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Seven days ago, a Facebook memory popped up in my feed: the green hills, blue surf, and decadent food of last year’s girls-only getaway. I quickly clicked through the images before stopping at a photo of my friend and me looking triumphant atop a seaside cliff. I thought back to the scorching trek up and mused, “Look how strong I was then.”

It was a bittersweet memory as I have felt anything but strong these last six months. I feel like I have aged a lot during the pandemic. I don’t mean I look that much older than the determined woman on the bluff, but my mind, body, and insides seem tired and worn. I feel beat up and broken-down by a half year of uncertainty, depressing news headlines, and worrying. Relentless worrying.

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When coronavirus cases in our area soared, I worried I was risking the health of my 6-year-old and 8-year-old sons by walking the neighborhood with them. Then I worried I was risking their mental health by having them stay in. When we hiked, I worried about returning to the trails after maskless joggers huffed and puffed past my kids. Then I worried about them being glued to tablets if we didn’t return.

When our district announced the school year would begin online, I worried when my boys dropped their heads in despair. Then they seemed fine on day one of distance learning, and I worried they were bottling up their emotions.

When wildfires swept through the foothills nearby, I worried about my kids riding bikes in the smoky air. Then falling ash kept the boys indoors for PE, and I worried they were not getting enough exercise. I worry they see too much divisiveness raging through our country. I worry they do not understand it well enough.

The anxiety is draining. I climb into bed bone-tired then lay awake, sometimes for hours, worrying, pondering, wondering about my boys. Are they really getting a full day’s curriculum? Should we supplement it? When will they be reunited with school friends? Are they going to be able to trick-or-treat? What will Christmas look like for them?

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Then, a miracle occurred. Two nights ago, I fell asleep minutes after closing my eyes. One hour later an earthquake jolted us out of bed. When the house righted itself and the movement subsided, my husband and I turned to each other and exploded into laughter. “Why not?! Why not an earthquake, too?!” I trudged down the hall to check on the boys. Sound asleep.

Once back in bed, I wondered how anyone could sleep through such disruption. Then it hit me. The boys have been managing a half year of enormous disruption. They’ve been sleeping well, eating well, and doing well academically. They’ve been making their own fun and finding reasons to laugh. They’ve been living in the moment. They never ask about a return date for school. They never ask about Halloween or Christmas.

Like most kids their age, they do not fret about the future. That’s been my doing.

Yes, frustrations and tears arise from time to time, but they are adapting. They have grown from tolerating our weekend hikes to loving them and pushing themselves each Saturday in our local hills. They wake early on Sundays to hit the bike trails. They maintain a vegetable garden they planted. They party on Zoom with friends and enjoy lawn visits with loved ones. They participate in “class” and create their own PE regimens.

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They appreciate what they once took for granted and now pine for what matters. No giant lists of what they want from Santa. No incessant requests for “just one more” Xbox game for the collection. Instead, they excitedly discuss the day they can play beside their cousins and eat a meal in a restaurant with their grandparents. “Mama,” my 8-year-old declares, “the little things will feel gigantic!”

He’s right, of course. If we can maintain grace and gratitude, I think we will be more than OK. And if one, two, or 10 years from now we look back and reflect on what we gave up, what we survived, and what we learned, maybe then we will say, “Look how strong we were.”

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Elizabeth Allison

Elizabeth Allison is a former educator, current children’s author, and the mother of two elementary school-aged children.

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