I know you are wondering how you could possibly be reading a letter dated May 2021, so I’ll explain. This letter is from the future, from next year at this time, and I’m your future self, writing to you because I know you need to read this in May 2020.
I’m sure you’re eagerly hoping this letter will tell you all the details about life over the past year – who was elected President, when did the kids finally go back to school (will they really be wearing masks and sitting 6 feet apart?), if the economy recovered and how soon, if your relatives are well and safe. I can’t share these answers with you, but I can tell you that it took a while after COVID-19 for life to get back to normal, albeit a new normal. School has changed, shul has changed, recreation has changed, and thankfully you’ve settled into a comfortable routine. You know the drills. Worldwide, the complaining and protests have ended; this is now life as you and the rest of the world know it.
The reason I’m writing to you (actually, to me) is really to give me, Alexandra in 2021, the chance to look back at the past year and to share with you -- as you are living through it -- how it appears from afar. This letter embodies the gift of hindsight. It’s my gift to you to remind you of how well you’re actually faring. Because I know you need that reminder right now.
Let’s first reflect on your first foray into the New Normal: Remember when you made Pesach in the middle of a pandemic? Of course you do, it was the first time you made Pesach in 16 years! And remember when you had to stop having your cleaning lady? You thought that was such a big deal. Remember the first time you and the family ventured out for a walk and were avoiding people like the plague, the color coordinated daily schedules you created with the kids that included things like yoga, zoo videos and diamond art, and the excitement the night before starting Zoom lessons? And don’t forget the first time you ran out of toilet paper, and your first cloth mask, the one your friend made for you. It was all so new, and with newness comes a sense of anticipation. Now you look back at those moments with a chuckle – and a sigh.
But I have the ability to view the spring of 2020 from a broader perspective. There were so many highlights, experiences and lessons from your quarantine that you might not appreciate now, as you’re in the thick of it. So please indulge me as I share them with you. I hope you realize how meaningful they are, and use that newfound awareness to tap into the uniqueness of the moment in your present tense.
First, continue to thank Hashem for keeping you and your family safe at this very moment, and daven that He should continue to keep you -- and all of Klal Yisrael -- healthy and safe. The more the world learns about this virus, the more there is to realize how very little we understand about it. Daven for rachmanus.
In your own little corner of the world, as you try your best to keep everyone under your care safe, there are a lot of big feelings going on any given day, felt by any member of your household, including you. Overwhelm, frustration, exhaustion, anxiety, sadness, fear, and disappointment are a few. But don’t forget about those other big feelings: love, calm, appreciation, happiness, gratitude, joy. Look out for them and ride their waves.
You are in a moment in time that will never exist again. You are living under the same roof with your precious children, day after day, as they are planting the most solid roots in the home you are building. This experience is the closest thing to a frozen moment in time. I can guarantee that you will look back at these days, these months, with a deep sense of nostalgia. You will forget about the day to day stresses, you won’t remember the time you cried over the raw chicken you accidentally served for dinner because it was all too much, and you will yearn for those moments where no one had anywhere to be besides being home, in the kitchen, in their bedrooms, on the couch – home, with you.
And think of the transformation of your dining room table. I know you’ve been wanting a new, bigger one. But your dining room table and chairs, the set your mother got you when you were first married, became the symbol of a renewed family. During the week it was covered in school materials, transforming your dining room into a little schoolhouse. Juggling a wiggly baby while circling the table from one child to the next as you assisted each one in their lessons, you spent most of your days around the dining room table. And never were more board games and card games played on that table during those precious Shabbos and long Yom Tov stretches. While it no longer seated guests, your dining room table became the symbol of the strength of your family, the place where you worked, gathered and played together.
ONE OF THE MOST SIGNIFICANT lessons you learned from quarantine, one that has been tested time and time again throughout the year, was that you could do hard things: being with the children 24/7, not having your husband home to help because he was an essential worker as a doctor, managing all the at-home learning, giving up cleaning help, eliminating play dates and outings, cleaning and cooking for Pesach, and three-day Yom Tovs, to name a few. And you were all healthy, baruch Hashem. Many of your friends had it harder than you. But at the time, everything converged and seemed impossible. Yet you did it. The small victories helped you move on to the next hurdle. You managed. And sometimes you didn’t just survive, you actually thrived. You surprised yourself, and it wasn’t all that bad.
You also learned to really lower your expectations. The days were long, and they didn’t all pan out exactly as you would have wanted. You created schedules, fixed them and dumped them in the garbage. Most days were about getting through them and doing the best you could under those usual and understandably difficult circumstances. There were plenty of ups and downs, exhausted nights, dishes left in the sink, laundry left unfolded, and chances for the kids to see their mother struggling and having a rough time. You told them that. And then you wiped away your tears and got back up to try again the next day.
The last lesson you actually realized on your own, early on, one day at the end of April 2020. You were sitting outside watching your boys play basketball in the driveway one late afternoon. It was a rare warm day, amidst a very rainy and dreary month, the sun was shining, and the boys were happy. The baby was sitting next to you in the stroller. You were calm and content – and enjoying yourself! And you understood that while the rest of the day was rather uneventful – you had gotten through the kid’s daily schoolwork, managed to feed everyone, and do a load of laundry – this right now was one of those special moments. It was just one, it happened at the end of the day, but it happened. And you realized the power of small moments. From then on, you understood that a successful day did not need to be a picture-perfect day filled with art projects, nature walks, and baking, with the schedule of the day planned and executed just so. A successful day was a day that had one small, but shining, moment. That one small moment carried you through the day and made you feel that you were doing this well. A family game-night around the dining room table. A dinner that everyone enjoyed. An engaging discussion around the Shabbos table. A walk around the block to see the blooming flowers. A hug of appreciation for the chocolates you bought the kids so they could do their work with a little joy. Just one moment per day. Small moments that would create big memories, for both you and the members of your family.
Well, that’s it for now. You will realize more things as the days and weeks go by, but they are for you to realize. In the meantime, give yourself a pat on the back and hug your kids. You’re doing great. And remember, you can always start again tomorrow. There are a lot of them to come between now and May 2021.
With Admiration and Respect,
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 810)