The belt accommodated my body through post-partum shapes and the up and down trends of mid-rise, low-rise, high-rise jeans.
The jeans are a departure from skinny jeans. I wore a pair of Sean’s jeans to work in the yard one day and Briar said, “Loving the fit, mom.” The blouse is uncharacteristically feminine for me. I bought it and second-guessed it, but once again, seen through the eyes of my girls, I came to love it. “Mom, you look so pretty in that shirt,” Finley said running her finger along the fluttery short sleeves.
The thing that really gets me is the skin. His hand tucked into my jeans, my blouse riding up. Just out of the frame his hand is on my knee. I’ve watched his hands cut the umbilical cord, tend to scraped knees, and untangle my necklaces. He had arranged for a quick overnight in Vermont. I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt free of worry. Letting the bed hold me up, I set the worry down in a way that I no longer had to bear its weight. He probably leaned into me, pressing his lips into my hair and murmuring, “Manda-bear.” I felt beautiful, looking at this photo I still feel beautiful. But during the past couple of years, my relationship with myself and my desires has gone to a dark place.
It has to stop. The pursuit of joy or distraction is not criminal. There’s really no telling how long COVID will be around, there is certain to be another thing that comes along that influences our ability to carry on what we think of as a normal life.
I say none of this to be dramatic. I want us to understand that we can still yearn for and work toward feelings. We should look forward to things—baking a cake, planting seeds for a summer that will eventually come, slow dancing in the kitchen, or dressing up just because. It will be work, a deliberate decision to carve out time for something beyond worry and resentment. The laundry will keep, we don’t need a vegetable at every meal, wear the damn dress, write the song, throw out the mug you always hated.
Remembering back to that trip, something big came up. We hadn’t been there an hour and we were huddled over my phone, our heads touching, trying to get reception in the room as we discussed something with our partners. They were very apologetic. It was ok. Seems like we set these measurements for things, from productivity to personal improvements, that are categorically impossible. You cannot completely unplug just like you cannot be entirely tuned in. We aren’t built that way. I am learning not to let uncertainty steal my joy.
The real question: Are you ok?