I spent hours looking at houses on Zillow the other day. Hours. Now, I suppose, for some people this isn’t all that weird or out of the ordinary. Except the houses I was looking at were thousands of miles away and we are not moving. And I don’t even want a bigger house.
Over the past ten months, I sometimes feel like I’ve become a different person. I obsess about things I didn’t care about a year ago. I fret about things that I logically know are super low-risk. I get angry about things that don’t really matter, excited about things that I’ll lose interest in about five minutes later, and envy stuff that I don’t even want.
Who am I? And what is happening to me?
Pandemic trickery — that’s what’s happening. We’re being tricked into thinking we want something we don’t – because those things are valuable right now in this weird, fucked up pandemic life – and if we aren’t careful it can trick us into thinking we’re someone we aren’t or someone we don’t want to be.
Here’s the thing, I don’t like “stuff.” At all. In fact, the idea of a large house overwhelms me. Lots of clothes and gadgets give me anxiety. I prefer a minimalist approach to my living space and life in general.
Yet in the past year, I’ve watched HGTV more than ever, pining for that 4-bedroom, 3-bath house on the beach. I’m not an online shopper. Yet I’ve ordered more shoes and clothes online in the past six months than I have in the past few years. I prefer spending time and money on travel and experiences. I much prefer doing to having.
But “doing” isn’t possible right now. Traveling, eating at restaurants, getting a massage, gossiping with a friend while getting a pedicure are all out of the question. Even volunteering is harder to do now because of the coronavirus risks involved. Because I haven’t been able to nurture all those activities that I value, my mind has started to trick me into thinking that other things – things I can do right now, like shop online and update my house – are important to me.
But when I really think about what I want and don’t want, it isn’t a new purpose or a fancy sconce. I want to travel, spend hours talking with friends, volunteer, go to church, and see the world. And I need to remind myself that just because I can’t do those things now, doesn’t mean I won’t be able to do them again.
Pandemic trickery isn’t just affecting my spending habits either. The pandemic has turned me into a different parent that I had been, a different parent than I want to be.
I’m free-range(ish) when it comes to parenting. I would often shoo my kids out the door, not worrying much about where they were going or what they were doing. I didn’t follow my teen son via his phone’s GPS. And I didn’t get up in their business about homework or grades.
That all changed this past year. When my teen would ride his bike with his friends over the summer, I would follow him (both technologically and physically) to make sure he was wearing his mask and minding social distance rules. After a virtual schooling debacle of epic proportions, I started getting all up in my kids’ business about homework each night. And I check their online grades regularly. Who have I become?!
This is not the parent – or the person – I want to be. I don’t want to follow my kids around. I don’t want to feel envious of other people’s homes or clothes – especially when I don’t even like these things. But the pandemic has tricked me into thinking these things matter to me. COVID has messed with my mind, making me fear that my kids aren’t just at risk of COVID, but of MERS and PANDAS and a whole bunch of other illnesses with strange names and capital letters.
A few weeks ago, I caught myself in this spiral of wants and needs and behaviors in complete contrast to the person I am and the person I want to be. I thought, enough. ENOUGH. Since then, I’ve tried to make an intentional effort to catch myself when I’m in this spiral of unfamiliar thoughts and behaviors. I take a step back and rely on the facts and the science. I remind myself of my core values and priorities. I ask myself, who do I want to be when this is all over? I don’t want to be a helicopter parent with a bunch of fancy purses. If that’s your jam, knock yourself out. But it’s definitely not mine.
I don’t want a bigger house or new home décor. I don’t want a walk-in closet filled with shoes and purses and jeans that I’ll never wear. Hell, I don’t even want a walk-in closet. I don’t want to constantly be checking up on my kids, nor do I want them to constantly be looking over their shoulder, worried that I don’t trust them.
I want to spend time outdoors, traveling and seeing the world. I want to live modestly and give generously. I want to trust my kids and keep my anxious thoughts in check.
The past year has been so very hard. The decision fatigue is real, and we are burned the fuck out. Now we’ve got pandemic trickery to add to the list of things messing up our lives. Throwing in one more thing to worry about, another suggestion to “be intentional” feels like too much. But honestly, it is what is keeping me from spiraling off a cliff of despair, angst, and envy. I don’t want to emerge from the pandemic as a person I don’t want to be. If the pandemic is going to change me – and truthfully it should change us – I want it to be on my terms and in a way that I feel good about.
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