The months that were a year or more

I don’t need to tell anyone that this year has been too much. When this year began, I thought that the biggest things that I would be having to deal with were coping without two of my three sons moving out of home (and yes, they have been coping fine and it seems that I did teach them enough – Have I taught them enough?) and the climate anxiety in the young people I work with that would come from the bushfires (How to go on while Australia burns). Oh, how wrong was I. Instead it has been a year that’s has already felt like a decade.

My first day back at work in the school this year was the day after the weekend when we began to hear the news of this pandemic coming our way. The rest of that term was filled with rising anxiety from the students and staff as we grappled with the invisible and unknown. It felt like waiting for a tsunami. The early closures of schools that term came with an overwhelming feeling of relief for me to be out of the firing line of 500 odd kids and their potential germs.

The first holidays after that term I was overwhelmed. I wrote lists of things I could do to combat these feelings, but in reality, I was still working, still writing. Who did I think I was to be able to do all these extra new things! I slumped. I pleaded with my boys to come home, be safe, but they assured me they were fine. I sent them food packages as the country town grocery shelves emptied. I stopped looking at social media, at the news. I worked to help the teaching staff to be ready for teaching from home. I sought answers on why I felt so down and this article from the Harvard Business Review helped me to understand more about what I was feeling: That discomfort you are feeling is grief

As my husband, youngest son and I prepared for working and learning from home, I was thankful that we now had two spare rooms. I saw the privileged that we had with space to work on our own. My other two sons stayed in their respective houses in the country and continue their studies. They lost their new jobs and were fortunate that we could support them (which we will probably have to for a while). I wondered how others who could not lean on their parents for help were surviving. I filled my work room with boxes of books from the school library to work on and wrote lists of work that could be done from home.

The three of us in our home found our own routines. I rose at 6 am or earlier every day and settled into my writing life for at least an hour before I jumped on my bike for a ride that gave me a breath of nature. At 8 am I settled into work for the day which included the luxury of a coffee and lunch break with my husband and son. Usually I eat my lunch alone as I have it before the other staff so I am available for the students; I basked in this time I had with my husband and son to commune with each other over lunch. We were kind to each other as we all grappled at various times with the frustrations and grief of these times. Mostly, we loved each other.

I met with my writers group every Saturday at 5.30, espresso martini in hand as we talked about our weeks. I was the privileged one in this group as I was the only one who did not have primary aged kids that needed a high level of supervision with their school. I encouraged them to lower expectations and reminded them of the year that I took the kids out of school, and how the kids survived. But I wasn’t living their hard times and could only imagine how hard it was as they told their stories of tears and frustrations.

As an introvert, I found the time to be a balm. It was quiet. I got lots of work done. I knitted. I learnt to crochet. I mended things. I bought books that launched in iso. I read. I spent time with my youngest. I chatted on the phone to my other two. I did online yoga. I rode. I patted the dog. I took an online course in Writing Picture Books and revelled in the joy of children’s stories.

I rewarded myself with the hard work by ending the work from home time with a four solid day virtual writing retreat interrogating every scene in my manuscript for its purpose as I prepared for the next draft.

This year was also the year of big numbers. My husband and I both were turning 50 and had big plans of a party to celebrate us. Our thirtieths disappeared in baby poo and vomit, our fortieths were spent in the outback so this one we wanted to share with our friends. Instead, we had quiet birthdays, and as the restrictions began to lift, small wonderful surprise birthday dinners arrived. I loved the intimacy of these dinners, loved the time spent with these people who I adore. They weren’t the big party we had envisioned, but they were extra special.

As an introvert, it is the returning to the world that has felt a little more disarming.

The first days back at school were a mixture of excitement at seeing each other and virus anxiety. A staff member hugged me before I had a chance to back away. My desk had been surrounded by tables for distancing in the very open library. Hand sanitiser bottles stood to attention in every room. The students returned, some masked, others oblivious. Conversations were held with the dance of social distance. Hand washing, and more hand washing. Processes implemented to Keep Us All Safe. I filled the tables surrounding my desk with a display of Aboriginal writing as worldwide anger rose at the terrible treatment of black people and First Nations People. Read to learn.

Yesterday I went to the mall for the first time in what feels like a decade but is more like five months. When I came home I had to nap. It took everything from me to have to interact and avoid so many people. We are once again in strange times where the breakouts are happening all around us and we can’t see where it is. I received an email this morning from Vic Roads reminding us to all stay home and I look out the window as cars laden with holiday pass by. Will it spread like the fires did over summer, or will people heed the warnings?

It’s holidays again and these ones feel better. I am happy to be home, albeit with a little jealousy of other’s photos of beautiful places they are going to. I have had one son home for his five-week uni break, and when he left, the other returned for his four-week break. My husband has moved his office into the room that I use as my office, and it mostly works. I have lists of things to get done. Lists are how I seek order in the unknown.

My morning writing schedule stays; it is the one thing that keeps me sane.

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