The return to “normal” has begun. Gyms, restaurants, hair salons, sports leagues, bowling alleys, summer camps and a host of other businesses have gotten the green light to open their doors. Yay! (right?)
Of course, nothing is really normal and the “new normal” has already lost it’s luster (if it ever had any). Opening business doors often comes along with an eye-popping list of new restrictions.
Like restaurants, for many businesses, industries, and institutions, it’s still a strange time. We are all figuring it out on the fly, customers included. I’ve noticed that in some cases, we are stuck trying to do the hard parts but the fun parts are what we miss now. Here are a few examples:
Gyms are starting to reopen. But, I never really stopped working out. I’m still exercising in my basement or on the pavement most mornings due to financial and work constraints. Some lifting, some cardio, some basic bodyweight movement, Heroes on Mondays. I get my exercise in one way or another.
Is it the same? Yes and no. Yes, I get my movement in. But some of the most enjoyable parts of the gym experience are gone. I don’t see friends and like-minded people. I don’t get coaching. I don’t get to use all the great equipment. I don’t get the occasional coffee and breakfast after with friends. Sure, I don’t miss certain things about the gym, but some of the parts that made it fun and special (and the hard parts less hard) can’t be replicated in my home.
My work is a similar situation. I am a librarian that teaches in an elementary school. We left school for a long weekend in mid-March, not knowing that students and most teachers wouldn’t return this year. Instead, we’ve been teaching and learning online for almost 9 weeks.
Are we getting the job done? Yes and no. Yes, there are lessons and many teachers working extremely hard to connect with students and families. Yes, there is learning happening. But, some of the parts that make school fun and meaningful are stripped away. Field day. End-of-year culminations of work and celebrations. Social time at lunch and recess on the playground. Working shoulder-to-shoulder to finish a puzzle or create something together. For me, it’s just walking through the library with a student and helping them find a great book.
Or reading a funny or suspenseful picture book to a live Kindergarten audience, laughing and responding together in that moment. Nothing replaces those. And those are some of the things that make school worth going to for many kids (not to mention food, etc.) Instead, online school often seems like a lot more of the work and a lot less of the fun stuff that makes school special. (And yes, this is about the teachers, too. I miss the energy of my students! Computer screens, while helpful, don’t cut it for connection!)
On the flip side, there are also students and families who aren’t built for distance learning. Some have limited or no access to technology. Some need the structure and surroundings and encouragement of others working. Some need the social benefits. Some need the food and care that come along with being at school. Some parents are working from home while also trying to manage multiple children learning online. It is all extremely stressful. School isn’t working for many, and it is definitely not the same even for those getting by.
Then, there are the fun things that are just not happening anymore at all. Most notably for me are travel plans for myself and my family, and races I was training for. Pleasure travel by anything other than car seems risky (and if you take a road trip, where do you stay overnight?)
I was sad that the triathlon I was training for got canceled. They can’t guarantee safety and I am sure liability is also a big part of that decision. Would I have wanted to participate in some sort of sanitized race? I had mixed feelings about the virtual 10K I ran recently. Although it wasn’t terrible since I was able to do it with friends, I missed the trip to Nashville, the mass of runners, all the spectators and the thrill of race day. It just wasn’t the same. I may still do a virtual version of the triathlon at some point since I am already training. But, some things just can’t be replaced. You can’t take away some of the most fun and challenging parts and expect a similar experience. Again, some of the most fun stuff of life is stripped away. And it is hard not to be bogged down in the frustration and sadness of it all.
You can’t recreate the Mona Lisa with a Magic Marker. It just isn’t the same. And will it ever be the same? What do I expect? I don’t know. I know many people are trying their best. I know many people disagree about how all of this is being carried out. Frankly, between dealing with that personal and political drama and the abundance of the day-to-day changes, I am exhausted at times. The fun stuff buoys me along and there is so much less of that. Nonetheless, I want to try to find the celebration in the irritation. Today, I realized I would have never bought my road bike if I hadn’t set the triathlon as a goal. My bike has been a huge part of my sanity through the stay-at-home orders. So there is a bit of sunshine.
It’s hard not to wonder when things will get back to some kind of regularity. What will things look like on the other end? When can we plan a race, some pleasure travel? When will I be able to read to kids again? When is the finish line of this mess? I can budget my energy if I have a finish line in sight. But now we are in the long middle miles when it’s hard to stay energized and forward moving.
I think it’s ok to pout as long as you don’t wallow in it. Acknowledge the loss then move on. It might be easier if we knew the story had a happy ending. I can deal with suspense as long as it gets resolved. I have to believe that day will come. Maybe not quite happily ever after, and maybe this is a heck of a long chapter, but it will be resolved.