You’re doing this all wrong.
It’s a phrase that goes through my mind more often than I’d like to admit. I wouldn’t describe myself as a perfectionist, but there are definitely plenty of moments when I’m filled with fear that I’m doing something wrong, or at least not doing it the right way.
Yesterday I felt that feeling again, standing behind me and relentlessly tapping me on the shoulder.
You’re doing it wrong.
That feeling has enveloped me since the day I became a mom, so it didn’t necessarily come as a surprise.
When Covid-19 first captured our attention, and then soon became the boss of all of us, it was difficult for me to know what to think or feel. As someone who wants to do things “the right way”, I wasn’t actually sure what this new, quarantined life looked like.
So I decided to step into it with all the optimism I could muster. After all, trying to look on the bright side of things is the “right” thing to do, isn’t it? I wanted to embrace this time, just like all the internet memes were telling me to do. I wanted to find the joy in this new normal. And I just knew this new life would somehow cause me to be the doer of all the things!
I would organize and create and produce and accomplish and learn. I would do all the things I always said I didn’t have time for because life was so busy. This was my moment!
But spoiler alert: None of that has happened. I haven’t cleaned out a single drawer. Out of all the people in this house, not one of us thought to sweep the floor in the first two weeks of isolated life. The only thing I have accomplished is the need to purchase new pants because of the variety of new cookie recipes I have partaken in.
And instantly I think to myself, “Here we go again. You’re doing it wrong.”
I have a history of being my own worst critic. I am notorious for spending each milestone of my children’s lives in a state of reflection. Sometimes I look back fondly, wishing we could go back to “the good old days.” But there are other times, when what I see reflected back in my mind’s eye are all the ways I messed it up.
I didn’t sit down and play endless hours of Polly Pockets with them. I didn’t enroll them in infant music classes or schedule enough play dates or create handmade sensory activities. We didn’t take enough trips to Dairy Queen and I pushed them too much and I didn’t push them enough.
(By the way, I would never hold another parent to the impossible standards I set for myself. It’s something I’m working on.)
Feeling the pressure to do everything just right is not unfamiliar to me. But right now, we are living through an experience that there is no handbook for. Everyone is treading water, just trying to figure this out. There is no right way. And maybe that means there is no wrong way, either.
We’re all just living through it the only way we know how. One day at a time.
When I look back on it, maybe this time in our lives will turn out to be exactly what we needed. I, for one, am getting quite fond of consecutive days of dry shampoo use, lunches that consist of a granola bar and a bowl of cereal, and wearing my fuzzy slippers to work.
I hope I look back and realize we actually did have some amazing experiences. We had long, thoughtful conversations around the dinner table (AND breakfast table AND lunch table). We had some pretty hilarious moments, like watching a kid’s face when they learn how to debone a chicken for the first time. We all figured out how to do our respective work from the same house, which essentially looks a lot like each of us taking turns poking our head out of whatever room we’re in and yelling, “I’m about to Zoom so don’t come in here!”
I will resist dwelling on the fact that I didn’t start writing a novel and we didn’t scrub down the baseboards and we didn’t all learn to speak three languages.
Instead we just learned to live.
We learned how to put one foot in front of the other, day by day.
We learned that we actually really do love being around each other.
We also learned that it’s ok to close a door and want to be alone for a while.
We learned that simple togetherness feels a lot better than when we are all rushing out the door going our separate ways.
We learned that the people of our nation will pull together and sacrifice their own comfort for the benefit of others.
We also learned that there are people out there whose initial reaction in a crisis is to hoard toilet paper. But aren’t we all a work in progress?
We learned that we can make a meal out of some canned beans, garlic salt, and rice.
We learned that it’s ok for two people going through the exact same situation to experience a very different range of emotions.
So I’m writing this to my future self, who will inevitably wonder if she did it all wrong. And the answer is no.
This time was truly valuable in many ways, and not one second of it was wasted. NOT ONE. Just because it didn’t always look productive on the outside, we experienced quite a bit that changed us on the inside.
The only thing we’re doing wrong in this house, apparently, is not watching Tiger King on Netflix. But, otherwise, everything else is just right.