“I can’t wait to go back to normal.” It’s something I’ve said since the beginning of this. I mean, haven’t we all?

But honestly, just thinking about being around people again is starting to give me a little bit of anxiety.

Thoughts about going "back to normal," & what a post-pandemic life might look like for an American family of five currently living in Germany.

We PCS’d to Germany during the pandemic—June 2020, to be exact—so almost our entire time that we’ve been out here has been during some sort of a lockdown. Had we known when we first arrived that only a few months later everything would change, we would have lived it up a heck of a lot more those first few months.

Instead, we played it safe and were overly cautious with where we went and the things we did. If something wasn’t essential, we didn’t do it. Plus, since our girls went to school, we also made it a point to only keep to our immediate family, just the five of us. Because we couldn’t spread something if we didn’t see anyone.

I’ve always been an outgoing, type-A, extrovert who thrives when I’m around other people. In fact, I’ve literally craved just the thought of sitting in a coffee shop surrounded by people and listening to the white noise dance around me.

But…I feel like I’ve been out of the game for too long at this point.

Now the thought of going back to “normal,” for something as simple as being in a crowd, scares me. Something like setting up a playdate with a new friend makes my heart beat a little faster.

Not because I’m worried about catching or spreading the virus (thankfully, my husband and I are fully vaccinated) but because I haven’t done this in awhile, and I have pandemic fatigue.

Back to Normal with Friends

This past year has changed me; it’s changed a lot of us.

For more than a year, I’ve been around my immediate family 98% of the time. That other 2% is for the one minute interaction I have between the German grocery store worker at the checkout line once or twice a week and the handful of times I’ve seen a friend as we drop books off on each other’s doorstep, chatting for five minutes from our doorway and van window.

Not to mention, my ability for small talk is a horrible joke at this point. One that wouldn’t get any laughs at standup comedy night, mind you. I’ve run into acquaintances while strolling the aisles of the grocery store and literally had nothing to say. Awkward lines about the weather, or (of course) the lockdown, spew out of my mouth.

My words come out jumbled, like my brain can’t fathom that I’m talking to someone outside my circle, and it’s not quite sure how to make my mouth work. My eyes bounce around, looking for an escape route, ready to flee at any minute…but can’t, because I still have to finish crossing things off my list.

I didn’t use to be like this. My husband and I used to joke that “small talk” was one of my super powers. But these days, it makes me sweat just thinking about being around new people.

Speaking of friends. Moving to another country in the middle of a pandemic isn’t exactly the best time to meet and mingle with new people. The group of friends I have here is extremely small, which isn’t a bad thing, but because of the virus and the lockdown, we haven’t been able to actually meet and dive into those deeper connections. In fact, I’ve only seen several of these new friends once in person.

Because of that, our friendships are pretty surface level. If I’m being completely honest, we complain to each other a lot. It makes sense given our shared circumstances; we’re all new expats living through a pandemic in a foreign country.

On the bright side, these new friends all got here around the same time we did, so once “things go back to normal” (there’s that phrase again), we should be able to meet and actually start cultivating deeper relationships. We did start a book club so at the very least, we get to see each other’s faces virtually once a month.

On Traveling Again

We all dream of traveling again, too, but what will that even look like?

If you’ve ever planned a trip for a family, you know that it takes some work. But the work we’ll have to put into things now will be so much harder than it used to be.

Planning a weeklong trip for a family of five makes me panic a little, especially now. Because on top of actually planning the trip, I’ll have to see what places are even open (this includes countries, cities, stores, restaurants, museums, other experiences, etc.).

Even thought my husband and I are vaccinated, our kids aren’t, so we’ll need to abide by the “unvaccinated” rules for them.

Since places are taking less visitors, and almost every place is by appointment/reservation only, we have to purchase tickets for specific times. Having to do that takes away a lot of the spontaneity and flexibility that comes with traveling, especially with a family.

Our last two small trips (to Holland in August 2020 and Wernigerode in October 2020) had so much planning involved that it made my head spin just trying to keep track of everything. The detailed schedule I had for those two trips was pretty crazy, and I joked around that I need to make a spread sheet for every hour of our trip.

I’m worried that we may have to give up seeing some really cool things and going to fun places because it’ll just be too hard or frustrating to make a concrete plan for it.

Homebodies

We’ve also been home for a really long time.

As much as I’m ready to bust out of our house and see a new spot in Europe every weekend to make up for lost time, I know that it’s going to take some coaxing to pack our bags again and not cook every meal at home.

In theory, it sounds fantastic to visit a new places as often as possible, and I know we’ll get to that point. But we’ll probably take it slow at the beginning. We recently went on a four-hour round trip to the next military base, and the kids acted like we were in the car for the entire day. We’ll need to work up to some longer car rides again.

I’m sure a lot of military families can relate to this, but this past year has been the longest we’ve ever all been together, EVER, and already things are changing. My husband is currently TDY, his first time away in more than an entire year. My girls are starting swim class, and soon I know that our weekends will be precious to us again as a time to reset before another busy week.

Thinking about the hustle and bustle of whats to come makes me want to sit criss-cross-applesauce, breathe deep, and find my zen.

Because it’s all just too much, and staying home is sometimes the easier option.

On the Flip Side

The Catch-22 to all of the above is that I miss my old self, and I really do want to “get back to normal,” even if that means finding our next normal.

I miss the person who didn’t mind chatting in the aisles and asking random people questions.

I miss being spontaneous and planning a quick trip out of town to some place that looks cool without having to worry about scheduling everything ahead of time.

But maybe our next normal will just have to look different. Maybe we’ll have to ease into this new way of life instead of jumping in with all 10 feet and exhausting ourselves.

Instead of booking a trip every weekend, maybe we’ll start with one weekend a month and work up from there. I already have my heart set on a cruise next summer and a few other trips, and simply having those on the horizon is giving use something to look forward to.

What Will Your New Normal Look Like?

I’d love to hear from you about what a post-pandemic life looks like to you. Are you a little hesitant about things going back to normal, or are you totally ready for it?

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