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Opinion I Staying present in a pandemic

In this week’s edition of Mother of Invention, the author tries to swing across monkey bars in a playground and stay present in a pandemic

I feel gratitude for this horrid virus—without it, we would never have slowed down
I feel gratitude for this horrid virus—without it, we would never have slowed down

Take a video, take a video before I fall," I shouted at my husband as I swung across the monkey bars.

On the video, you can hear me saying, “Oh god, oh god, oh god," before I disappear from the frame and fall to the ground.

It’s true, having children helps you rediscover your youth.

As this pandemic continues to rage, I find myself increasingly weary, anxious and sad. My energy levels are decreasing, enthusiasm is hard to come by. I realize it’s largely because it’s difficult to look ahead. The longer this reality remains our reality, the more difficult it becomes to imagine a new old world just around the corner. Will we really ever again sit elbow to elbow with strangers in a movie theatre? The very thought is outrageous. Am I going to allow my children to leap and jump in soft play areas filled with other kids and their germs? What about clothes shopping? Will I stroll through Zara with an armload of clothes to try on in a fitting room? Will I brush my teeth in transit at an airport while watching the other exhausted travellers at nearby sinks?

We had hoped to have a family vacation in Japan this year. That will not be happening. Our younger child, turning 2 this week, was meant to have joined the older one at playschool this fall. That will not be happening. I was meant to return to my alma mater to teach creative writing this fall. I will be teaching from the guest bedroom through Zoom.

We are safe and warm and hardly suffering, butI amdisappointed. And on days when I stop to think, I feel overwhelmed with sadness for a world I knew and loved just six months ago. Fortunately, the pandemic means I have no regular childcare so I have almost no time to stop and think.

Instead, I am forced to stay present because I am forced to chase two very young children who are busy chasing two squirrels. I quite literally stop and smell the flowers because they stop and smell every single flower. I put my phone down and pause my doom-scrolling because they are both now squatting on the ground trying to get a spider to climb on to their hands and I should probably put a stop to that.

We are currently isolating in the town in upstate New York where I did some of my growing up. The schools are closed so every evening we put the children into their double stroller and walk up two hills to fit in our own workout and get them to the playground of the school I went to briefly. My husband and I fill our water bottles with wine and the four of us jump and hop and climb and swing and slide. I forget about the pandemic. I forget about the other world that existed, the one that I miss, because there’s no other world I want to be in during those moments with my family.

On weekend mornings, we drive down to the creek I frequented as a teenager and put our children on our shoulders and carefully walk down to the water and find a large flat rock to sit on and splash our feet. From there we go to the ponds at the botanical gardens and feed the turtles and the fish. For a moment, I look down at the wavy reflection of my family in the dark pond and I manage to feel gratitude for this horrid virus. Without it, we would never have slowed down. Without it, I would one day emerge from my desk to find my daughters had turned into teenagers.

So even in moments of despair, I tell myself that I must learn from this experience. I must choose how it will define me and define my life. Six months in, with no end in sight, I think we can all agree that this will indeed define so much for so many of us.

I will remain in the moment, I tell myself. Not just now because I have to but even if and when this is all over. Instead of waiting for that trip to Japan, I will be grateful for the pond in front of me. But most importantly, come what may, pandemic or not, I will never again swing across monkey bars.

Diksha Basu is the best-selling author of The Windfall and Destination Wedding.


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