“This whole thing feels like we are running a race and the finish line keeps moving.”
Clinical psychologist Dr. Justin Ross applied this description to the situation surrounding COVID-19 in a recent podcast from Another Mother Runner. I resonated with his words on multiple levels.
I’m not new to social distancing. Among the many long-term health issues premature babies like the Tagalongs can experience is a compromised immune system, making them more susceptible to infections than babies born at full term. This is why, on the recommendation of our medical team, Chris and I observed social distancing for the Tagalongs’ first 12 to 18 months.
Doing so was hard but easy. Back then, Chris and I were about only survival: make it through the next feed, the next three hours, the night, the next weekly Dairy Queen blizzard fix from our good small group friends, until Grandma came for the weekend. Other triplet families ventured out in public and even traveled with their trio, but for us, leaving the house with three babies in tow for something other than a doctor’s appointment was laughable. So we stayed at home and grew comfortable in our safe space and watched the world pass by through our windows and media screens.
And then one day we said enough was enough. I cautiously poked my head out of our shell at the grocery store with all three kids by myself. The grocery store turned into library story time, which turned into a Mommy-and-Me tumbling class, which turned into a playgroup—and pretty soon, we were taking the Tagalongs almost everywhere, toting them around in our red Radio Flyer Triple Wagon and then forming a four- or five-person-long human chain when they outgrew it. Chris and I became more comfortable running point on the Tagalongs solo, so we started tag teaming them to shop, attend personal appointments, go out with friends, and grow our hobbies. This evolved into feeling more comfortable with someone outside our bubble watching over the Tagalongs solo, enabling us to rediscover date nights, rejoin a church small group, and go on a vacation. Life with triplets was still crazy, but we’d figured out how to forge a new normal for ourselves.
Then COVID-19 hit, and we were thrust five years into the past. It’s been old hat to fall back into the technical part of social distancing; we know the importance of following certain health protocols, and we’re practiced (albeit a little rusty) in making difficult decisions about whether we should get together with family or friends. But the social-emotional aspect of retreating from the world has presented more of a challenge. Our life was much fuller—it had become about thriving instead of just surviving. So while social distancing isn’t new to us, it’s been much harder this time around.
The moving target of reopening and recommendations hasn’t helped. I understand and respect (and agree with) the reasons for it, but that doesn’t mean I can’t feel frustrated with it. As a runner, I become irritable when hearing spectators at a race yell, “You’re almost there!” at mile 20 of a marathon. Yes, their intentions are good, but those are the longest, most painful 6.2 miles of a runner’s life. With every footfall, they’re questioning every decision they’ve ever made leading up to that point.
And that’s what COVID-19 feels like. It feels like miles 19–22 of a marathon whose end is nowhere in sight. I know how hard we’ve worked to maintain our health, but I’m so damn tired that I just want to scream, “F it!” and quit and do whatever the hell we want.
And I know Chris and the Tagalongs feel the same. Based on our state’s rise in COVID cases, we decided to put the brakes on our increased social practices and return to the beginning of social distancing, which meant postponing a pool get-together with my best friends and their kids, canceling an overnight “vacation” with the Tagalongs (their first), and returning to only Chris leaving the house (Thanks, asthma!). The letdown was rough, and Chris and I have spent the last two weeks overanalyzing every decision around our social distancing boundaries. We’re exhausted from the mental gymnastics involved in the logistics of our decisions, and the Tagalongs are annoyed with being confined within the same tan walls and two playmates.
But as a runner, I know how to persevere. I know how to put one foot in front of the other, trusting the strength that training gave my body and mind. And I know how to persevere as a “survivor” of very premature triplets. I know from experience that this is just a season, and once this mess is over, we’ll rebuild and find our new normal. The finish line may continue to move, but my resolve will stand firm.