One Day at a Time

She picked Clemson, for those who were wondering. Whether or not she will get to attend in the fall remains to be seen. My middle daughter was hesitant to choose a college because doing so would mean missing out on another school. It turns out she’s missing a lot these days. As I write this, it is the last weekend of April—prom weekend, actually. Needless to say, her pink satin dress will remain in her closet for the time being. She has handled the shock of being isolated from normal life fairly well, considering. Not every day is easy, not every day is hard. Technology allows for times of laughter and connection. But sometimes tears come out of nowhere when everything seemed fine just a moment ago. Often the tears are mine.

I’ve been grieving for her loss of experiences and the meanings behind them. I’ve been mourning the abrupt, long-term separation of so many people she cares about – friends, teachers, grandparents. I’ve been gut-punched thinking of the universal feelings of joy and relief of that last exam of one’s high school career, celebrated with loud music in a cheap car crammed with friends on their way to…somewhere, together. For her, she will simply close her laptop, and that will be that. When I’m not thinking of my own, seemingly trivial losses, I cry for the suffering that has come to so many people as a result of this strange disease that has left the world with emotional and financial trauma. This touches not just my household, not just our town, not just our country—but the entire world. It is unbelievable.

But I’ve been laughing, too. Our family has been playing a pun game when no one can agree on what to watch on a given evening. The results are both painful and hilarious. We laugh at my adult daughter’s Chihuahua, a part of our household these days. She is not amused—the Chihuahua, that is. She’s terribly grouchy and awfully cute and won’t hesitate to rip into your flesh should you wake her up – the daughter, that is. Just kidding (maybe). It’s been a gift having the oldest kid live here for a while. But she misses her friends, her life in Columbia, and not living with us. We’re making it work. And we laugh at stuff because she’s pretty funny.

You know who else is funny? Middle schoolers. I started a new job teaching middle school this year and immediately fell in love with my students. They are all earnest, sincere, witty, and interesting. They made me love Monday mornings. Now each Monday morning I log onto my Google Classroom and feel an ache in my chest. I miss them terribly. One of my students is moving as soon as the school year is over, and I wonder if I will ever see him again. To tell your students, “Have a great weekend!” and then learn that your time with them is over is a pain I can’t describe. In fact, that is why this pandemic is so hard for many of us—we didn’t get to say goodbye to anyone. And we don’t know, at least at the time of this writing, when we’ll get to say hello. Hugging seems out of the question for the foreseeable future.

Cheerful stuff, huh? We all miss people dearly, so I owe you something more than a list of sad feelings. Here are some ways my life has changed since March:

I no longer blow dry my hair.
I eat a lot of cheese.
I have become obsessed with Mount Everest documentaries.
My husband taught himself to play, “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” on the guitar. So I hear that a lot. A lot.
I video chat with my students, which makes my day.
I stream church each week, which lifts my spirits.
I am still late to church.

Also, my husband and I are on a second honeymoon of sorts, spending time together in a different way than before our lives were disrupted a few months ago. The hyper-scheduling of before has given way to long afternoon walks that have become my favorite part of the day. The porch is our vacation spot where we can share a bottle of wine and look at the old growth trees that surround us, listening to barred owls, pileated woodpeckers, and Mississippi kites. We laugh at our shaggy hair and beach bum attire and pretend we’re on a weird vacation where we have to do all the cooking and cleaning and don’t get to see anything new. But we sometimes walk down empty roads that were once too busy for pedestrians, looking at the landscape in a different way, and it does feel like something new.

We can’t visit our friends and neighbors, but when we happen to see them outside it’s like walking into a surprise party. My kids and their friends mail each other letters and look for the mailman everyday. I email my students pictures of birds and tell them stories, and they do the same for me. I call my grandmother often. My grandmother mostly loves to talk about the beach, which I am praying we still get to see together this summer. She is lonely in her retirement home, which is completely locked down, but the event coordinator has arranged creative ways for loved ones to connect.

This is unnerving, the ability to plan only for a day each day. So I don’t know if we will take my daughter to college this fall or not. I can’t know much of anything at this point. But, did we really ever? AM

By Tara Bailey