Life in a Time of Pandemic: Family

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It’s been a year and a half since my life was upended by the pandemic.  It may have impacted you a bit earlier or later, but for me, it was the week of March 23, 2020, when everything started to change.  Work sent us all home to work as best we could and something as simple as a trip to the grocery store became a cause for anxiety.

The changes continued as I bought a standing desk to make working from home comfortable, went into my office on a weekend to bring home my desktop computer and dual monitors, and more and more businesses shut down or restricted access.  I was lucky that I didn’t live alone.  I had the company of my husband and our two cats.  I know from experience that if I’m alone for an extended period of time it has a negative effect on my mental health.  Online communication, voice calls, and even video calls help, but don’t quite fill the need for human interaction.  Having someone I could still hug every day was a big deal.

The longer things drag on with concerning infection rates and low vaccination rates, the more I’ve begun to mourn all the time lost with the rest of my family though.  The first summer, we took a very careful trip to see my in-laws, stopping as little as possible to limit interactions with strangers.  We were being careful, and so were my in-laws, but there was still risk.  But it was worth it to see family and have that time spent together.  We chose not to travel for the 2020 winter holiday season, so it had been over a year since we’d seen that side of the family.

We recently took another trip to visit my in-laws, and we stopped on the way to see some of our oldest friends.  They then came down for a day to spend time with all of us.  It reminded me that family can mean many different things and how important it is no matter which way you mean it.  Yes, family is your blood relations, and your legal ones, but it’s more than that too.  Family are the ones who are always there for you, who support you when you need it, and who you support in turn.

Looked at that way, I have multiple families, and I’m grateful for each and every one of them.

I have my blood relatives.  My parents and sister are wonderful, and I love them dearly even if we disagree sometimes.  The same is true of my grandmothers.  I love my niece and I even like her most of the time (she’s nine, so sometimes her brat is showing).  Sadly, I don’t see my aunt or uncle much, which was true even before the pandemic stopped most of us traveling, but I know they care and when we are able to gather, I love spending time with them.  My family is fairly small until you get out into second and third cousins, and we haven’t see them much over the years, so that covers pretty much everyone I would really consider family among my blood relations.

I also have my in-laws.  My husband’s parents are amazing, and they take such good care of all of us in so many ways.  They put family first, and in the future, I want to be able to return that care.  My sister-in-law and her husband are also some of our best friends.  He’s a college professor and she’s an artist.  They live further away than I’d like, but when we are able to get together it’s amazing.  Just being together all in a room makes us all happier, even when we’re doing three or six different activities while we’re there.

But family goes beyond that.  I’m lucky enough to have friends that have been in my life so long they’re family, no matter what.

My oldest friend and I don’t talk much these days, but she’s still someone I’d come pick up at four in the morning if she needed my help.  She’s been through a lot over the years, and her current choices might bother some people, but she’s happy and safe and that’s what matters to me.  That’s what I want for my family, for them to be happy.

A few months ago, one of my very best friends, who I hadn’t seen in years, was able to visit.  I met her while I was in grad school, and our introduction was a bit odd, but she’s never held that against me.  Seeing her again after so long and being able to fall back into the same comfortable space with her reminded me that the distance doesn’t matter.  She’ll always be there for me, and she’ll always be my biggest fan, and that means the world to me.  Now that she finally lives within driving distance (and not half the width of the US away) I’m hoping we’ll be able to visit much more regularly.  She’s more family than most and that will never change.

I mentioned friends we saw while visiting my in-laws, and there another set that’s family in all the ways that matter.  My husband has known the two brothers since he was in middle school.  I met them when I was in high school.  When the older brother met his now wife, most of us were in college, and she’s been part of the family since then too.  They’re the friends we would spend New Year’s Eve with every year.  We never missed one until 2019, when my husband and I had to be back home to be in a wedding a few days before that, but at least we got to spend some time with them while we were in town for the holidays.  Missing our New Years Eve gathering in 2020 was much harder.  We hadn’t seen them since the 2019 winter holidays, and we weren’t traveling that winter.

It was around then, when we were missing them the most, that my husband started a discord server for us all to share (the two brothers, the one’s wife and the other’s girlfriend, husband and I, and sister-in-law and her husband).  The guys started playing online multiplayer games together over voice chat.  Several of us (not just the girls) share crafting and making pictures and ideas.  We share memes and jokes and talk about random things.  It’s not quite as awesome as being in a room together talking (which I was reminded of  when we finally saw them recently) but it’s close and it lets us stay connected.

The other family I’m so grateful for is my NaNo family.  This takes a variety of forms right now.

There’s the core group of about ten people that I met through NaNoWriMo (or via someone I met there) in the local area who have become my dearest friends.  Some of us played D&D together for a few years.  We persevered through the pandemic for a while with online tools, but I’ve taken a hiatus until we can be in-person again.  Sadly, the online wasn’t the same for me and wasn’t fun after a while.  There’s also a core of six of us (with some overlap) who have been meeting on zoom for happy hour every Friday since April 2020.  They’ve helped keep me sane and social through all this, and I’ve been really grateful that I could do the same for them.  Most of them live alone and the pandemic was hitting some of them pretty hard in a variety of ways.  Having that social space to have our favorite drink and chat and laugh together has been really great.

Another form my NaNo family takes is the community of Municipal Liaisons.  I’ve been volunteering as an organizer of my local area for six years, and I’m gearing up for a seventh November as an official ML.  There are four of us in the region, and I’m so grateful for the camaraderie and support of my little local group.  We work together well, decide things by consensus, and generally function very well as a team and that means a lot to me.  There’s also a very active discord server where I can interact with MLs from around the world, and that has been one of my very favorite places on the internet for the last few years.  The people there are all the kind of helpful, supportive folks you’d expect to step up and organize events for writers in their local area.  And they bring that to supporting fellow MLs too.  It’s a wonderful thing to be able to offer advise based on something I’ve done in the past and get advice from the many different people and perspectives in the ML community.

Not all of my chosen families are as close to me as others, and not all of them mean the same things to me, but they’re still family.  I think that’s one of the things I’ve been internalizing during the pandemic.  Family is what matters, and whether they’d be recognized by others as being my family doesn’t really matter.  If they feel like family, then they’re family.

I hope you have family around you, in whatever way that looks like, and you can keep them close even if there’s physical distance involved.

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