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New Normal

I’m starting to feel like Bill Murray’s character in "Groundhog Day".


I suspect I’m not the only one.


My days are all starting to look the same-- just like they are for a lot of people around the world right now. I get up, get dressed and ready to start the day and head to work (I’m essential). I’ve been moved to another location for the time being both to put more physical space between the folks in our department and to ensure that if one person brings in a virus we don’t take the whole department out for two weeks or more…


So I go to work, and I sit in my temporary work space. And I stress eat. I get up to use the potty or get water or maybe use the microwave… And then it’s back to my desk to stress eat some more. There’s no sitting in the break room at lunch and talking with coworkers or walking through downtown to get out of the building and maybe find a hot dog or slice of pizza-- we’re keeping our space and not congregating, remember?


Eventually, my workday is over and I make the grueling 4 minute commute home. There, Kirk and Nolan have already done the day’s distance learning/ homeschooling activities and (weather willing) had a nice walk. Typically, they’re both a little stir crazy and seem grateful for the change I bring to the dynamic. I’m not saying they’re tired of looking at each other, but ask me again in another 3 weeks and that might change. After dinner, a shower and some down time, we start the bedtime dance.


Kirk and Nolan on a PE Class walk earlier this week.


On a typical school day, Nolan is pretty ready for bed by the time 8 pm rolls around. After a full day of school and therapy, he’s pretty exhausted. In our “new normal” he doesn’t have all of that work to wear him out. I mean, I would say this is exhausting, but Nolan and I are experiencing this in completely different ways. So needless to say, bedtime has been an adventure lately. Kirk and I are wiped out, and Nolan is anything but. We’re ready to zonk out before the 10:00 news is over, but he thinks the middle of the night is a more appropriate time to go to sleep. I’m sure the fact that he’s 14 is only helping to exaggerate this right now, but the timing is just ugly.


But this is the new normal. At least, it’s the current normal. And it looks like this will continue to be normal for another month (at least according to Wisconsin’s governor who has said the current “Safer At Home” status will continue through the end of April) or more. In the normal we used to know, I would probably be writing about today being World Autism Day, but clearly it’s overshadowed by the current state of normal.


The thing about major historical events is that they tend to change the course of history. It sounds super obvious, I know. But it’s not the type of thing that we’re necessarily thinking about as we’re living through it. I hear and read people say, “When we’re on the other side of this and things are back to normal…” But it’s hard to believe that we’ll go back to the normal that we were used to at the beginning of this year. I just can’t imagine we’ll emerge on the other side of this unchanged. If history has taught us anything, it’s that that’s not how these things work.


There are a lot of things that I hope we don’t take away from this experience… I hope we don’t keep hoarding supplies that we don’t need-- it feels to me like eventually that would lead to more waste. Plus imagine the reality shows featuring people who make more money than you could ever imagine having their garages filled with exotic car collections and closets full of designer whatnot showing off their rooms full of paper products and disinfectants-- it just isn’t good television. I also hope we don’t keep thinking of time spent in our own homes as undesirable-- something we’re forced into.


There are a lot of things that I hope we do hang on to after this has passed, though. I hope that we hang on to a piece of this slower pace of life that we all seem to be living right now. I noted the other day that it feels like I’m hearing more words out of Nolan without so many hours of school and therapy every week… I assumed it was because he is growing in this time of rest or that he’s got the energy to put more verbalization out into the world. But a big part of me wonders if I’m just hearing more of it because I’ve slowed down enough to listen more closely or because I’m paying more attention to what matters.


I hope we keep some of the appreciation we’ve developed in the past few weeks as well. Let’s never forget how important our health care workers, truck drivers, retail workers, emergency personnel, farmers, bankers and tradespeople are to our daily lives. And may we always appreciate the jobs we have and are able to work on a regular basis. Even on the days where work feels like torture (not that I ever feel that way if you’re reading this, Boss), I hope we appreciate not only the pay and benefits we earn by doing the work but also the fact that we’re contributing to the whole of society by doing our jobs.


The list really goes on and on… We’re appreciating the outdoors more than normal. We’re focusing on mental health and talking about the fact that it’s okay to not be okay. We’re supporting local restaurants offering carryout at every chance we get. We’re being creative with what we have to create meals and resurrect the art of home cooking; occupy kids with whatever craft supplies and board games we might find buried in the basement; create art not only to both distract and express ourselves but also to put something beautiful into the world; and even to help bolster supplies of masks to help protect health care and emergency workers.


And most importantly? We’re being nicer to each other (generally speaking, of course-- there’s always gotta be one ugly baby carrot in the bag). We’re going out of our way to send messages of hope and lift one another up through things like decorating windows with hearts and leaving sidewalk chalk messages for our neighbors.


I just want to keep all of these things forever.


Maybe an imminent global crisis is what we needed to take the focus off of “me” and put it back onto “us”. I’d like to hope we can keep that. Obviously we need to be able to focus on ourselves to take care of ourselves, but wouldn’t the world be a better place if we could all do that for one another as well?


Okay, maybe I’m trying to turn this reality that feels like a dystopian novel into something that feels more like a fairy tale… Or maybe it’s the sleep deprivation talking. Either way, I’m enjoying not being caught up in the trivial things that make up so much of our modern world and being able to focus on the people and things that really matter.


Even if the course of world history doesn’t change its focus, I hope my personal history will. Kirk and Nolan deserve that.

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