In the early days of COVID, I spent a good deal of time writing essays on the silver linings of the lockdown. March and April were filled with Home Depot-driven adrenaline and even a strange sense of adventure. Zoom was an epiphany. My closets were spotless. I organized each and every kitchen drawer with military precision. I made meal after meal, combing through cookbooks and deeply channeling my inner Martha. I coached my kids through distance learning and watched spring quickly turn to summer. Like so many others, we moved out of the city we love, temporary transplants in a sea of families seeking lower COVID rates and fresh air for the children. For a time they all seemed okay. Until they weren’t.
Some 250 days later, most children in the State of California haven’t been to school in almost 10 months. Across the country, “hybrid” solutions mean just a day or two in class each week. Students who have been fortunate enough to attend school full-time have fared better, but after months of mask-wearing, cancelled sports, nasal swabs, and contact tracing, the joys of schooling have given way to pandemic fatigue and fears about the long, dark winter ahead.
Each age and stage presents its own unique challenges. For adolescents who biologically crave social interaction, the pandemic has been especially trying. Younger children less likely to understand the vagaries of the virus are co-sleeping their way through their anxieties. High school students who worked for years to gain admittance to sprawling collegiate campuses now find them shut down for the year. Once dubbed Gen Z, these young people will now also be known as the “COVID Generation.”
As the holidays approach, we face a fresh set of cuts. Grandparents, cousins and all of the festive gatherings that mark each year have largely been cancelled. That trip to Florida, gone. I’m truly working hard to find the fortitude that fueled my early lockdown optimism but more often than not find myself on the phone, trading war stories with my wonderful network of Mom friends who are each struggling in their own ways. I do try to remind them of the light at the end of the tunnel amidst the recent announcements by Pfizer and Moderna. If the trial numbers are right, the world could not have received a better gift at a better time. I’ve even told my oldest son that he’ll be back on the ballfield by spring. But to be honest, I can’t really promise him anything. It’s COVID, and as we’ve seen through waves one, two, and three, all bets are off.
So even as we begin to string the lights and trim the trees, gratitude just feels a little bit harder to muster. As adults coping in our own ways, maybe the best gift to ourselves is to fully embrace that some days, the kids are not alright. And that is actually alright. It’s also alright to be sad. Alright to be angry. Alright to cry. Alright to day-drink (occasionally). Alright to have gained back the baby weight (albeit without the baby.) It’s alright to miss your family, and just as alright to feel relieved that this year, the gatherings will be smaller and maybe a little less stressful. This holiday season, I’d even say it’s even alright not to shower. Just try not to let that go on too long. Because that’s probably not alright.
Alison Harmelin is the mother of three and co-founder of Zeel, along with her husband Samer Hamadeh. Before becoming an “accidental entrepreneur,” Harmelin spent fifteen years in broadcast news as an anchor and reporter, covering such events as the September 11th attacks, the London bombings, and Hurricane Katrina.