The Freak-Out and the Grand Pause

I realized recently that we’re all going through a universal set of stages as we cope with this abrupt departure from “normal” life.

First there’s the freak-out. The overbuying food and toilet paper, the lying awake at night envisioning scenarios in which your child with a disability is the one who will be denied a ventilator to save the life of a more “productive” individual. The terror that if you let your kids play with neighbor kids (this was before stay-at-home orders), your family will singlehandedly be the cause of the deaths of dozens or hundreds of others. The crying at everything. This is the “How can I survive X more days? What if it’s months? What if it’s YEARS? How do I live with the uncertainty?”

Photo by Markus Spiske on

This is also the stage where you judge everyone else for their choices.

Then, you start to adjust. You start to see that life is not all bad, and that some days feel positively normal. There are still bad days in there, but you’re no longer lying awake and taking refuge in drink. (You know we’ve all done it!)

And then, the weeks start to fly by again, and you know you’ve reached equilibrium. This situation is not what you wanted, but you’ve figured out how to handle it. You’ve found your new normal.

Everyone is going through these stages, but some people get stuck in the freak-out-and-judge stage. Which I totally get. Where I live, the “curve” is a flat line. The sense of personal danger is gone… for the moment. What happens as we open back up is anyone’s guess. But of course, people in places where the body counts are sky-high are struggling to get past the freak-out-and-judge stage.

But there’s another dawning awareness happening, too.

I, along with every one of my friends, have been sending out feelers into a new understanding that goes like this:

I don’t like being isolated… I don’t like my kids not going to school… I don’t like home schooling… I don’t like social distancing… I need space and alone time… I miss hugs… I want my vacation/camp/conference… Zoom is a poor substitute for absolutely everything…

And yet….

I kind of DO like this feeling of rest.

This feeling that I can up and go do a birthday parade for anybody, any time, because my body and mind are no longer like a rubber band stretched so far that both are both crying out, “No more! No more!”

This recognition that I have the mental and emotional space to pause and notice the mated pair of cardinals feeding each other on our deck.

This feeling that I have enough RAM to exercise some creativity to write birthday notes of appreciation to my kid, without it feeling like the straw that’s going to break the camel’s back.

The luxury of finishing with a kid’s lesson or meeting and simply….clicking an X. Not having to drive anywhere.

The luxury of cooking all those fabulous meals I love to cook, because the kids can do their thing WHILE I’M COOKING. Gasp! I can set aside every Saturday morning for nothing but exercise and cooking a big breakfast… because nobody has to go anywhere!

At the beginning of the Lord of the Rings, Bilbo has this to say:

“I feel sort of…thin… stretched…like butter spread over too much bread.”

I know that feeling.

But I don’t feel stretched anymore. Not in that way, at least. Spiritually, emotionally, as a parent—yes. But in that familiar, I cannot do one thing more way?—no.

But you know what? The world is eventually going to open up again. And then… what?

Do I really want to go back to the same rat race I was trapped in six weeks ago?

We’ve been given a Grand Pause (to use a musical term). A lot of people are suffering, medically or financially or both. But a lot of us are just… on pause.

A Grand Pause | Hudson Sounds

What if this Grand Pause is an invitation to reset? To ponder, to reclaim who we are at our core, and what we are meant to be? All that great stuff we do to enrich our kids’ lives is truly good, but it’s so much. If all that enrichment becomes a drain on our mental & emotional resources, it’s not actually enriching anything, is it? No matter how good the individual activities are in and of themselves.

We’ve allowed ourselves to be bullied by our activities into pushing for competitiveness, to be forced into attending EVERY practice and EVERY meeting, even when it splinters our family time. To what end? Our kids are not going to become professional dancers, musicians, or athletes. They’re just not. Can’t we do things in moderation and achieve all the same goals as we do if we push ourselves to the breaking point?

What if this Grand Pause is an invitation to say, “Hey, maybe what makes me me is to love and enjoy my family and friends. And all the rest of that stuff is fluff!”

I haven’t figured out yet how to put this into practice. I have some introductory thoughts, but no more than that, and this blog post is too long already. A topic for another day. But in the meantime, I’d love to hear what thoughts have been tumbling around in your mind on this topic.