“How are you guys holding up?” I asked a friend.
She groaned and told me how her marriage was strained after months of unemployment, not to mention the stress of having her older children suddenly thrust back into the nest. I sensed she wanted to go keep venting, but she quickly switched gears, as if embarrassed she’d been too negative, or revealed too much of how terrible she felt. Then she promptly listed all the things she was grateful for. I listened and said, “You know, you can say you’re terrible and grateful at the same time.”
I love the word and. It is one word in the English language that goes underutilized when we talk about our messy existence. Whether it’s in daily conversations, or on social media posts, we don’t really give ourselves permission to take advantage of all the power that little word holds. It’s a word that is helping me mentally cope with how I deal with my own shit when this world seems hell-bent on falling apart.
Take, for instance, when people normally ask how are you doing? The simple, socially acceptable answer is “good.” Period. But, we all know that “normal” left the building sometime in March, and really that how-ya-doin’ question carries a lot more weight than it used to. Those who want to know (and doesn’t everyone want to know) how are you really coping after COVID-19 blew up travel plans, graduations, proms, careers, retirement savings, skinny jeans, and life as we once knew it?
I find when I use the word and I can better elaborate on what is going on inside my real life. I can use it and not sound like the world has come to an end nor like I’m some irritating Pollyanna. So, now I answer something like this: “I’m good and bad and weird. In a society that pressures us to always be happy and make life look effortless, I think it’s the perfect time to unapologetically feel all our moods, or at least be real about not having all our shit together.
In the early days of the pandemic, I could experience 50 shades of COVID moods within an hour, or even five minutes. It sounds exhausting, but after a few months, I’ve somehow accepted the ups and downs. When the stay-at-home orders were dealt out, I found I could be deeply grateful to be surrounded by my family, truly appreciative that we had amazing home-cooked meals on the table every day and we were not locked up in some miniature Manhattan apartment with only a Netflix subscription to keep us sane.
And I also felt a deep sense of impatience, anxiety, and fear. There were so many moments I wanted to scream, “What is it exactly that are we doing with our lives right now?” So you see, it’s totally possible to be grateful and scared and feel very much like that terrible pop song that Ava Max sings, “a little bit psycho.”
Later during the weeks of homeschooling, I relished in many incredible moments with my kids. Moments I’m certain we wouldn’t have had without this pandemic throwing in the major plot twist of 2020. I soaked in the marvelous slow starts to our mornings. We’d ride our bikes and play by the river. I’d take in all the good as I peddled and drank copious amounts of coffee all while concurrently feeling overwhelmed by the pressures to keep the boys up to speed and our finances afloat. It was no help that we were both unemployed and there was daily mutiny because let’s face it, most kids do not want mom and dad to be their teacher.
So, again, notice how it’s possible to feel blessed and overwhelmed, and what’s the rest of the words to that song again? Oh yeah, ”I’m ma-ma-ma out my mind!” Homeschool survivors, yeah, don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.
This world pressures us to find definitive, often pleasing ways to present ourselves and our lives. But, what would happen if we were okay with not always choosing what we think people want to hear, and instead chose joy and pain, or talked about the good and the bad?
Just like those Venn diagrams I recently covered in homeschool, the word holds that space where the circles overlap each other, giving us the license to exist somewhere in that overlap, allowing for so much more wiggle room and authenticity. Like a three-letter permission slip to be the truer, flawed, complex humans that we really are.