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HEATHER HUYBREGTS Returning to work: Time to get back to daily showers and adult conversations

How are you navigating the transition back to the office?
How are you navigating the transition back to the office? - 123RF Stock Photo

I don’t do well with change. I was pretty settled in my life back in early March. Then there was a drastic upheaval. Big changes had to be made. I re-adapted. I settled (ish).

And now change is upon us once more.

It’s official, dear readers: I’ve returned to work. When I’m not at home helping tiny humans with their owies and writing about it, I’m at a clinic… helping somewhat larger humans with their owies.

During the pandemic, I spent 79 days home with my children, give or take many hours hiding in the bathroom in order to weep in solitude.

Turns out I’m not designed for stay-at-home parenting. By about day 50, I would just pre-emptively place little bowls of Goldfish crackers and cups of juice throughout the house, in anticipation of the thrice-hourly snack orders.

I found myself just standing a lot, awaiting the next request for food/entertainment/attention, terrified to relax. I longed for adult conversation. I tried to talk to my three-year-old once about how one’s career is so often misconstrued as one’s purpose and how, unfortunately, the two are rarely aligned. I took his blank stare and prolonged silence as quiet introspection. He finally replied, “a porpoise”? I convinced myself that he was saying a carefree (and career-free) creature like a porpoise, without any obvious vocation, seems eternally fulfilled, what with all the leaping and the grinning... Then my three-year old declared, “I’m not a porpoise”, farted, and laughed at himself for about three-and-a-half minutes.

I’d never felt so alone.

So, it was time. Time for daily showers and personal grooming and conversations about “frost warnings” and “step counts”. Time for the children to delight other, like-minded youths with their fresh new perspectives on fart humour.

But the anticipated transition terrified me. Seventy-nine days is a long time. I had acclimatized to my new thankless, existentially daunting but full-of-love lifestyle. I was adept at avoiding people; taking the kids for walks and hurling them into the trees to dodge each passerby had become second nature. Suddenly, I would be returning to a job that not only put me in a room with people, it required me to touch them.

And risk of disease transmission aside, my face-to-face skills were rusty. Sure, I’d had a few meetings online, wearing fancy turtlenecks with Christmas pajama pants, feigning niceties and half-listening while subtly checking out my own face in the small square off to the side. I'd grown fond of my poorly concealed narcissism intercepted by sporadic nodding. It’s not as if I could ask my in-person clients to hold up a small hand mirror during our encounters… could I?

How was I going to just switch off my hyper-vigilant mom brain, which was in it’s 80th day of over-drive. I wasn’t used to focussing on one thing. I had to half listen, while acoustically scanning an 80-foot radius for sounds of children in distress. I could just picture my first client encounter:

Client: “I’ve noticed my pain is especially bad when--”

Me: *shifty-eyed* “Shhhh! What was that?”

Client: “What was what?”

Me: “...Is someone crying?”

Client: “Oh my gosh, I hope not. Why would someone be crying?”

Me: “Ha! Good one. How is someone NOT crying, am I right?”

Prior to returning to work, I made a quick list of some of my concerns.

  1. Should you ask adult clients if they have to poop before getting started?
  2. If you give a client an iPad and a snack, do you still have to treat them?
  3. The stern mom growl - yay or nay for conveying your displeasure with other adults?

I would have to re-learn makeup. Are there new rules again? I was already eons out of the game, prior to isolation. Makeup was all pretty straight-forward until every child born after 2000 was suddenly a professional-calibre makeup artist. Contouring? Are we building furniture? On the production team for Cats? Bob Ross? Otherwise, why and how would I know anything about contouring? I thought we were just trying to cover our zits and eyesacks and - for special occasions - make our cheeks look less dead.

And what about bras, the socially acceptable prisons for the innocent? Does the post-pandemic world still tolerate them? Good Gaia, haven’t we been through enough! Does it really matter that ol’ hefty lefty prefers a more southerly resting place than the other? Don’t get me started on ol’ righty; that northerner’s got a mind of her own...

I’ve been back to (our new) reality for three weeks now and, truthfully, the new rules aren’t so bad. Spoiler alert: makeup and bras are still terrible. Surprisingly, though, the masks are actually growing on me; not only do they make me feel braver with all this new proximity, they've given me the most youthful bout of mask-shaped acne. It’s nice not having to worry about breathing in people’s faces. I literally never chew gum anymore. And I excessively mouth-breathe just because I can.

Change is bittersweet. Even when it’s forced, we do adapt. We grow. Perhaps, down the road, we will have learned some lesson, gleaned some meaning from all the madness.

And, if nothing else, I got 79 days of blessed bralessness.

Heather Huybregts is a mother, physiotherapist, blogger, YouTuber and puffin whisperer from Corner Brook, N.L. Her column appears biweekly.

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