Just recently, I became a grandmother again. The joy of seeing my daughter give birth to what would be the next generation of our clan filled me with pride. As a mother of a blended family, I have learned that the significance of family doesn’t always come with blood, but the love you cultivate in the relationship of family. During this past year, relationships and connection to kin has taken on new significance for me. Even friendships looked different this year, as we retreated to our homes and safe spaces. Our focus was on the tight circles that surrounded our loved ones and our lives. We placed our arms around our little world and unintentionally disengaged from those who fell outside of it, if only by a little. It was a time when I felt more alone than I had in a long time. I longed for my missing family and social connection and the meaning these relationships brought to my life.
As many likely did, my family explored the boundaries of our ancestry to research our origins. We wanted to know more about from where we came, and learn about the distant relatives mentioned by our aging parents each holiday and family reunion. Surprisingly, as we began to climb our family tree, we discovered branches we had never seen. As leaves on our tree, each photograph and census report hinted at stories and a history we had yet to uncover. Not only did we match our genetic leaves with others in our past, but we learned about our ethnic heritage and those ancestors who had a knack for business. We became detectives and uncovered the hidden stories about those who suffered loss and married again. School photographs shared confirmation of an education, and the births, deaths, and marriages told stories of hardship and the baby who didn’t survive. Most of all, we climbed our tree high enough to reach a branch we’d never seen before, living family we could meet and with whom we could share the love that would eventually deepen our roots and strengthen our family tree. We found new family who, with a phone call or an email, became our daughter, our sister, our grandmother, and aunt.
Discovering new family was scary, but exciting in a way we had not expected. In my midlife, I have often looked back at how much my tiny family before motherhood has grown from the sapling of my childhood to a craggy oak tree of motherhood and beyond. Whether by blood or by bond, this seasoned oak continues to be enriched by each family member who sprouted roots in this fertile ground. I hope that as we grow the shade we provide continues as well.
In a time where movement is restricted and crowds are the new social evil, these days are filled with work and family. I keep busy and tend to the here and now but once the day is done I try to find quiet time that calms my mind. Being at home this much is not normal for me, and I’ve become restless. I’ve become sedentary and still and I don’t like it.
As I approached my midlife, I developed a new found appreciation of household freedom. Things were more in order. I didn’t feel obligated to maintain the same meal schedule as when my kids were home. I enthusiastically dispelled the sense of responsibility I overcultivated as a young mother and enjoyed the ability to stay up late, see friends on a whim, and not cook to please everyone in the house. These BP times (Before Pandemic) supported a more “free to be me” exploration. But not any more. As we have shut our doors, wear our masks and stay close to home, everyone has had to make changes. I now have family who have returned to the nest, as the struggle continues to adapt to our new normal.
I admit, this opportunity to focus on the present and remain healthy and happy has been a blessing. I am working to be more attentive to my relationships. I attend to my self care. I try (but not as successfully) to be more active. The fact that I now assess the quality of my day by the readout of my sleep and steps has shifted me into a new paradigm. For most of us, this pandemic has introduced too many plates to juggle. The perspective I hold on my daily living is now rooted from my home base and how I must pivot to adjust to each new challenge. Pivot has become the new word for me. The discovery of my ability to pivot has strengthened me. It is not just the steps forward I take each day but how I respond to the daily events of the world.
Strangely enough, I find a renewed sense of purpose in this perspective on life. Maybe I’ve been too focused on moving forward, moving fast, moving ahead and beyond this craziness. It’s not sufficient to keep up. Maybe my athletic prowess needs work, as I “dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge”. In fact, demonstrating the best possible pivot might better be served from my preteen fashion modeling class. Each step forward gets you the end of the runway, but your pivot is what shows you off to the most people in the room. So as 2020 has brought me to the edge of my personal runway, here’s to the pivot showing off my best possible self to 2021.
During this time of COVID-19 and the importance of limiting exposure to the outside world, I believe we have all spent a little more time focused on home. More of my friends and family put up holiday decorations earlier than normal. Wanting that feeling of coziness and safety among dear ones was key to supporting one’s emotional health. I was sent plenty of images showing Hallmark movie holiday décor and families in festive attire. Social media blurred its lens to display pictures that others in our community wanted us to see – that they were making it. They were surviving. That they were ok and looking ahead to healthier and happier times. But this season, not all families wore matching Christmas pajamas.
In many families, like mine, there is discord at home. Fractures in our faith in what is right and what is wrong have made me uncomfortable with those who tell me my mask makes me someone who doesn’t value freedom. I am afraid of the growing violence and hate disguised as support for our leadership. And most of all, I am concerned that friendships are being torn apart. At a time when my world is small, and restricted, my relationships with family and friends are what I have left to connect me with the outside. While my midlife self is decluttering my home of memories and emotional baggage from the past in order to live in the present, it means that I am more closely examining the four walls of my world. And right now, my world is my home. My door keeps sickness out and lets family in. My friendships help me sort out what to keep and what to throw away. However, in these desperate times, I am not feeling as safe in my community. The overly attentive mother is examining her midlife with scrutinizing detail, and what she is finding is not pretty.
The complexity and challenge of remaining healthy and compassionate when the world around you is crumbling can be overwhelming. The discourse of the day about vaccines, masks, and even safe holidays at home put me at odds with what normally makes me healthy and happy this holiday season. While I should have been decking the halls and making merry, I was fortifying my structure and engaging in debate that weakened my faith in my community. This new year, I have found cracks in my ceiling. I just hope that my roof, and the roof over us all, doesn’t come tumbling down.