The Lockdown Diaries | The ‘Old’ Normal?
This weekend, we went to a restaurant.
Under normal circumstances, this wouldn’t be something I’d consider worth mentioning, really: it was just an ordinary chain restaurant – the kind of place you go because you need somewhere casual and noisy, where no one will resent you for turning up with a three year old, rather than because you’re looking for some kind of amazing foodie “experience”, you know?
But this was the first time we’ve been inside a restaurant in well over a year now. In fact, in Max’s case, it may as well have been the first time EVER, because our last restaurant visit was so long ago now that it’s completely faded from his memory.
Max doesn’t remember what it’s like to eat in a restaurant, swim in a pool, or travel on a train, bus or aeroplane. Until he started nursery, he didn’t remember what it was like to play with another child, or be part of a group of people.
It’s… been a strange 14 months, hasn’t it?
But, this weekend, we ate in a restaurant. Next weekend, we’re having some friends round. As of yesterday, we’re allowed to go INSIDE OTHER PEOPLE’S HOUSES (“Hugs to be allowed from Monday,” said the news ticker one day last week, in a timely reminder that shit be weird now…), and we’re hoping that, by the end of the month, Max will be able to resume his swimming lessons again. Even more significantly, recently I’ve been finding myself worrying about the fact that people are going to want to start seeing us again, and how I’m going to need some solid excuses up my sleeve now that, “Sorry, it’s illegal,” doesn’t cut it any more. The world is healing, people.
(I’m joking: not even I’m antisocial enough to want to avoid seeing people after a full year of not being able to, and I AM antisocial enough to have once tried to get out of my own leaving party when I left a particular job, so that’s saying a LOT, really…)
(I LITERALLY said, “Nah, I don’t think I’ll bother,” when the woman came round asking for deposits for the venue, or whatever it was. And she LITERALLY had to say, “But Amber, it’s a party FOR YOU?” Which was awkward.)
(In my defence, two other people were leaving at the same time, and everyone there hated me (Hey, I wonder why?!), so I just assumed the party was for them. You live and you… well, you live, anyway.)
Of course, I’m not naïve or oblivious enough to think that the pandemic is finally over – especially with new Covid variants popping up all the time, and parts of the country still on a higher level of lockdown – but I’d be lying if I said things didn’t feel a whole lot different from this time last year, too.
The last time the UK started to come out of lockdown (Quick pause here to reflect on the fact that there’s more than one time that the UK has come out of lockdown…), it all felt pretty much irrelevant to us, really. Yes, we started seeing close family again, had some outdoor adventures, and even ventured into the supermarket a few times (Which I remember felt like SUCH a daring thing to do at the time. Like, who will play me in the movie about that, I wonder?), but, without a vaccine on the horizon, we were still too worried about the risk from Covid – especially to Terry – to feel comfortable going into restaurants, or other semi-crowded places.
This time around, though, we’re both fully vaccinated, as are the majority of our family members. Most of our friends have at least had their first dose now, and so, as the world slowly starts to return to life, we’ve been allowing ourselves to go along with it. Cautiously. Gradually. And sometimes furtively, too, to be honest, because, I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure my brain is ever going to get used to the fact that it’s actually ALLOWED to do so many of the things that were banned for months now, so I’ll probably go through the rest of my life feeling vaguely guilty every time I leave my house on a non-essential journey. Thanks for that, Covid!
Random attacks of The Guilt aside, though, the most surprising thing about our return to something like “normality” for me has been how, well, normal, it all feels. I had assumed it would take a long time before I’d feel ready to re-enter society: that, once things started to open up again, I’d still feel safest at home, and that, when we did finally venture out, it would feel surreal and scary, and I’d spend the entire time doing that thing I do where I keep on and on commenting on how WEIRD it all is, just in case whoever I’m with has failed to pick up on the sheer enormity of the situation. Because leave it to me to always be the narrator, you know?
The reality is, though, that it hasn’t felt particularly strange at all, really. I mean, sure, there are constant reminders that things aren’t quite normal. I had to wear a facemask to have my eyebrows done, and to take Max to the bathroom when we’re out somewhere. There are still social distancing signs on the supermarket floor, and I’m not totally sure whether Terry and I are allowed to go in there together, or if one of us has to still wait in the car. But meeting friends has felt normal. Eating out felt normal. I did not have those overwhelming feelings of, “Wow, I can’t believe it’s been a year since…” and “Isn’t it so strange to be…?” and, honestly, I’m not totally sure how I feel about that.
On the one hand, I am, of course, grateful not to be stressed and terrified every time we do something, which is how I expected to feel. (And, let’s face it, how I NORMALLY feel, even in non-pandemic times.) On the other hand, though, I can’t help but worry that it’s all a bit too easy, and that I’m not appropriately amazed by the opportunity to do these totally amazing, utterly precious things again. Because I don’t want to take it for granted. I don’t want to forget how incredibly lucky we were to be sitting there with friends, in a chain restaurant, on a Sunday afternoon. And, of course, I don’t want to let my guard down, either, and forget that, while things are definitely looking better than they have been, we’re not out of the woods yet. Things are starting to feel normal, sure, but it’s not quite the OLD normal yet: and it’s not the same for everyone.
But it’s getting there. Or, at least, let’s hope so.