Last week I had a panic attack.

Isn’t that cute? Pulled in one direction by my eldest son, pulled in another direction by my youngest—pulled apart within minutes by the greater fragmentation caused by this extraordinary time: my own identity overshadowed by the new ones I’ve had to assume, these roles of full-time third-grade teacher, full-time kindergarten teacher, full-time IT support for both classes as class parent.

So I fell apart. My throat constricted—my own personal hallmark of overwhelming anxiety, happens all the time—then the tightening moved to my chest, and within seconds I was struggling to breathe, wondering why my heart hurt so much, feeling like I was going to die. Right there among the LEGO. Like some kind of half-assed domestic martyr.

I put the kids on their iPads and told The Husband that I was going for a walk. I traveled around the block, and when I got home I received a text from a friend: had I read this book? Because she just had, and could loan it to me. I responded with something like, “I JUST GOT BACK FROM WALKING AROUND THE BLOCK TO FEND OFF A PANIC ATTACK SO YES THAT WOULD BE GREAT WHEN CAN YOU BRING IT.” Within minutes, the book was on my doorstep.

You can call that whatever you want to, but I call it grace.

Later, I put the boys in front of a movie (yes, screens exist for a reason; USE THEM) and sat outside with a glass of wine and my phone, which was playing jazz. The time changed last weekend—it’s now autumn in Australia—and, at nearly six, the sun was setting. I looked up at the backlit clouds and just stared. Their beauty leaves me with no other conclusion than that they have a Maker, though I’m not a fan of a lot of his other work right now, but then again I’m not at a high enough pay grade to receive all the current inter-office memos. So I just stared, and waited, and as the darkness grew around me, I cried.

I cried for things I haven’t fully grieved yet and likely never fully will: our church back in America, where our pastor, I had been told, just forwarded to everyone an article I wrote recently, attaching the message that he was still mad we’d left. I grieved for him and his wife, dear friends—the best, really—and for all the other people we’d left behind there, for the easy fellowship and deep vulnerability we’d experienced with them.

I cried for the grief my kids are experiencing but are unable to articulate, the loss of contact with teachers and friends, the spikes of boredom that are actually good for them but painful for all of us, for the fact they have to spend so much time out of their formative years navigating a global pandemic.

I cried for the suffering we’re all experiencing, for how damn hard this is, for what it’s doing to our hearts and minds that we’ll be dealing with for the rest of our lives (PEOPLE, GET A THERAPIST. IT COULD SAVE YOU).

I cried for The Husband, who, when he married me, thought he was getting the “good” kind of crazy, the fun kind, but instead, these days, more often finds himself with the kind who is sitting outside curled into a nonfunctioning ball with tears running down her face, muttering something about takeout on the way because she just can’t.

I cried for my kids again, that they’re going to have memories of me sitting outside crying in a nonfunctional ball instead of sitting beside them watching a movie.

I cried. A lot. And then, somehow, I got up.

I ate the shit out of a cheeseburger and fries that someone else made. I finished my wine. I took a shower and got in bed.

I know that for those of you in the Northern hemisphere, the changing light—longer days of springtime—are a welcome arrival, maybe a symbol of hope. At least that’s how I’d spin it if I were up there where you are. For my part (and spinning), I’m finding relief in the shortened days, the earlier arrival of darkness that accompanies our hunkering down. Night is a gift right now, a rest from the forced “rest” of these days.

I’m finding relief in books showing up—both for me and our kids—on our doorstep. In chance meetings on the running trail with other mums I know, makeup-free and newly vulnerable about how hard this is. For unexpected, unscheduled talks about real shit for once. I’m finding relief in access to moments in my friends’ lives that I didn’t have before, in the kids playing Roblox with their friends over Zoom as their parents talk and live in the background, these parents of their friends who are my friends, these windows into their lives because of this shifting perspective, this season of change.

I’m finding relief in this worldwide newfound sense of collectivism, of taking care of others, not because I have the ability to take care of others beyond my four walls right now, but because I need to be taken care of, and people are doing that remotely and well. One set of footprints on the sand and all that.

I’m finding relief in really feeling my grief, in making space for my kids to feel theirs when they think, at bedtime, that they’re crying over Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban but they’re not, and I know that, and they can too.

I’m finding relief that, as the light and seasons and times shift and new pain is being exposed, that new mercies are too, and that unlike my own sanity and strength, these mercies never run out, never expire. I call that grace.


Credits: adapted from Sardaka, Kensington, Sydney; and Italiano: Mattoncini Lego a Legoland, Londra @BORTO.JPG