My brain on pandemic mode – not as clear and crisp as it can be, but bear with this story, you may find something helpful in it.
My parents retired 18 years ago to a beautiful, but remote, town in Maine. They built their dream home on ten acres of forest land abutting a lake. Even though they were a five hour drive away, in some ways I have learned more about them since they moved away than I did in a lifetime of living under the same roof. As an adolescent and teenager, and into early adulthood, I was forever trying to get away, to set myself apart, to find my own space. When they moved away, we all got some perspective. Being together as a family was less frequent and took on new meaning. One of the greatest joys for me was watching them bloom at a time in life when a lot of us dream of slowing down. Not my folks! My father learned how to downhill ski at age 65 and it became his passion. He took me out on the slopes one Spring and taught me how to ski. I was in my 40’s and quite intimidated by it all. That day I discovered he is a wonderful instructor- patient, kind and fun-loving. With his gentle encouragement, I gradually left the bunny trail and took on steeper slopes. At the bottom of each run, we grinned at each other and said, “Let’s do it again!” I lost count of how many runs we made that day. My parents also spent their time hiking, boating, fishing, kayaking, and biking. Most shocking of all to me was when they bought a snowmobile and took to the trails with their friends, having cookouts deep in the forest. Visiting them was like going to a resort (in fact their town is a popular resort area). They became active in church; my mother was president of the women’s organization. Mom played Mah-jong once a week and had lunch out with her friends. She took up quilting and designed the most beautiful quilts for her children and grandchildren. As I write, I am leaning back on one of mine, which depicts a beautiful brown and navy patchwork scene, the center of which is three bears walking in a row. She named it “Bear Country” because we tend to see a lot of bears pass through our property in Springtime. She is nothing less than an artist. I would think, “Who ARE these people?” As the years passed and the three of us kids got bogged down with our own responsibilities, growing our own families, and we more and more had to stay close to home, to our kids, and our jobs, the number of visits we made up North became less frequent. My parents settled into a routine of regularly visiting us, making the trip down several times a year. Holidays centered around New Hampshire and we all enjoyed when my parents came to stay. I would visit them twice a year, usually early in the year, and sometime in late Summer or Fall. Dad and I would snowshoe in the woods, or take long walks, and I would spend time chatting over coffee and knitting with Mom. In the evening we would play cutthroat Scrabble games at the kitchen table, sipping wine and snacking on my Dad’s precious snack mixes aka, “Grampy Snacks”. My Dad would make killer ice cream Sundaes. And we would talk for hours on end. Life truly was good.
When the pandemic shut us down in March, my parents had just spent a week visiting us all in New Hampshire. Mom and I went the hairdresser together and I remember reversing roles and lecturing her on using hand sanitizer in the car, and getting a little aggressive about not allowing her to open doors, and such. We didn’t know a lot about this virus at the time but I did know she was at risk due to her age. I became the Mom, and to her credit she just smiled her patient smile and tolerated my bossiness much better than I would have, had the situation been reversed. The last social thing we all did together was attend my niece’s basketball game, sitting shoulder to shoulder in the bleachers, laughing and cheering. The next day, my parents drove home. We had no idea what was coming. Since then, (like many families) we have missed some big milestones: my Dad’s 80th birthday, Easter, my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary, Thanksgiving, and of course, most likely Christmas. I saw my parents in person once, in a parking lot, when I drove a couple hours to meet them in Portland where they go to doctor’s appointments. We masked up and sat in our cars with the windows open. My mother broke the rules and hugged me when she got out of the car, and my Dad followed suit. I still feel those hugs. I keep tem in my pocket to get through the hard days. On the hard days, I worry about my parents, living alone in their remote town, unable to socialize, except for one other couple in their “bubble”. Their lives have changed so drastically, yet, whenever I call them, or FaceTime them, they are cheerful, smiling and talkative. My mother speaks of the big celebration we will have when this is all over. I wanted to find a way to visit them safely; they told me just to wait. Lately, I have been reflecting on them, and it very slowly is dawning on me what an example they are still setting for us kids. My mother always would tell me, “Patience is a virtue.” I must have heard that a million times during my life. I was such a broody child, teenager and young adult. She would have none of it. “Get off the pity pot” was another favorite saying of hers. I remember getting into a big argument with my father as a young adult, complete with door slamming, yelling, and storming out. I collapsed into tears on a dining room chair, and my mother started laughing. I couldn’t believe it. Laughing at my despair, at my Dad’s and my inability to get along! “What is so funny?” I demanded. “You two!” she said. “You should just see yourselves!” I thought she was being so unsympathetic. Now I realize, she always has had the ability to see the bigger picture. The wisdom to understand that disagreeing, even arguing, was a healthy part of navigating relationships, and also a sign that two people truly care for one another, enough to fight for what we felt was right for the other, even if we were misguided, or even, a lot of the time, for me anyhow, wrong. I realize the lesson was not lost on me and how I learned to stop taking flight on people when the going got rough. Because of that, I have a good marriage, not perfect, but the kind that is built on a foundation of mutual respect and the result of the heavy lifting required when two fiercely individual people stick it out. She always had faith in us, her family. Every morning I lived in her house growing up, she would wake me up by saying “Rise and shine!” with a smile. I would reply, “I’ll rise, but I won’t shine!” and thought myself extremely clever. My father once told me, “Your mother is the most optimistic and kind person I know.” Then he added,”But don’t mess with her family – then all bets are off.” That about sums it up. She and my father got through thick and thin together, and family was everything.
We are all so weary of this pandemic, and so sad. The holidays are not going to be the same this year. When you cannot see your family, when you can’t have what is so precious to you, it is just human nature to want it all the more. We feel scared, cheated, despairing, and everyone reacts in their own way to those feelings. I turn inward at times like this; I hibernate with my books, my writing, my animals. Lately I find myself not even feeling like doing that. There are days I sit in my chair, staring into space, thinking of nothing, really. Then I shake my head get up and try to do something constructive. Putting thoughts to paper is difficult these days; the path from my brain to the keyboard seems broken. The thoughts are swirling, each pounding on the door, and a few manage to slip under the door, but most of them just stay bottled up. This too shall pass.
This morning, one clear thought escaped and here it is: Listen to your Mom. Follow your parents example. They have lived through many dark times. They learned of hardship early in life. Their parents instilled stories of their own hardships from the depression, the wars, immigration from the old country. My parents know about hard times. They know how to be patient. If they can do it, then so can I. We will get back to some sort of normal. We just need to have faith. And remember this, “Normal is just a setting on the washing machine.” –Nancy Campbell, aka Mom.