I’ve written and re-written this post many times, vacillating between total dejectedness and flickering hope. We recently passed the six-month mark of living in Oxford. Half of that time we’ve been in lockdown. While the government recently released a plan for gradually (very gradually) easing lockdown restrictions, the reality is that the magical year abroad I had envisioned for my family is largely going to be spent within the confines of our home. I’m sad. And I’m weary. And no matter how hard I try to cultivate gratitude for our healthy family and stable jobs, I just can’t shake the small, persistent ache in my gut for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, lost to the pandemic.
Lockdown – regardless of where you live – is demoralizing. Last summer when my husband and I were debating if we should proceed with the move in the midst of a pandemic, I told him, “If there’s another lockdown I don’t want to be stuck in our small British house, with three kids, in the middle of winter.” After the first lockdown, I didn’t know if I could handle another in those conditions. And here we are. Another lockdown (our third). Three kids. Small British house. Dark, dreary winter.
I’m constantly fatigued, despite rarely leaving the house. I’m lonely, living in a new place where I’ve barely had an opportunity to form anything more than superficial relationships. I’ve not so much as seen the other school parents’ faces, let alone talk to them. It’s so absurd it’s almost funny. And though I’m lonely, I’m never alone, constantly supervising virtual learning for two older children while trying to keep a toddler entertained inside a cramped house. I can’t believe I actually miss the days of lockdown with a baby! And of course, it’s winter, the cold and dark exasperating an already dispiriting situation. I know I’m not alone in feeling disheartened. We’ve all been there at some point in this past year.
And really, who am I to complain when so many people have it so much worse? Our kids have been out of school since January, but how many children haven’t been in school in a year? Yes, I don’t have many close friends here, but I live in a lovely neighborhood whose residents make a great deal of Covid-safe effort to keep spirits lifted. And thank God I was connected with a few women before we moved, who have been a lifeline these past few months. The rare days the sun chooses to appear are absolutely glorious. We have our health! Oh, and my husband took pity on me and surprised me with a Peloton.
Peloton. Ugh, I know. I KNOW. I’ve turned into such a cliché. But the walk across our garden to a finished shed where the bike is set up is often my only chance to leave the house. Working out has been my sole source of sanity. I suppose – because there is nothing else to do – I am getting fit-ish. But here’s the thing. I don’t really care about being fit while I’m living in Europe. I would trade being Peloton Fit in a heartbeat to be European Soft – like, I eat pastries and cheese and gelato all day but still walk a lot, you know? I can be Peloton Fit in America! I can only be European Soft in Europe!
Speaking of Europe: When we got orders to Oxford, I was ecstatic. Uprooting our family to move overseas for less than a year would be difficult, but it would be worth it. A chance to live in the City of Dreaming Spires? Yes, please! High Table dinners, exploring the Bod, vespers at New College, Harry Potter tours – for the kids, of course. I couldn’t wait to do it all. (I should clarify that we are here because my husband is a visiting fellow at Oxford, but I totally planned on mooching off of his University privileges. I should also clarify that I only learned that students call the Bodleian Library, “the Bod,” from a cheesy rom-com audiobook, but doesn’t it make me sound in the know?) We have had some lovely strolls around the city, admiring the gorgeous, iconic architecture – but it would be nice to actually step inside one of those iconic buildings at some point. I had so hoped to make Oxford my home, a place I really knew, rather than just a city I lived in for a brief time. But it’s difficult to learn a place in lockdown.
And naturally I was thrilled for the opportunities to travel. Meeting up with friends stationed in Germany, Spain, Italy! Weekend trips to Paris! Driving around the Continent in our beat-up 2005 Honda CRV, which previous owners affectionately dubbed the WSB (Whistling Shit Box). It would be a grand adventure! While the reality of traveling around Europe with three kids crammed into the WSB would likely be less romantic than my imaginings, I couldn’t help but be excited about all the history and culture and food – oh, the food! – we’d get to experience as a family.
Then Covid happened. So I can’t jet off to Paris on a whim. Boo-hoo. Poor me. I know that compared to a lot of people right now, our diminished year abroad is pretty insignificant. I would never, ever trivialize the real heartache and devastation that Covid has wreaked on millions of people all over the globe. But still, this feels like a loss. A small loss in the grand scheme of things, but a loss nonetheless. I’ve finally decided it’s okay to acknowledge that.
Spring is coming. We’ve had some sun and warmth the past few days which has buoyed my spirits. The kids go back to in-person school in four days (but who’s counting?). My husband and I have been vaccinated. We had some great experiences traveling around the UK last fall that I treasure, and I’m hopeful we’ll have more this spring. I know that despite my disappointment I have much to be thankful for. The lockdown has cast a shadow over our year abroad, but the year ain’t over yet. In the meantime, at least I have Peloton.