So most of you have already seen on social media that I was exposed to Covid-19 early on, and am now in day 10 of my quarantine. I don’t want to bury the lede on that, but more than that I just wanted to put down some thoughts about where we’re at right now (mostly for posterity’s sake, but also because writing always has been and always will be the way I work through things).
So I’m going to back up and tell this chronologically.
Okay, so rewind all the way back to Thursday, March 12th. Things were just starting to break, and we didn’t yet know what to make of all of this. I had a doctor’s appointment in the morning which ended up going longer than I expected, so I worked from home the rest of the day (something that I am set up and able to do, and boy am I appreciative at this point!).
On Friday, Sara convinced me to work from home, even though I was skeptical of how “socially distant” we needed to be at this point. But, as I said, I can work from home relatively easily, so why not. Sara has consistently been ahead of me on the anxiety scale on all of this, partially because she works at a hospital and is much more connected on the medical scene, partially because she is an obsessive researcher and read the entire Internet several times over in those first few days, and partially because I tend toward low anxiety to begin with. “Eh, it will be fine, rub some dirt on it,” is where I start and end on most medical issues. So usually Sara freaks out about something, I tell her she’s crazy, then in a few days she is proven correct and *I* start to freak out about it, but Sara is already freaking out about the next thing. Rinse, repeat.
We considered keeping the kids home from school that Friday, but school had already announced they would be closed as of Monday, so we decided to let the kids go to school for that last day. In retrospect, we probably should have kept them home, but it was so hard to know what to do at that point. I also ordered my employees to work from home, got my hand slapped for not following the company policy, and then the company policy quickly followed suit a couple of hours later. I am extremely proud of that decision, given that I later found out I had already been exposed. Had I gone into the office that Friday, I would have risked exposing my entire office, not to mention all of the people on public transportation, etc.
Over the weekend, we had been planning to visit my Grandma and deliver Girl Scout cookies to relatives. Grandma’s place closed to all visitors, so that was out, but I was adamant that we should still deliver the Girl Scout cookies. Sara was very upset about this, and we had a big fight. Ultimately I insisted, but Sara stayed home with the boys.
Very rarely is someone proven so spectacularly and publicly correct! Again, given that I found out days later I had already been exposed, there is absolutely no way I should have gone to see relatives. Sara has done her best not to say, “I told you so”, but boy howdy did that turn out to be an I told you so moment! Like I said, Sara has consistently been a few days ahead of me on this stuff, and these days a few days is an eternity. The situation has been changing by the hour.
Okay, so we spent the day visiting, but we really did have about the minimum social contact possible. Most people didn’t feel like hanging around and chatting.
Monday began our new reality in earnest. Sara and I were both scheduled to work from home, while also beginning a second, full-time job of homeschooling 3 kids. It’s not so much the homeschooling: at this point we are not even really making an attempt to “teach” them anything. It’s more just about keeping everybody occupied and out of each other’s hair.
At the time of writing this, we are one week in and have had….varying success.
Sara prepared a detailed schedule, and it has been a life saver. Even though most of the things are non-rigorous activities like “computer time”, “free time”, “read quietly in your bedroom time”, and “bake with mama”, it both keeps the kids occupied while we try to work, and also helps the day pass. There is something about just saying, “Okay, you have to stop reading because now it’s art time,” that is really just…necessary. I don’t know how else to say it. If the kids were just lounging around in their PJs all day, we would all have murdered each other already.
The most important part of the schedule is that Evelyn and Oliver each have an hour to plan and an hour to give a lesson to Alex. This has gone SPECTACULARLY well! They usually read him a book and then do a craft or lesson based on that book. They have really stepped up to the challenge, and I honestly think it’s the time that all three of them most look forward to in the day. (The part I most look forward to is family game night hour, after Alex goes to bed! It has been so fun to do that every night, even though some nights I would rather just lay in bed and obsessively read the news. Maybe especially on those nights.)
So four days go by, and we’re making it. We have our good moments and our bad moments. I can tell everybody is on edge. We’re already getting sick of being around each other so much (side note: I have never been happier that we moved from the condo to this big old house, then when the 5 of us have been stuck in it together for 9 days!!!), and of course Sara and I are getting increasingly stressed out, and not sleeping well. Even Alex has been a little extra. I can’t help but wonder about what he is absorbing from all of this disruption. He’s not old enough to understand, but he’s certainly old enough to pick up on the mood.
During these days, when people were starting to shut themselves in, is when most of the obsessive hoarding / shopping was going on. At one point the kids asked, “Everybody’s buying up all the toilet paper and food and stuff…why aren’t we stocking up?” Well, good news, kids! Who had a cabinet full of toilet paper before it was cool? Who already shops at Costco on a weekly basis and has pantry shelves full of home-canned applesauce and tomato sauce and enough jam to last SEVERAL lifetimes? (The one thing that we DID panic buy were puzzles. Lots and lots of puzzles. So we got that going for us, which is nice.)
I know it’s not exactly the zombie apocalypse, but…
When I got the call from the hospital on Thursday, saying that I had been exposed to a healthcare provider who had tested positive for Covid-19, it was both quite a shock and also the most expected thing in the world. I had already resigned myself by that point that we were all going to get it, that getting it was inevitable, and that our immediate family was in the low risk for complications category. The important thing was to stay home and limit the spread; something we had already been doing for almost a week at that point (with the exception of a liiiiiitle trip to Wisconsin — sorry guys!). So in effect, it changed nothing.
At the same time, it changed everything.
I will never forget Evelyn and Oliver’s faces when we told them I had been exposed. Sheer terror. It was like this big scary thing that had been turning their lives upside down was now revealed to be in their midst. The call was coming from inside the house. And though I wasn’t panicked for myself, Sara and I did have a couple of hours of just staring at each other thinking, “What are we going to do??” followed by bouts of furious Cloroxing.
However, even by the time we went to bed I think we realized that A) it would be impossible for me to be separated from the rest of the family, and probably unnecessary anyway, because we had been so ceaselessly together for the 6 days since I had been exposed, and B) at this point the chance of death from going stir crazy and murdering each other was higher than the chance of death from Corona. It simply would not be possible for Sara to handle the three kids on her own. (I did volunteer to immediately stop doing any dishes or laundry, JUST TO BE ON THE SAFE SIDE, but she didn’t take me up on it.)
In the days since The Call, things have gone back to normal (if by normal you mean last week. It’s amazing how quickly abnormal becomes normal!). All things considered, the kids have been just great. Not to say we haven’t had our moments, but who can say what kinds of pressures the kids are under. What a disruption of their lives, what a scary thing to live through. I don’t think it is an over-exaggeration to say this will be the defining event of their generation. This is their 9/11. And they are living it right now in realtime.
For myself, it’s awfully hard not to worry.
We are starting to run up against shortages. We’re under a state-wide shutdown now. There are lines to get into grocery stores, because they’re only letting so many people in at a time. Amazon deliveries went from one day, to three days, to no estimated delivery date. We order groceries online, but less than half of what we ordered actually arrives. We have tried to order whole wheat flour from FIVE DIFFERENT PLACES, in addition to going to THREE DIFFERENT grocery stores, and our best bet at this point is scheduled to be delivered next Friday (we have 35 lbs of flour trying to make its way to us from various sources….I’m worried it will all show up, but on the other hand afraid to cancel any of them until I actually have a bag in my hot little hands!)
Given all of that, and even though we have more than enough food already to sustain us for a month if we have to, it is really hard not to start worrying about food. What do you mean, you’re going to dump out half a glass of milk? Do you know what we had to do to get that milk? Throwing away the crust of sandwich? NOT ON MY WATCH, MISTER!
Someone said to me the other day they’re starting to appreciate the hoarding tendencies of people who lived through the Great Depression, and I felt that in my bones.
I should say that I think different parts of the country are at different places with this right now. I think the places that were early hit, such as Washington, California, and New York, are experiencing things a week or so ahead of us here in Chicago, and likewise, we seem to be experiencing things ahead of other parts of the country. It is jarring to see what things are like here in Chicago, and then to hop on Facebook and see people elsewhere just…going about their daily lives. And then a few days later, they catch up and suddenly they’re shutting things down, or changing their habits, and I have to remember that it took me a few days to believe this was a thing that was really happening. It’s a bit like living in the future (except not in a good way). A dystopian future, I guess. But anyway, if you’re not yet experiencing shortages or cancelled deliveries, maybe take advantage while you still can.
Mostly I worry about the economy. People I know are starting to get laid off. I struggle to see how we recover from this. I know we will, eventually. But in the meantime…what happens? What happens when every restaurant goes out of business because they can’t make money when nobody can leave the house? What happens to those servers who they have to lay off, who now can’t pay their rent? What happens when those people get Corona and have to go to the hospital? Who pays for that? How far up the chain does it have to go until my job is affected, or Sara’s?
I think a lot about what this is all going to mean, how it’s going to impact our future. Maybe it’s the Science Fiction writer in me. But I really don’t think things are ever going to be the same. Sure we’ll have a vaccine at some point, and the economy will (eventually) come back. But the world will have been shook to its foundations. Who can predict how that will play out? Who can say what psychological effect this is going to have on all those 4th, 5th, and 6th graders missing out on half their school year? Will social isolation become the norm, and FaceTime hangouts be the way we interact now? Will it be inspiring to young people? Will it cause them to take climate change head on, or lead to a career in medicine or science? Or has it ripped the scales from their eyes too young, as they realize that our social and governmental institutions are a thin veneer, easily punctured, causing an entire generation to live paralyzed under a cloud of fear and anxiety, forever waiting for the other shoe to drop?
I guess we’re all going to find out together. Just like my quarantine: one day at a time.