COVID-19 conversations: Stop the world, I want to get off

My 7-year-old grandson hopped off the tube, shouting, “Grandma, did you see my hand signals?”

My husband and I had been racing around the lake in our boat, pulling him and his sister for an hour. I’d been the spotter. “Well,” I said, squinting in thought, “I think so. I’m not sure.”

He planted himself in front of me. “Thumbs up means faster. This,” he wiggled his hand through the air, “means waves. Thumbs down is slower and,” he put his palm in my face, “this mean stop.”

Roxanne Henke’s grandson, Axel, shows her the “stop” sign. Courtesy photo

Roxanne Henke’s grandson, Axel, shows her the “stop” sign. Courtesy photo

“Oh,” I said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen the thumbs down or stop signals before.”

He shrugged his shoulders as he began walking away. “That’s because we never use them.”

He got that right. When he and his sister visit the lake every summer, life is on fast-forward. “Slow down” and “stop” are not in their wheelhouse.

I remember a similar time in my life. It started in high school. I was in just about everything there was to join. Cheerleading, the Girls Athletic Association, band, pep band, choir, student council and the church youth group. I’m certain I’m forgetting a few things, but you get the drift.

When I went to college, I heaved a sigh of relief. I didn’t realize how stressed I’d been until I wasn’t. Someone asked me to try out for the college cheering squad and for once in my life I said, “No.”

In not all that much time, I got married. My husband and I were living in Fargo while he went to graduate school. We had a toddler and a wide group of friends – people from work, church and from my husband’s softball team. I’d joined several clubs and started a coffee group for a handful of moms. I was in a Bible study and regularly got together with a couple friends to pursue our passion of cross-stitching. And, without even realizing it, my life got so busy with all this “fun stuff” that it started being not all that much fun. Events and get-togethers felt like something I “had” to do. I didn’t know what I wanted to eliminate. I was young, afraid to say “no” and had no idea how to slow down.

And then we got a phone call. My husband, with an economic-finance degree, was asked if he’d (we’d) move back to my hometown and learn the family business (banking). You’d think we would have asked for some time to think it over, but we didn’t need to. The answer was “yes.”

I was never one of those kids who wanted to kick the dust off my feet of my hometown. I loved my little town and was excited to move back. And, honestly, I was about just as excited to have a totally legit excuse to tell everyone, “I can’t be in this club/Bible study/mom’s group/stitching circle any longer. We’re moving!”

In the blink of an eye, we’d bought a small starter home and moved. Within a year, I had another baby. And, a garden. And, a clothesline to hang laundry. Our oldest daughter started kindergarten and I worked in our business part time. The homemaker’s club asked me to join and I did. I was Sunday school superintendent, became president of the town Job Development Authority, I was in Jayceettes and started a crafting club, along with a dinner club. I was on the library board. I met a group of friends once a week for lunch and went for Saturday morning coffee with more friends.

Do you see a pattern here? I was doing it all over again.

Ever so slowly, life changed. I aged out of a few things, lost interest in others. But, new things took their place. I went back to college (long distance), started a book club with a friend and began writing full time. A speaking career meant many weekends on the road to events. Our daughters moved far from home, which meant trips to visit them. Grandkids meant even more trips. My mom got older and needed more of my attention. Holidays moved from her house to mine. A big committee at our church needed leadership and guess who raised her hand. We redid our lake cabin, which gave us more room for company. And they came, which meant more cooking and laundry. Yes, it was “all good,” but exhausting at times. I often wished I knew how to slow life down.

You know that old saying, “Be careful what you wish for?” Along came COVID-19. One big palm in the face for the world. STOP. We had no choice.

Those hand signals my grandkids never used suddenly became the only ones we could use. COVID-19 gave us the “thumbs down” (slow down), and then the STOP sign. Slow down? We have permission to slow down? Why thank you, I believe I will.

To be continued next month.

Roxanne (Roxy) Henke is living like a hermit in her home in rural North Dakota with her husband and their dog. You can contact her at