Two weeks ago, I planned to write today about something we all know and “love”: paperwork. But we live in a different world now. Things have been co-ra-zy. So, you will have to wait for two more weeks.
Last week, Frederik was still in Switzerland on an extended group meeting for work in a ski resort. He reported to me how little people were there. Apart from his group, there was only one couple eating in the restaurant of his hotel. Thursday night, he jokingly said that he had already bought his train ticket hoping to still get out. Slowly, reports started rolling in from our friends in Seattle and Belgium about public life and schools being shut down. Friday afternoon, our local government announced that all schools would be closed for five weeks. I was very relieved to be able to pick Frederik up from the train station on Friday night.
Since then, Frederik has been homeschooling the kids (who got a crazy amount of homework) while also working from home (in the little time he has left). I still go to work but/as I am the only there. Before or after work, I hit the grocery store, where finally people started respecting the 2 meter social distancing. (They were still laughing at me when I was doing so on Tuesday.) And then, around four or five o’clock, the four of us go outside in the fields and play: soccer, kite surfing, boules,… And honestly? I noticed yesterday this feeling of intense … happiness. As I was reflecting on my feelings, it struck me that it isn’t the first time I felt this sort of happiness as this isn’t our first social isolation either.
Moving in general and moving abroad especially is also a big social challenge. Building up a new community of friends is quite an ordeal, not to mention the social isolation of the beginning. The first six months in the States I often felt very, very lonely thinking: “What have we done? Leaving all our friends and family behind! What were we thinking!?” Apart from some wonderful people we met straight on, we were alone and alien to this new world. Of course, I had Frederik and Janne by my side, but Frederik was at work what felt like all the time and I still couldn’t have adult conversations with Janne.
I developed two coping mechanisms when I felt lost. I was skyping a lot with some of my Belgian friends. Due to the time difference, this was only possible until around 1 pm Seattle time. Therefore, in the afternoons, while Janne was napping in the stroller, I headed to University Village, a sort of outdoor mall near our condo, just to see and be around other people.
Americans are so friendly and open, so I would just go and find someone to chit chat with. And I definitely wasn’t the only young mom around there trying to entertain her kiddos. After about six months, I did make a really good friend there! And two other things improved my life tremendously: I joined the YMCA, especially their knitting club, and Janne joined a cooperative preschool. Both turned out to be breeding pools of friendship.
But these moments of loneliness are just one side of the medal. In those first months, I also experienced intense happiness. I enjoyed Janne so much in those days, doing laundry together, singing songs,… She could entertain herself for hours flipping through books or emptying a shelf, always smiling or singing. And then the weekends would come around and the joy tripled. With Frederik next to me, I felt whole and the three of us would go explore this whole new world together and it was perfect. I felt on the top of the world as long as my two MIP’s, ‘most important persons’, were next to me.
Maybe, probably, these extremes of loneliness and intense happiness go together. Lacking other people around you intensifies the relations and feelings for those that are around you. The rise in domestic violence at this time seems to back me up here. Unfortunately. But for those of you – hopefully all of you – with good relationships, think of what this forced social isolation has to offer: the chance of extreme bonding with your loved ones.
So, I am using this stressful and anxious time to go outside and play with my MIP’s again. Not that we didn’t do that before this isolation, but now, it feels different. Now, it keeps me sane and makes me feel like I am on top of the world again.