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Life with Liz: As the seasons change

I’m in the process of doing one of my least favorite fall chores: dumping my porch flowers. Over the past two summers, I’ve finally figured out the right combination of hardy flowers that can thrive under my lackadaisical approach to plant care.

Usually by this time, however, they have been knocked out by the frost, and tossing them isn’t a big deal. This year, though, they’re not quite dead, but not quite thriving either. They just look wilted and sad.

I think what’s making this difficult for me is that they look how I feel right now. I feel like I am somewhere in between things, still mostly resembling a human, but not quite 100% of one either. I’ve read enough self-help books and articles to know and to expect that I’m dealing with some sort of low-grade depression. After the last 18 months, who isn’t?

I had really hoped that having my kids go back to school, and most of our “normal” activities resume would help me “snap back,” but so far, I feel like it has only driven home the point of how not “normal” things are. Every time one of the kids sneezes, I am sure that our good luck has finally run out.

I think a goal line that never seems to stop moving is contributing to the down-in-the-dumps situation. I thought once we were all able to be vaccinated, or at least once our high-risk family members were able to be vaccinated, I would start to feel better. E can finally get vaccinated, which is a huge relief for us.

For the last few months, I’ve felt incredibly guilty about either not allowing her to participate in activities where other unmasked, unvaccinated kids were or worried when I did allow her to participate.

While we were on vacation, we had no choice but to hit up restaurants but were lucky enough to find outdoor options, or on the one occasion we ate indoors, it was extremely spaced out, and open to the outdoors.

We haven’t ventured back to a restaurant since, because honestly, we’ve gotten pretty used to take out with the kids, and we haven’t been doing that much day traveling either.

The other night, the WH and I found ourselves without the kids for a short amount of time, and on a whim, I suggested stopping to have a drink and some appetizers at a local place, just to try to dip our toe back into a semi-normal activity. The restaurant was empty, since it was a football Friday night, and we tried to just relax and enjoy ourselves. It was not easy. In fact, I really don’t think I did. We ended up getting some food to go for the kids and left quickly.

The WH and I have had long conversations about how maybe we never really liked being in crowds of people anyway, and having this long break made us realize that we are really introverts. I don’t know that I ever fully identified as an introvert or an extrovert.

I had things I liked to do by myself, and I had activities that I loved sharing with friends. Balanced was the word I used to feel. Now, I feel very unsteady on both accounts.

When I stay home, I worry that I’m missing important moments in my kids’ lives, or that too much solitude is making me more depressed. When I go out, I am wary about getting too close to people, or I find that I’ve grown accustomed to not talking to people directly, and it exhausts and stresses me to have to work about making small talk.

The kids have noticed that things are different. For one thing, no one used to like to be stuck going on a “quick” trip to the grocery store, because invariably, I would see someone and start talking, and 20 minutes later, I’d forget half of what I came in for in the first place.

Now, the kids joke that they finally understand what “quick” means. I’ve also honed my grocery shopping strategy so well that I make significantly fewer short trips than I used to, but that doesn’t account for all my reluctance to stop at the store a few times a week.

One of the most obvious ways that I’ve changed came on the night of our town’s Halloween parade. This used to be my most favorite night of the entire year, as we always had a huge party, with lots of food, friends, and good times.

While we no longer live downtown, we still own the property, and we could have at least had a swinging porch party. I quickly made the excuse that we’d have Henson and Duncan with us and shut down any hint of a social gathering that would involve me.

I also parked strategically so that as soon as all three kids were done with their marching unit, we jumped in the car and headed home, eager to be away from the crowds, getting our homework done, and going to bed early. Relief is the only thing I felt as we successfully slipped out of town the back way, avoiding any crowds.

So what is it going to take to snap me out of this slump? Or, like my flowers, am I just ready for the compost bin? I don’t know. A year ago, I thought the light at the end of the tunnel was “the end of the pandemic,” but now, I know better.

My real problem that for the last year and a half, I’ve been watching how the people around me are treating each other and I’ve become acutely aware that I want no part of it. I find myself avoiding parties, church, grocery shopping, any kind of social gathering, my kids’ activities, and that’s not who I am either.

Maybe it’s time to make like a bulb and take a nap for a few months. I can hope that something bright and colorful emerges with the next season.

There are no easy answers, that is for sure. I’m going to take some consolation in the fact that every summer, I’ve managed to grow a whole new set of beautiful flowers, and I learned from my mistakes of the previous summer, and they’re bigger, brighter, and better every year.

Maybe our community will grow back the same way.

Liz Pinkey is a contributing writer to the Times News. Her column appears weekly in our Saturday feature section.