I recently learned the “Top Gun” sequel is going to be released in July 2021, a full year after its originally-planned release date.
It’s been almost 35 years since the first “Top Gun” hit movie theaters, so I thought, “Meh, what’s one more year?” It took a few seconds for me to register what had just happened — the story about a movie release hit me with the overwhelming feeling of normalcy.
I was driving down Sampson Road in Liberty when, without warning, and over something simple, all the emotional memories from pre-pandemic days flooded back. I connected to my old life, one where going to the movies was something that happened. In our pre-pandemic world, we looked forward to things like release dates and other small seemingly inconsequential events.
Of course, nostalgia over “Top Gun” was part of it. Back in the day, I was a fangirl. I mean, what 80’s girl doesn’t recall fondly that beach volleyball scene with a shirtless Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer?
Even though it felt good to experience normalcy, my Libra mind is always obsessed with balancing. It immediately began working on the mental equation of pandemic gains and losses. If life was going to be full of things to do again, then I’d be giving up the world I’d been inhabiting since March, a world with fewer expectations.
In my experience, the cliché “absence makes the heart grow fonder” has always proved to be true. As hard as it's been, pandemic life is not all bad. Instead, as with most things, there are rewards to the simpler pace of life and the reduced reliance on a social calendar for joy and self-fulfillment.
As I started to feel the motor of my life revving up again, I took time to think about what I’ll miss when the pandemic is over.
First, we’ve finally been able to do regular family dinners every night. Before the pandemic, we were lucky if we could find one evening a week where we all enjoyed an unrushed dinner with conversation.
Most of the time what happened in the kitchen was like being a short-order cook, taking orders at the counter, trying to get a sandwich into a kid’s belly before ballet or basketball. Or, feeding the starving a 4:00 p.m. snack and then being disappointed when they didn’t want actual dinner. Or, my least favorite, breaking down and ordering pizza or driving through on the way to an activity.
For the last few months, we’ve gathered together at the end of each day and it’s been really nice. And it turns out, this time together could be benefiting my children.
According to thefamilydinnerproject.org, “Over the past 20 years researchers have confirmed what parents have known for a long time: Sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members. Recent studies link regular family dinners with many behaviors that parents pray for: lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem.
Apparently this is good for our little ones, too. “Studies also indicate that for young children, dinner conversation is a more potent vocabulary-booster than reading, and the stories told around the kitchen table help our children build resilience,” the report added. “The icing on the cake is that regular family meals also lower the rates of obesity and eating disorders in children and adolescents.”
Another thing I’ll miss is knowing that almost every day can be pajama day. Anyone who knows me can confirm that I’m not a fashionista and it turns out my apples didn’t fall far. The kids, Adam and I all prefer sweatpants, shorts or pajamas to fancy clothes. For us, it’s been nice to let the dry cleaning hang in the closet, untouched for months. I suppose there is some sense of professionalism that comes with real clothes, but it doesn’t come close to the cozy sensation of snuggling up in a pair of warm soft PJs.
I’ll also miss having free time. Before the pandemic, I don’t think any of us felt bored. We were always planning and executing — feeling the crunch of too much to do and not enough time. I forgot what it felt like to let my mind wander, to have the freedom to search out internal amusement. When I was little, I would complain about boredom. After going full speed for decades, it’s been nice to experience boredom again.
There are other things we’ve been able to do with the extra time. We’ve binged television shows, spent time in nature, sorted through all the stuff we’ve collected and grown closer to each other.
I believe the most important thing I’ve taken from the last few months, something I definitely didn’t take seriously before, is the need to appreciate life. Many of us have lost people and I refuse to let those people go without learning from it. Living through a time when every day’s news is updated with a national death toll has been hard on all of us, but it’s also been a constant reminder of the preciousness of life.
I hope that by taking a minute to reflect on the good parts of pandemic life, I’ll be more grateful for the gifts it has given my family. Even though I am looking forward to going back to my former lifestyle, I think I’ll try to hold on to some of the habits of my old life. I’ll fight a little harder to get everyone around the table and buy extra sets of comfy pajamas. I’ll say no to some opportunities so I have a chance to be bored. Maybe I’ll even find time to get to that Top Gun movie premier. Most importantly, I’m going to remember to live each day like there’s a super virus around the next corner.
— Mary Beth Earnheardt is a professor in the Anderson Program in Journalism at Youngstown State University where she advises student media. You can follow her on Twitter at @mbexoxo.