Comment: Must we jump straight from pandemic to pandemonium

We gained some insights by slowing down. Before we go back to ‘normal,’ let’s think this through.

By Petula Dvorak / The Washington Post

Pants with zippers, bras with hooks, small talk, traffic — and frantic “I’m running a little 8” voice texts while we’re stuck in that traffic — are back.

And I’m not ready.

Can I hit the snooze button on this whole return-to-normal thing?

In these weeks when our circadian rhythms tell us to begin the annual unclenching because summer is here, we’re not exhaling. We’re taking off in a sprint as airplane travel, sports, in-person meetings, concerts, shows, graduations and even a Trump rally (limp as it was) all came roaring back this month.

Make it stop. Please?

“You know, I’m not really sure if I’m ready for post-pandemic life,” Jen Humston, 28, said after a busy weekend of graduations, lunches and Pride events in Fairborn, Ohio, that reminded her that life before the coronavirus wasn’t exactly normal, either.

That’s exactly the Monday-morning feeling I had, waking up bleary, sore, exhausted. I wish I’d had a bender and a good story to tell. This was a busyness hangover.

My kid’s concert was in person for the first time. His school had a farewell activity for eighth-graders. The older kid had a job interview. There was a graduation party.

We wore masks, sanitized and kept socially distant to avoid the coronavirus. But there was no protection for the smash cut of returning our brains and our bodies back to a 90 mph pre-pandemic schedule.

More than half of the adults surveyed by the American Psychological Association in March said they were not ready, either.

It’s not only the introverts, the ones who finally got the world to move on their terms, who are reluctant to jump back in. Even the extroverts — and especially the ambiverts — are hearing the metabolic scream of a return to society’s pre-pandemic pace.

If we were lucky enough to keep our jobs, our homes and our loved ones during the pandemic, we may realize that we’ve totally ignored the big life lesson the experience had for the rest of us: Slow. The Heck. Down.

Even the dogs know this.

Last week, Megan LeBlanc, 42, went out to dinner for the first time since the pandemic started.

When she returned to her home in Wellesley, Mass., her dogs Cricket and Nugget acted “like I was gone for nine months,” she told me. “Nugget was glued to me for at least 48 hours after they were totally alone for a few hours. They are not ready to return to normal.”

For a dog, an hour away feels more like seven hours. Time is precious, human! Didn’t you learn that all these months at home with me?

We have a dear friend who comes by every few weeks on a Saturday or Sunday morning with a bag of bagels from her favorite place, along with plenty of time, wisdom and love to share. This is a woman who is welcomed even by my misanthrope teen, who usually growls when we start the PEOPLE ARE COMING frenzy clean.

“She is the only person who doesn’t give me that anxiety when I see you guys getting ready,” he said. “I love it when she comes.”

We kept the tradition alive during the pandemic, with individual bagel bags and outdoor, socially distanced seating.

She asked whether we wanted to get together this past weekend, and I told her we couldn’t do it. We were too busy.

“We have the first in-person concert and I have to run out to go reporting and then we have to get ready for the graduation party and I have to go to Home Depot and we’re going to another graduation party,” I told her, my chest tightening as my psyche took that familiar trip back to Overwhelmia.

“You know, you can have the mind-set from 2020,” my wise friend texted me back after my flail. “You have the perfect opportunity to reboot your activity level and self-expectations [smiley emoji].”

“I am just trying to grab as much simplicity as I can and hold on tightly,” she wrote. “I am not sure I can completely [return] to the pace I left. It’s too much for my health — physical and emotional.”

Amen. She managed to deliver her weekly wisdom, without the bagels.

The tremor of nearly 600,000 people dying so far is the pandemic’s biggest tragedy in this country.

But there will also be lasting changes in the way we work, learn and even shop. (Tell me you aren’t totally sold on relentless hand-sanitizing and even mask-wearing after going a year without any colds or flus.) And some of these can be good things.

We can cut back on hours of commuting and the pounding our schedules and infrastructure take if companies embrace partial teleworking.

We can make school board, PTA and government meetings that had us zipping across town after work virtual.

We can make education accessible for kids with social anxiety or other disorders by offering virtual school.

And we can get better at saying “No,” at realizing we don’t need to pack the schedule and instead embracing the beauty of slow, still hours; something I was never good at.

“During this pandemic, I had time to focus on what’s important to me. My family, my career and self-care,” Humston said. “Now that the pandemic is winding down — at least here in Ohio — it’s becoming a juggling battle. I now have to figure out how to readjust to this change and still keep my mental health positive as well.”

We keep hearing that we’re coming to the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, she said. “But I need to give my eyes proper time to adjust.”

And maybe, that light can shine on another, better way of living.

Petula Dvorak is a columnist for The Washington Post’s local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. Before coming to The Post, she covered social issues, crime and courts.

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