What if there is no “Back to Normal” after this? Reflections for Moving Forward


 What do airports and viruses have to do with becoming a parent?


Remember how exciting it used to be to go pick up a friend or loved one at the airport?  


You used to be able to walk right up to their gate, watch their plane land through the window, and surprise them with a great big hug the moment they emerged from the jetway.


Remember how easy it used to be to fly somewhere?  


You used to be able to pack whatever toiletries you wanted into your carry-on, without thinking about size. You could bring a ginormous bottle of water with you or that special bottle of wine you bought as a gift for your parents or that liquid gold you’d pumped out to feed your baby. You didn’t have to worry about that pocket knife your partner always keeps in their backpack out of habit. If you were running late, you’d just sprint from baggage check to your gate without much hindrance, not needing to wonder about how long you’d have to wait in the security line. If you were a kid flying alone back then, you didn’t have to panic about finding your gate on your own because your parents could easily walk you there, no questions asked.


Now, of course, none of those things are true. 


Sure, you can take breast milk on a plane now, but you have to check on whether there are varying regulations from country to country. As a parent, you can walk with your kid to their gate when they fly alone, but you have to get a pass first from the check-in desk.  


But the rest? I mean, by now, we’re all so used to it that we don’t have to give things too much thought: We factor in extra time for security, wait to fill our water bottles til after you get through or just buy coffee from the Starbucks on the other side. Seeing armed security police with K9s on leashes inside the airport is a strange new normal.


For the most part, we can all agree: Sometimes major changes like these are necessary and good in this crazy world.


But it’s wild to look back on how it used to be before though, isn’t it?


We all probably remember where we were when 9/11 happened or how we found out about it. Everyone’s got a story. 

(I was visiting friends in San Diego. I ended up having to rent a car and drive home instead of flying because we weren't sure when I'd be able to fly and I had to get back to start a new job. It was surreal driving home listening to radio stations throughout the state playing songs with tributes to those that had lost their lives and were working at ground zero. And so many flags! Where were YOU on that day?)


If you were born before the 90s, then you probably remember what life was like before email and cell phones and social media. What a change that was too, right?


You could call them a “coming of age” moment.


If you have a uterus, you probably remember getting your first period clear as day. If you’ve ever “came out” to your parent or in public, that moment probably had a profound impact on who you are now. Your first “great love”, losing a parent or best friend, getting fired from your dream job…  There are so many moments in our life that shape us.  They leave a mark and propel us toward the people we’re meant to become.  


We have to let the changes come. And yet, I think it’s important to stay reflective to make sure these changes are really serving us.


We are collectively living through one of those moments right now. COVID has already dramatically changed our world as we know it.  


Some changes might only be temporary, just to get us through. But some, I believe, will be permanent. Time will tell whether it’s for good or whether it’s just… different.


I hear a lot of people talking about the temporary nature of this moment. Wearing masks, staying home, hugging less—these are all just things we need to do “for now." Turn on the news or ask around and you’ll surely hear someone mention “a return to normal” at some point. But that operates under the assumption that there is a “normal” or that “normal” doesn’t ever evolve.


Like, in terms of containing viral spread, maybe forearm bumps are just categorically better than handshakes. Maybe professionalism never makes a full return to handshakes at all. Would that be so terrible?


Maybe this slower pace of life is healthier for all of us, even those of us with a bottom line to think about. I definitely wouldn’t hate it if we didn’t revert back to rushing around and overloading schedules ever again.


And maybe, just maybe, being reminded of each other’s humanity during Zoom meetings by letting each other see the messy realness of our lives actually HELPS us get the work done, rather than hindering it. 


(OK, maybe the jury is out on that one and definitely DO wear pants for those meetings, but my point is it’s healthy to remember that we’re all flawed, but gifted human beings who deserve to be seen.)


I’m not sure I believe there will be a return to normal after COVID. I think we’ll co-create a new normal. In fact, I think we’re already doing it. And I think it’s important that we all reflect on these changes every now and then to determine what is working and what isn’t on both an individual and a collective scale.


Now, let’s talk about another life-changing moment: Some of us became parents this year.


Becoming a parent is another one of those pivotal moments where a return to the old normal just isn’t going to happen. Nope, not even after the kids graduate and move out!


Whether this shift into parenthood was gradual or overnight for you, whether it was perceptible or invisible, there are few life changes that are as dramatic and game-changing.


So much about your new life is different. The sleep and feeding schedules being very obvious ones! But there are also more subtle changes. The things we worry about might not be the same things we worried about before baby. We might not be interested in the same things we used to care passionately about. We might have other interests or feel a little lost because we don’t know what we care about anymore (aside from baby, of course).


And yet, even if you feel a little lost or utterly changed, you know you’re still you. There are parts of you that will never change. Maybe it’s your sense of humor or how intensely you love your friends. Maybe it even feels hard to reconnect with the old you that’s still in there. But, she’s there. It’s both your joy and your burden to relocate yourself.


(For the record, you don’t have to be a new parent this year to experience a loss of identity. You could be a not-so-new parent still struggling with it, or newly unemployed, or someone who recently lost someone you love, or someone who is living outside of your “normal” because of COVID.) 


It’s now December. The final stretch of 2020.  


I believe deeply in the importance of self-reflection and there’s nothing like the promise of a new year to inspire us to do this. And this year has been a doozy for so many of us, so it’s imperative that we take some time to not just go through the motions or operate in survival mode, but to really reflect on the gifts and challenges of the year.  


It helps us to not just track our growth, but to also stay dialed into the more timeless aspects of who we are and who we want to be in the future, and how to get there. We can better parcel out what we want to keep and what we want to let go of, and recall all the times we triumphed.  


To help you do this, I’ve come up with a short list of reflection questions to ponder, use as journaling prompts or conversation starters with those you love:


  1. In a “Post-COVID World”, what do you believe will return to normal? What do you believe is forever changed? I encourage you to think about this in both the broader collective scope, but also in your personal life.


  2. What do you hope for in a “Post-COVID World”? Really use your imagination and get specific.


  3. What have you discovered about yourself this year? What do you know to be intrinsically true about yourself and about this world?


  4. What struggles have you battled this year, whether successfully or unsuccessfully? Where have you triumphed?


  5. What have you grieved this year?


  6. What changes or lessons have felt necessary to you this year? Which ones will you keep? Which ones will you let go of? Is it time to let go of anything now? How will it feel to let go of those habits or defenses you no longer need?


  7. Who did you have to grow into or become this year? What aspects of how you’ve always identified no longer suit you? What might suit you better? For example, you might say “I am a runner”, but if running no longer feels right in your body or you no longer have the time to pursue it the way you used to, ask yourself: What was it that running (or fill-in-the-blanks) provided for me in the past?  How can I get that fulfillment another way?

Whatever you’ve gone through this year, I want to remind you that you’re allowed to feel more than one thing about it. This stuff is big, and big things often bring us a complicated blend of emotions. Sometimes joy and pain exist simultaneously.


I hope you take time to celebrate all your wins and honor your struggles from the past year. 


I’m proud of you. I’m proud of all of us.

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