Gather round children, boy, do I have a story for you.
It was the year 2020.
Your parents were happy in school and I had just started a job at a public relations firm. It was my first time working out of the house in years. Having mastered the art of driving downtown, I now managed to park without scratching my car. l enjoyed being in the company of other adults. My co-workers were bright, smart and funny. With enough effort, I almost fit in. For the first time in years I wore heels and make-up and life was dandy.
That is, until a global pandemic - a very bad disease that spreads easily - shut the world down.
I know. Sounds a little drastic. Trust me, I didn’t believe it either at first. Overnight, the rug was pulled from under our feet. Our comfy, little lives in prosperous America now centered around securing toilet paper. I used to bask in the comfort of ordering everything online. When social distancing began, I would have given anything to go to Target and have the kids tantrum all over the floor.
When you get older I'm sure your friends will share more challenging stories that their grandparents experienced during the pandemic. We lost some really special people. Others were very ill, and some risked their lives daily to help others. And while your grandfather did work in health care, it was probably best for both of us that we weren’t home together everyday.
On top of the heavy news that surrounded us, we each had our own challenges.
There was once a Rabbi who used to keep a note in each pocket: One read, “For my sake was the world created." and the other, "I am but dust and ashes." We struggled to balance these two concepts: How small and powerless we were, with our unique role in the challenge that lay ahead.
Here’s how I tried to make sense of that…
It all seemed like a bad dream. I was shocked at the speed at which life had changed, but I was also sad. Sad at the situation at large and confused as to where it left us.
How would I handle four kids and also work at home for eight hours a day? Why would G-d have me start something only to give it up right away? My kids needed me. Homeschooling is no joke. Especially when the kids are more interested in changing their screen backgrounds and parents are too busy to yell Moishe, stop sharing your screen every 5 minutes.
Monday came and the struggle was real. Mainly the struggle of getting out of bed.
There were schedules to follow, passwords to remember and kids to feed. Endless amounts of snacking went unhindered. I tried to teach the kids yoga and we baked a thing or two. There were memes, so many memes. The news got worse. We went through three different reward systems in one day. Then there were emails, conference calls and slack chats to keep up with.
During a video conference call, one kid accidentally swung a book into another kid’s face. I would have ignored the screams were it not for the looks on my co-workers' faces that read: I don't know much about parenting, but I’m pretty sure it shouldn’t sound like that. I went to save the injured child and bring her to the call, but the guilty culprit also wanted to join. There I was, sitting with two crying children on my lap, trying to listen to branding strategies, while the world around us crumbled.
At the end of Day One, I drafted an email to the COO, “I'm sorry, my kids need me.” Moments before pressing send, I decided to give it a few more days. The irony of leaving a job I had just started, at a time when re-entering the workforce would be difficult, was not lost upon me.
Kinderlach, I bless you that life should be carefree and smooth sailing. But in those times that it’s not, don’t underestimate what you can handle.
As the days turned into weeks, I continued putting one foot in front of the other. I lived for routine and structure. On a normal day, if my kids were not clean, fed and in bed by seven, I would cry.
I guess I felt sorry for your parents, which led me to overlook their imperfections. Instead of getting nervous, I hugged them. When things got heated, we’d throw a dance party. I was so relaxed, it freaked me out. Heck, it definitely freaked your grandfather out. But there was really no alternative. I started enjoying their company in a way our busy lives hadn’t previously allowed.
As for the job, I kept at it. For one, I overcame the guilt of holding on to it, and the firm was very flexible. The distraction actually helped, and it turns out the shower is a great place to take calls. I guess G-d figured all that out ahead of time.
I realized that kids are resilient, and as long as I remained positive and did not flip out when they asked if it was screen time at 6 a.m, things were fine. I can’t say they learned the mah nishtana in seven languages that year, but they were happy, safe and surprisingly good at folding socks.
In our little bubble we did what we could to help the world around us. Every morning we prayed and gave charity. Life became less about toned abs and Range Rovers (both things I never had to begin with) and more about health and stability.
Now, I love your mommies and totty very much, but I couldn't wait to drop them off the day school resumed. As the moment neared I realized I would miss them, too... The world had changed. People were softer, kinder, sick of screens and yearning for human connection. Looking back at that time always reminds of our vulnerability, who’s really in charge and to never take anything for granted.
If you've made it this far, hopefully you can spare another minute to do a good deed in honor of the full and speedy recovery of Chaim Schneur Zalman Yehuda ben Hinda Yocheved.