The New Normal, but Not Really

This new normal is so much more than the coronavirus.

Posted Jun 06, 2020

The new normal.

I connect through FaceTime, through Zoom, "seeing" family and friends but not really seeing them. I now accept the image of people important to me as little squares, their reflections on my computer screen. I witnessed an online graduation, where a cousin moved her tassel from the right to the left in the traditional, symbolic gesture of officially completing her high school requirements. I was honored to "attend" a very successful Harvard Ph.D. dissertation defense, in which the newly minted "doctor" explained his years of tireless and important sociological research while the muted audience smiled at him in awe. I participated in my dear sister’s 70th birthday surprise party, where all of her family and friends popped onto the screen to celebrate her, so different than what I had planned when I had dreamed of a celebratory "girl’s getaway."

I "attend" the new-normal, weekly social gatherings with friends as we share elements of our week while some of us toast our wine glasses to the computer screen. Until recently, I hadn’t seen my children and grandchildren in person for two and a half months, a period so long that I grew to accept them as tiny moving entities on my cell phone through FaceTime. Believe me, I am grateful for the ability to see them in this way and my mind wanders back to a time not long ago when I wouldn’t have been able to view anyone on any type of screen. I am ecstatic to "visit" with my three grandchildren even if I can’t touch them through the screen. My granddaughter who is 3 ½ years old asked me to play Hide and Go Seek and my almost 6-year-old grandson demonstrated his Legos, all on FaceTime. My almost 7-month-old grandson screeched joyfully as he stood in his activity center, all captured for us to melt over through FaceTime. I have read books and sung to them and played with a dollhouse, all the while 22 miles apart from these sweet beings I love so much. 

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The author's grandson, Ezzie
Source: bjaffe/blogger

All of this is the new normal but not really.

The new normal has provided me with more time at home than ever before. I have many more hours to read and write, two activities I love so much, yet my level of concentration has greatly diminished. I begin to read a good book—no, a great book—but my mind wanders, unable to draw my thoughts back to the page. My once peaceful surroundings (the desk I love so much; my display of angels; my deliciously comfortable armchair) don’t provide me the solace they once did. I think of the meals I need to prepare with limited ingredients. I try to ignore the dust that taunts me from its pile on my office floor. I sit down to write, only to start and stop again, pausing to check my emails as if I must urgently read a new joke or article.   

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The author's grandson, Cole
Source: bjaffe/blogger
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The author's granddaughter, Rose
Source: bjaffe/blogger

This new normal provides me with an uncomfortable level of distraction at a time when I am given more time to focus on myself without children to take care of or the responsibility of a job. This is the definition of irony. I have the hours, but I am unproductive, and I waste so many of them, or so it seems.  My preoccupied thoughts and underlying anxiety greatly intensified when George Floyd was murdered at the hands of the police and the American streets cracked open to rightful rage and demonstrations, which transported me back to my 10-year-old self, watching the marches for Civil Rights. I view the unrest and feel dread on a daily basis as I listen to the news, read updates, and view the direction of our country and the leadership’s lack of empathic guidance, understanding, and support.

This also cannot be the new normal.

In the early days of the quarantine, I wrote my last post, “Grateful in the Time of Coronavirus,” for Psychology Today. And, yes, as I mentioned, I am still grateful for so many things, especially that almost three months later, my family and friends are healthy, free from the coronavirus while, sadly, so many have suffered and died of this illness. In retrospect, March 18 was a time when the country was more innocent than today (or at least I was), when we were told by some that the 141 deaths would not grow to the 109,299 (as of this writing). We would come to find out that had we known of the magnitude of such danger and quarantined earlier, thousands of our fellow citizens would be alive today. This new normal is so much more than the coronavirus.

I refuse to accept this new normal.