An Incomplete List Of Things I Feel Guilty About, A Year Into Pandemic Living

Heidi Stevens
Chicago Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Heidi Stevens shares the exhaustion and guilt she feels one year since the pandemic first hit. But as she aptly points out, “Guilt isn’t especially useful. It doesn’t inspire or uplift or create or comfort. It degrades the places it lives. It’s worth naming, examining and then putting away. We’re stronger than it. We’re stronger without it.”


A not-even-close-to-complete list of things I have felt guilty about during this pandemic:

Never finishing the quarantine cookbook my daughter and I started compiling last March.

Not tackling more house projects, despite being tethered to my house for 365-plus days.

My son’s homework, which I have never managed in a way that creates the right ratio of independence to getting it done.

My son’s grades, which are directly linked to his homework.

Caring about grades, which seem like a cruel standard to uphold during a pandemic, when children have been robbed of normalcy and face-to-face instruction and the community of their peers. (Will we look back on this period, decades from now, and hang our heads in shame for expecting children to master algebra during a pandemic?)

Algebra. It turns out you do need to know how to solve for x, for when there’s a pandemic and your kids haven’t been inside a classroom in a year. (I’m sorry, all of my math teachers!)

The time I wasted caring about grades, when I should have been tackling a house project. Maybe with my son!

OK, fine, maybe not a house project. But a yard project? Like a flower bed, even?

Then again … grades. (What do I expect teachers to do? Intuit whether their students are grasping these concepts? Concepts that build a foundation upon which all future lessons rely? What are grades, if not an opportunity to intervene and help a struggling kid? Snap out of it, woman!)

The time I wasted not caring about grades, when I clearly should have been caring about grades.

My kids’ social lives. Should I have created COVID pods? COVID bubbles? COVID pod bubbles? Should I have built an open-air, climate-controlled study/hangout/pingpong/Netflix utopia in my backyard with all the money I don’t spend parking downtown?

My aunt. She died of lung cancer in February and I never got to say goodbye because she lived in Maryland and I was afraid to travel during a pandemic, or visit someone who was sick during a pandemic. I should have written her more.

Having caught COVID-19, if I’m being honest. I beat myself up about that one a lot. I scared my kids. I picture them trying to fall asleep the nights I was in the hospital and I am wracked with guilt — unmistakable, completely irrational guilt.

It’s all irrational.

I doubt I’m alone.

I’m not reading much about pandemic guilt, at least not in relation to pandemic grief or pandemic loneliness or pandemic anxiety. But I bet I’m not the only one feeling guilty and defeated by my inability to keep this virus from harming my family.

For a year, we’ve been walking a tightrope, carrying a balancing bar with a heavy load tied to each end.

On one side is public health — our moral obligation to curb community spread, to protect the people around us from a virus that needs human contact to survive and thrive.

On the other side is everything else — our sanity, our relationships, our children’s curiosity, our family’s joy, our deep, abiding connectedness to the world, all of which need human contact to survive and thrive.

Ideally, the two sides weigh the same. Always.

But letting them weigh the same without feeling guilt?

That would mean tuning out all the voices (well meaning and not so well meaning) sounding alarm bells over pandemic safety measures and the toll they’re taking on our spirits, our psyches, our children.

That would mean ignoring our own instincts, our own observations about the toll that pandemic safety measures are taking on our spirits, our psyches, our children.

That would mean surrendering the notion, absurd as it may be, that there is a secret formula to protecting the public and protecting our families and protecting ourselves — in mind, body and spirit, in perfect proportion, in perfect harmony.

That would mean surrendering the hope, absurd as it may be, that we can stumble upon that formula with the right amount of research or resourcefulness or willingness to go into debt.

That would mean acknowledging that, in lieu of a secret formula, doing our best is enough. And that doing our best isn’t going to be enough, necessarily, to prevent bad grades or much, much worse.

That would mean admitting how little control we have over the single scariest thing some of us have ever lived through.

And it would mean admitting we’re exhausted. And fallible. And human. And the pandemic cookbook is probably not going to happen. And this maybe wasn’t the year for house projects. And the flower beds can wait. (They’re very patient.) And it’s not my fault I got sick.

Guilt isn’t especially useful. It doesn’t inspire or uplift or create or comfort. It degrades the places it lives. It’s worth naming, examining and then putting away. We’re stronger than it. We’re stronger without it.

But if you’re feeling it, a year into this pandemic, know that you’re not alone. Know that I see you and I’m with you, sweating the algebra and sweating whether I should be sweating the algebra and hoping that we’ll look back on these days, eventually with more relief than regret, and more grace than guilt.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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