A New Normal

Erika S. Veth, EdD
Millennium Computer Systems, Ltd.
April 20, 2021

Lately, it feels like things are moving into a place of normality. I recently received my second Covid-19 vaccine and my husband just received his first. My parents and in-laws are fully vaccinated as are a sprinkling of our friends. We are starting to cautiously gather in small groups according to state guidelines. Lacrosse practice is beginning this week for my children. Several of our team members at Millennium are hoping to co-present at a conference next fall in Missouri.

For the past year, it seemed we all waited for things to return to normal, or rather the state of being in which we dwelled during pre-pandemic times.

That normal meant a whirlwind of constant forward motion. Kids in school five days a week with activities and lessons after school most days. Evenings were a rush of dinner prep, eating, homework, bed. Spouse out the door early and home late from work because it was hard to leave the office. I was already working from home when the pandemic started, but I expected a completely silent work-environment. I remember being very concerned that something disruptive would happen when working from home—like the UPS guy knocking on the door during a staff meeting or the dogs barking during a prospective client demo.

Our pre-pandemic vacation plans almost always included air travel and hotel stays. My family ate at a restaurant about once a week and on special occasions like birthdays or Mother’s Day. There were birthday parties, neighborhood potlucks, pool parties, the annual elementary school Christmas pageant, and big family gatherings at Thanksgiving. I visited a salon every five weeks for a pedicure and hair care and attended a yoga class that involved a lot of focus on breathing.

Now, over a year after the entire Millennium team, along with my husband and all children everywhere, began working from home, the general state of things has become, well, normal again. But a normal that is different from the normal of things pre-pandemic. And I must admit, there are many things about this new normal that I hope our society can maintain, but there are also things I really miss.

What follows is my personal list of things I hope return as well as continue in the fabric of a new normal:

1. A slower pace for our children. Let me be clear—I do not at all miss the ten months my children spent entirely at home. Virtual kindergarten and first grade were rough for my daughter despite wonderful and patient teachers. Those first fundamental experiences of learning to read, write, and follow directions are challenging to recreate via Zoom. My children have been back in school four full days a week since January with one day asynchronous virtual. When they are in school, they have triple the amount of recess—now dubbed mask breaks—and they are able to play and enjoy the fresh air. On nice days, they have class outside. Their at-home virtual day is a great time for them to catch up on schoolwork instead of homework every night. They read while curled up with a pet on the couch, basking in the sunlight shining through the window. Let’s maintain this!

2. I miss networking! Throughout my entire career in higher education, one of my favorite aspects has been the building of a vast professional network across the globe. Working in higher education affords the ability to travel to absorb new knowledge and share what we know with others. It allows us to maintain those relationships through LinkedIn until we see each other again at another conferences. Conferences are also a great way to explore new cities when traveling for an event. I always return from those trips feeling reinvigorated and inspired. I can’t wait for this to return!

3. More outdoor dining. During the summer of 2020, so many of us longed to dine out at a restaurant after they’d been shuttered in many places. In some towns, downtown Main Streets were closed to vehicular traffic on weekend evenings to allow for restaurants to move their tables into the streets to accommodate diners. When fall rolled around, I fully expected the tables to leave the street and restaurant dining to scale back again, but many restaurants continued their innovative approaches to restaurant eating by erecting tents, heat lamps, outdoor fires… How fun to eat in your own personal igloo in January or under the stars near a heat lamp during winter solstice. Let’s keep this!

4. More work-life balance. Earlier I mentioned that I used to worry about small interruptions at work related to my home-life. I remember wondering if I should take the day off from work if my children had a school holiday. Even though I have an incredibly supportive management team above me who prioritized work-life balance even pre-pandemic, society had trained me to feel that I was somehow doing something wrong if my children were home while I was working. The pandemic has made most of us realize that we can manage both if we must, and in some ways, it creates less stress at work and at home. I’m glad my kids are back in school now, but I am glad that society seems more understanding as a whole about work-life balance. Let’s remember that!

5. Less illness and staying home when sick! This point does not need much explanation. We all remember slogging through work with a stuffy nose and body aches because we didn’t want to miss a deadline or let a coworker or supervisor down. We’ve all sent our children to school with cold symptoms because the school guidelines allowed it as long as they were without fever, only to infect the entire class, school, and all of their families. The pandemic brought with it the requirement that we stay home and rest when we are ill and to do everything possible to avoid infecting others. This will end up keeping us healthier and more productive in the long run. Let’s keep that!

6. Thoughtful approaches to gatherings. Pre-pandemic there was a constant stream of social activity for my family. We had calendars crammed with birthday parties, fundraisers, barbecues. While most of these events were great fun, there was so much pressure to attend all of them. I think one thing the pandemic has taught us is that we can be more intentional about social gatherings and we don’t need to feel obligated to host and attend so many of them. The few social gatherings we attend in 2021 will be very special as we gather while thinking of the health and safety of one another. I do look forward to attending a Broadway musical or Yankees game soon as well, but for now, just seeing friendly faces in person is more than enough.

This list could go on and on…. What would you add to the list for a new normal? Email me at erika@mcsl.com or reply here!

And stay tuned for Part Two of “A New Normal.” In the sequel post, I will cover what the new normal might look like for higher education.