It's okay to just be sad

The head teacher at my kid’s home-based funky little preschool had to be rushed to the hospital in an ambulance on Saturday. She’s okay. They thought it was a heart attack and it wasn’t, but she had to stay for a bit and get fixed up. When I told Stella on Monday morning, preparing her for a day without her rock--the kind of woman who can press an inconsolable toddler into her ample bosom and magically solve all sadness--she said, “I think Rooney is going to miss his momma.” 

Rooney is the aging basset hound who waddles out each morning at drop off, and hates all adults, but loves all children. Because, of course.

When Stella returned from school, she told us that the kids had found a dead grasshopper in the backyard and that they would be staging a funeral, which was really a parade, the next day. Stella obviously needed a grasshopper costume, so we threw something together, and she was, of course, the only kid in a costume. Maya made flags for the kids to wave during the parade. Apparently, preschoolers are instinctually second line kind of mourners. And also completely capable of working out their anxiety about their larger-than-life mother figure being vulnerable and ill onto a spindly grasshopper. Because, of course.   

I’ve been thinking about grief and creativity lately. 

Everyone is so damn sad right now. And why shouldn’t we be? We are enduring this seemingly endless pandemic. The walls of our homes are caving in on us; there are only so many ways to rearrange the furniture to feel some sense of novelty and control. Our closest relationships are under all sorts of strain--so much expectation and energy put into just one or two or three people who live under the roof with us; none of us can bear the weight of a wide social world diminished to just a pinprick of people. Work is fine, but enough with the Zoom and the upbeat attempts to put on lipstick or get some really funky glasses on the cheap. 

And now we can’t see our loved ones during this holiday season. We miss even the ones that drive us bonkers and make us revert to our adolescent selves and drink too much. We miss even the shittiest casseroles and most warbling carol singing.  

We’re trying to put on a brave face for the creative alternatives to all of these things. We’ve been doing that for eight months now. But the face is melting. The lemonade we’ve been making all year is tasting kind of sour. 

We’re over outdoor, distanced, masked everything. We want to laugh open mouthed beside one another, share a gorgeous salad, tickle our nephews and nieces, hug our grandmothers and grandfathers. We want to learn in chaotic classrooms full of little kid energy, gaze and eavesdrop on strangers on public transportation again, joke with our colleagues about the endless weekend with kids as we get our morning coffee. We want to be reunited with our most generous, relational, and physical instincts. We want to feel like we can lose a little control without risking our lives, waking up in a covid regret panic. 

We get to live, and we know that this is not a given right now, when the rates are soaring in so many places and 270,000 Americans have died. We get to live. And for this we feel blessed. For this we stare at our children sleeping and feel profound gratitude, and check in on our aging parents more, and know that each breath is not a given. 

But none of that erases the little grief, which over time, accumulates. We’re sad and tired and the grief is not going to be cured through zoom or baking bread or even costumes. (We know because we’ve tried.)      

I’m fascinated by these little ones, who are working it out with the grasshopper and the second line, but this is not the part of the essay where I tell you that I am learning from them, that I will--a resilient, plucky American mother--draw inspiration from their creativity. I’m not. I can’t. I’m sad. I’m tired. Make it stop. I want to hug my big brother.

I write this, not to pull you into my sorrow. If you’re still making lemonade, by all means, squeeze those lemons with vig and vimor for the rest of us. (Please add some vodka to mine.) But if you are sad, and beating yourself up about not being as creative and resilient as a motley crew of four-year-olds faced with existential dread, forgive yourself. 

Just be where you are. Give yourself permission to wallow. You don’t always have to join the parade. 

Sometimes it’s dark. This is one of those times. You’ve earned your place in the shadows.