A FEW WEEKS AGO, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal written by Jason Gay, in which he declared beach body amnesty for the summer of 2020. We were just a couple of months into the pandemic, and he humorously chronicled his experience in quarantine as a surreal new reality of Zoom calls and panic grocery shopping, mixed with plenty of pancakes and anxiety. I could totally relate, and though my pancakes were fast-food tacos, it gave welcome justification to cut myself some slack, scrap the guilt and eat the brownie. These were not usual times. The dreaded swimsuit shopping under fluorescent lights rigmarole could wait until next year. Gyms were closed anyways. Thank you, Jason.

But as things settled down and I factored back in leafy greens and a daily vitamin, I discovered another unwelcome by-product to this stay-at-home, Groundhog Day-like existence: pandemic project guilt.

My once daily commute of two hours in freeway gridlock was now 16 stairs in 30 seconds. The hour it took me to get ready for work was now irrelevant. My new co-workers had tails; they didn’t care what I looked or smelled like. I now had three extra hours a day to stare at home projects that had been lingering for years with a dismal track record of completion. If I couldn’t find the time to re-cover some ugly lampshades, reorganize the garage, reupholster a dining chair and sort through 40-plus years of pictures stuffed in boxes, when would I?

I gave in to the guilt and started with the relatively low-skill lampshade project, because if Martha Stewart can make it look easy, how hard can it really be? Suffice it to say, the term “floppy lampshade” is now a family meme, and I just took the price tags off some new lampshades. Project complete with a side of humility.

I fared better with cleaning out the garage. My organizational skills deserve an honorable PhD because for the first time EVER, we now have a car parked in each allotted space. My husband didn’t think it could be done. Project complete with smug bragging rights.

Reupholstering the dining chair was next. This time I did not watch Martha Stewart, allowing me to set the bar as low as necessary to maintain my dignity. If you don’t look too closely at the visible staples down the side, or the pieces of fabric patched over bald spots with adhesive spray, because I don’t possess a PhD in measuring, you can count this one as a success. Project complete with a side of denial.

I then moved on to the picture sorting. I had a daunting box of pictures and memorabilia spanning my entire life gathering cobwebs in the closet. I dug in, and soon images of me with braces, bad hair, cringey outfits and awkward prom dates were strewn across the guest room floor in all their glory for my kids to mock. In some instances, I couldn’t blame them, though; Super Sun In mixed with a spiral perm is a look no one should ever replicate.

I had intended to do the same for my kids, as they too have huge boxes stuffed with class pictures, report cards, random artwork and forgotten awards dating back to pre-school. I had planned to sort through this treasure and create beautiful photo albums showcasing the greatest moments of their life, to be placed lovingly in their hands at their high school graduations.

But you know what? I’m giving myself a pandemic project pardon on this one. I’m going to kick the can down the road and give them the gift of discovery instead—in the form of a huge box filled with 18 years of report cards, artwork and bad class pictures. One day, when they sort through it and revisit their own awkward, brace-faced, frozen-in-place smiles topped with unfortunate haircuts, and their kids mock them, they’ll think of me and hopefully remember that I really do love them.

Now that my project list is blissfully empty, I think I’ll take a guilt-free nap. After that, I may just sign up for the MasterClass series, because I’ll need a new hobby for all of my free time. *

Michelle Thompson is a children’s book author, freelance writer, marketing guru. She resides in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband, two children, a dog and a tarantula.

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