As I pulled through the carpool line, waiting for the kids to kiss my cheek and hop out of the car with smiles on their faces, I didn’t feel the relief and joy I had hoped for.

Since our school let out in March of 2020, I’ve told myself that getting back to school full-time would help things feel “normal.” I’ve spouted the word “normal” in conversations with other parents, on social media posts, in discussions with my family, and more.

Once we get back to school things will feel so normal. Once we have a regular schedule, it will be so normal again. Once the kids can start learning again they will feel normal.

I’ve had so much hope for normal and banked it all on school being in session full time.

As I watch the kids walk into school wearing their masks and maintaining social distance from their peers, I feel my chest tighten and a heavy dread comes over me. 

Things don’t feel normal.

Instead, I somehow feel more stressed than before. I wonder how it’s possible to feel stressed given that I have plenty of time to work and accomplish tasks. I haven’t had a single interruption from a child asking for a snack or having to break up an argument in the middle of a Zoom meeting. I don’t have to worry if I provided them with enough educational time, outdoor time, or how to limit screen time. I don’t snap at them or yell at them nearly as much and I don’t walk around shushing or reminding them that I’m working and no, I cannot help them with things like making volcanos using baking soda and vinegar right this very second.

Instead, I’m worried about whether or not they are going to get Covid. I’m even more worried they will be exposed to Covid and I will get the call they can’t return to school for a week and we will have to readjust all over again.

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I fear they are too tired and being back to a full-time schedule is hard. It’s exhausting and there’s so little downtime between school, practice, dinner, baths, and other obligations.

I can’t find time to get my son’s hair cut and our laundry situation is out of control.

I’m dying for them to come home and share with me every single detail of their day but they are talked out, they need space and quiet, and my questions go unanswered.

I worry that they went so long without being in a setting with peers that they’ve forgotten how to relate to other kids, solve problems, get along, and be kind.

I worry their masks are too tight and feel guilty when I send them to school in the same dirty mask they wore the day before.

I miss them.

I miss the middle-of-the-day hugs and the long morning snuggles. I miss the slower pace of life that we had for so long. I’m glad they are back to school, but I wasn’t prepared for these feelings.

I didn’t realize the significant effects this virus has left on our family’s mental health. I am changed now. The normal I’ve been seeking is gone. There is a new set of worries, standards, and I’m realizing that things aren’t ever going back to the way they were before.

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I’d forgotten how stressed out and tired I felt pre-Covid when hustle and bustle was just a way of life. I replaced it with the new and intense stress of worrying about getting sick and the state of our country as a whole, and now it feels like each day brings a new set of challenges.

We’ve been through a lot. The residual mess that Covid has left behind seems to have fallen on the shoulders of parents. We can’t agree on how to best serve both our children and the community. We really don’t know the proper safety standards with a changing virus that gives us no heads up.

No one wants a sick kid. Every parent knows how difficult that can be. But no parent wants a lonely child, a stressed child, a left-out child, or a worried child.

Every time we’re invited to a birthday party, play date, school function, or gathering, we parents have to make a really hard choice and our decision will always leave someone disappointed.

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I know that the only constant thing in life is change. I must accept that factoring in the virus is just the new way of approaching problems and developing solutions as a parent.

Instead of hoping for a return to normal, I must grieve the past and realize that things are different now.

I’m in between what was and not yet sure about what is to come, and I know that whatever happens, I will rise to the occasion the best I can.

Samantha Perkins

After an early life full of anxiety, Samantha Perkins studied psychology (and drinking) in college. She did everything she thought she was supposed to: started her career, met a great guy, got married, had kids, but she was still plagued by debilitating panic. With a BA in Psychology from the University of Kentucky and a 10-year career in community mental health, she reached a turning point. Despite vitamins, essential oils, and pounds of kale, she couldn’t free herself from the endless ruminating thoughts, sweaty hands, and feelings of panic with no apparent trigger. She decided to take a long hard look at her alcohol consumption. Turns out, becoming alcohol-free was the key to managing her lifelong issues with anxiety. Samantha is passionate about sharing her anxiety remedies and universal truths she has discovered about living without alcohol. She has always loved writing and chronicles her life on the blog, Alive AF (Alcohol Free), which inspired this book. She is especially interested in uncovering the ubiquitous role that alcohol plays in our everyday lives—in everything from parenting, mental health, relationships, and career choices. Samantha can be found on IG @samanthaperkins_aliveaf