My sister-in-law recently tweeted “I’ve never showered less.”
I laughed out loud when I read it, because it was so true. Those five words seemed to sum up so much about 2020. As we finally near the end of this turbulent year, I realize I can claim numerous “I’ve never” statements. But for each, they are accompanied by a subsequent realization that allows me to see 2020 in a much different way.
I’ve never showered less.
Prior to March, I showered every day. It wasn’t a conscious decision – to clean my body and wash my hair at least once every 24 hours. It was just part of my routine. But in a time when I often don’t leave the house for days or see anyone outside my immediate family, the need to shower every day has gradually disappeared. It’s not like I’m ignoring personal hygiene, but showering every other day almost feels liberating.
Having grown up in a family where pride in physical appearance was emphasized, I have struggled with loving my body, despite its flaws. I’ve spent years trying to reach some mystical goal weight and I’ve lost time in front of the mirror, examining every new wrinkle or spot that appears. But when there has actually been more time that could have been spent obsessing over my insecurities, I’ve chosen to almost completely ignore them. I realized that every time I met someone new, I subconsciously compared myself to them. I’d think that they were fitter than I was, or had fewer wrinkles even though I was younger or we were around the same age.
But spending the majority of time at home leaves little opportunity to judge myself against the attractiveness of others. So, I have gradually come to care less about my outward appearance, and consequently have accepted myself more. I’ve never been more content with how I look.
I’ve never been less physically intimate with my husband.
In over 26 years together, I have never spent more time in the same space with my husband. He doesn’t have to spend hours each day commuting to and from work. He wakes up and heads to the basement office, and then emerges throughout the day to check in and have a quick chat. We are home together almost every hour of every day. And yet, we’ve never had less sex. Mainly because we live in a house with teenagers. Teenagers watch the same TV shows as adults. Teenagers do not nap. Teenagers stay up late. They leave little opportunity for private moments between parents.
However, the lack of physical intimacy has allowed me to focus on other ways our relationship is incredibly close. During 20 years of marriage, we created an entire world together. A world that lives inside our home, full of private jokes, silly songs, and unconditional love. But that world was also dictated by a busy schedule full of complicated carpools and little time together. Now we go for long walks and talk, about anything and everything, uninterrupted by a phone alarm signaling that it’s time to pick up a child from soccer practice. On the weekends, we get together with friends outside and abide by social distancing recommendations, which means sitting side-by-side, six feet away from the next couple. Instead of going to a party and seeing my husband across the room for most of the night, we sit next to each other and hold hands. We tell stories together, filling in the details for each other and adding our agreement. And we’ve started to act like teenagers a bit ourselves. Sneaking around to find opportunities to be intimate, just as we did early on in our relationship. I’ve never felt closer to my husband.
I’ve never watched more television.
There are days I feel like my youngest daughter and I have finished Netflix. We have watched countless hours of TV, sitting together on the couch almost every night. I have spent more time watching television than I did in college, when a hangover was an excuse to spend an entire Sunday sprawled out flicking through the channels. I went from a parent who carefully controlled my kids’ screen time to a parent who looked at the clock at midnight and said, “Okay, one more episode.” I’ve justified the binge-watching by emphasizing that it has kept us from endless updates about politics and the pandemic.
Episodes of Parks and Recreation have kept us laughing and gleefully oblivious to the daily infection rate. I have managed to stay informed, and keep my children informed, but watching entire series of sit-coms has also insulated us from information overload. Now that my daughter is 13, I have introduced her to some of my favorite shows, and she is old enough to enjoy them – although I am grateful that some references still go over her head. But even then, she will ask me what something means, and I have the opportunity to explain adult topics to her in an accurate and educated way. She won’t end up learning about something from a friend who learned it from an older sibling. She knows now that she can ask me anything and I won’t get embarrassed or make her feel embarrassed for asking. We have private jokes that are “Legen –wait for it– dary” and matching Lil’ Sebastian t-shirts. And every once in a while, she presses pause to tell me about a boy she has a crush on or a friend going through a difficult time. I’ve never had more time to bond with my daughter.
I’ve never felt less in control.
For most of my adult life, I have set goals for myself and then made lists of the things I could control to reach those goals. After my first child was born with Down syndrome, something I could not control, I spent every moment possible learning about her disability and what I had the power to influence or alter. I’ve taught my kids to focus on what they can control in life – things like how hard you study, how much you practice a specific skill or sport, who you choose to befriend… and how you react to the things that are beyond your control.
2020 has been unprecedented, unpredictable, uncertain, and at many times out of control. In mid-March, life as we knew it ceased to exist. We were unable to control whether our children finished their spring sports season or walked across a stage for graduation. I was unable to control the cancellation of a trip to Hawaii to celebrate 20 years of marriage – a trip I’d waited two decades to finally take. And I couldn’t control the decline of my oldest daughter’s social skills that we had worked so hard for years to achieve.
But, without all of the things that made life hectic prior to the pandemic, I had more time to focus on things that were always pushed aside. Early after the kids were sent home and the outside world shut down, I made a list of all the jobs and projects around the house that I never seemed to have time for … painting my bedroom, reorganizing my closet, framing photos from our last family vacation, cleaning out my email inbox, dusting the blinds. I told myself that when the stay-at-home order was lifted, I didn’t want to look back at wasted time. I viewed it as an opportunity to do things that there never seemed to be enough hours in the day to accomplish. It was something I could control.
As the months dragged on, though, my positive attitude faltered. I wanted to return to a time when I ignored chores and home projects because I was too busy traveling with my family or spending days at the beach. The further we got into 2020, the more it tested my resolve to control my reactions and stay optimistic. I watched people on the news react with indignation and selfishness. I watched others around me react with fear and distress. And although I experienced all of those feelings, helping my children handle the situation forced me to take a breath and re-steady my spirit. As I reminded them that they have complete control over the way they react to an uncontrollable set of circumstances, I reminded myself to be the example.
I made another list – of more projects I never had time for, things I can do to help rebuild my daughter’s social skills, and preparations I can make for when the pandemic finally ends – and I revisit it each time I feel like I’m losing control. I’ve never had more opportunities to control the way I spend my time.
2020 may easily go down as the most difficult year in our lifetimes. One that was full of upheaval, grief, anger, exhaustion, disappointment, and disgust. But it has also been a year of opportunities and growth. It has given me the chance to spend countless hours with the people I love most in the world, and the ability to prioritize the parts of my life that I miss most.
I long to return to a world free of the pandemic and the strife that accompanies it. But I’ve also realized that I don’t long to return to the pre-pandemic world. I get to take the lessons I’ve learned and move forward with them. I’ve never been more ready for a new way of living.
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