As of last week, our county confirmed its first case of COVID-19, and as an added bonus, it was at our local hospital. The state is officially locked down, and the kids are remote for the rest of the school year.
Most of the time I’m on an even keel, but then something small will trigger a wave of feels. Usually it’s related to watching or reading the news, but you never know. The other day, the school dropped off all the kids’ gear; emptied their desks and lockers and sent it all home. That was a hard morning for all of us.
The weather has been ideal for walking–sunny, dry, nice temps for this time of year–but last night it snowed a foot. Not unexpected for northern Maine in April, but not welcome, either.
Since we know the kids aren’t going back to school, we’re trying to buckle down and get a slightly more defined routine in place. It requires a bit more wrangling from us, but I think it’s helping them to have a bit more structure without going overboard. The kids have Zoom socialization sessions with their classes coming up, and I think that’s going to help even more.
I was trying to keep up with art stuff at the start of social distancing but haven’t been in the mood lately. Animal Crossing is providing a mindless creative outlet and escape from the real world. I’m taking a couple vacation days after Easter weekend just to chill and probably catch up on housework. Or maybe not. At this point, I try not to make plans beyond the next few hours, because I never know how I’m going to feel!
We’ve settled into something like a routine–routine lite(tm), if you will.
The kids are spending a lot more time sleeping in our bedroom; I wake up to elbows and knees I’m my side and a kid on the floor more often than not. So we usually wake up as a family around 7 or 7:30, and Tim heads downstairs to start coffee (my hero). We take care of the dog and get breakfast, sitting around the table and talking about our plans for the day.
Don’t worry, it gets much less wholesome and routine-like as the day goes on.
The kids get into their homework (much whining and fussing ensues, even from Ellie, our resident geek and academic superstar) while Tim and I assist, and check in with work-work. They’ll spend a little time with worksheets or reading or online tests. We’re not pushing the schoolwork hard, to be honest. We’re in close quarters and no one wants to fight, so we’ve set a rule that they need to do a bit of homework before screen time–how much they do is mostly up to them. We also set aside a couple chores they need to complete during the day, and remind (ie. nag) them to take screen breaks to play together, call friends, or read.
Once the homework is done, the kids usually hang out with Animal Crossing or their iPads, and we settle in to try to get some uninterrupted work time. This isn’t always possible; the dog is needier than usual (WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME DEMON HOUND), the kids get restless, and once a week I make time to run errands.
Tim takes a break for lunch while I usually work through it (see the post about me being terrible at working from home, don’t be like me). We leave the kids to forage for their own food during the day–no, we don’t literally send them out into the yard, that would be cruel! Besides, it’s way too early in the growing season to get anything of nutritional value, we won’t lock them outside until at least June. Until then, they’re eating a lot of cereal, chicken nuggets, and mini oranges–so, all the major food groups.
I usually get a second “productive” chunk of time during the afternoon; by then, the dog has settled down and the kids do chores or play. We might take a break to walk with my mom if the weather cooperates. Thankfully the kids are good at keeping themselves entertained, although sometimes we have rough days where snuggles are required, and I usually oblige because my job is more flexible.
I try to wrap things up at work around 5, but sometimes it’s 3 or 4 or 6, or whenever I can’t get the kids to stop crawling on me. Tim logs off around then, too, and he usually makes dinner. Even if it’s a “fend for yourself” night, we try to eat our last meal of the day together. You’d think living in the same house all day wouldn’t produce much in the way of news or conversation, but Gwen has a vivid imagination and a lot to say. We are not in danger of suffering from quiet in this household.
After that we’ll settle into the living room to play more Animal Crossing (we spent what would have been the kids’ summer camp money on Nintendo Switches for all, because why not?) or watch TV or play a game. We all head to bed around 9 (bedtime has gotten more relaxed since the kids don’t have to wake up early)–I always intend to stay up late to have some “me time” but that rarely happens. Pandemic life is exhausting.
The most exciting part of the week is take-out night, where we’ll order food from a local restaurant and pick it up on the way home from our weekly grocery run. We’ll rent a movie and make popcorn to make it extra special.
And that’s that. My grief at the things we can’t do has mostly subsided in lieu of appreciation for our collective health and privilege. I’m thankful for the workers who keep the world’s lights on while the rest of us hole up in our homes and wait for the storm to pass. This is hard, but we have so much to be grateful for.
A joke Gwen wrote all by herself (and yes, I am the proudest parent ever):
“How did the kid poop become an adult poop?”
“It went through poop-erty!”
I think it’s starting to hit the kids that they’re not going back to school soon. Gwen this morning, while doing one of her worksheets: “I thought this was going to be fun, but I don’t like it any more.”
Right there with ya, kid.
We’re distracting ourselves with Animal Crossing now. I’m trying to sketch a little every day, even though I’m not really feeling it. We’ve made a commitment to once-a-week takeout from local places, at least while that’s still feasible, and “movie night” is any night we feel like watching a movie. Distraction, distraction, distraction.
The mental exhaustion is taking its toll. I lean hard on escapism and naps, my favorite depressive coping strategies (although I wouldn’t qualify myself as “depressed” right now). I think I’ve accepted the grief, and now I’m feeling pre-survivor’s guilt; I’m just waiting for people to die, even though we have it relatively good here. My imagination gets the better of me when I read about accounts of young, healthy folks succumbing to COVID-19, though.
So I set up a phone appointment with my therapist and I’m looking forward to that. I’m trying to focus on the good things; the weather is great, so we’ve been out for regular walks. Spring is springing earlier than usual. We have plenty of food. We have steady income and understanding employers. I managed to find yeast at our local co-op so I can finally make bread. Shortages appear to be slowing down. I can afford to donate to those less fortunate than us. Gratitude is the bright spot.
Meanwhile, Tim brought home what he referred to as “the white gold” and I immediately knew he meant toilet paper. We live in weird times.
This virus has divided time into two segments for me; Before and After. I’m mostly fine day to day; the anxiety has settled to a low hum (or maybe I’ve just gotten used to it), but then I’ll see a commercial or a photo that depicts something from before, and I’ll get sad. And sometimes the sads drop in for no discernible reason at all.
I’m waiting for Maine to institute a shelter-in-place order; I think we’ll see one soon. I don’t think it would change much, though. We already practice social distancing by virtue of living in the country, so we’re used to hunkering down, especially during the cold months. My goal is to keep our trips to town to once a week, but keeping these kids in food is no joke. I should buy stock in chicken nuggets and ketchup.
This weekend I took them with me on a grocery run so they could get outside and play at the library park (not a playground, just a big open space). It was pretty desolate for a Saturday afternoon; there were a few people out for walks, but many local businesses have already closed their doors to the public.
The kids stayed in the car while I shopped (I checked three stores, and I still couldn’t find any yeast) and picked up a neighbor’s prescription at the pharmacy. We celebrated our first official week of isolation by ordering take-out from The Vault and renting The Addams Family.
We’ve had a couple tough conversations with the kids about what might happen in the coming weeks; namely, they should be prepared not to go back to school or see their friends any time soon, that it’s unlikely we’ll be taking that trip to PEI this summer, their summer camps probably won’t be open (even if they are, I don’t feel comfortable sending them), and even Disney at Christmas is unlikely. It’s a careful balance, trying to give them age-appropriate information without scaring them, but still conveying the seriousness of the situation, and leaving space for all the feelings. What a time to grow up!
We’re saving a lot of money this way, at least. No traveling to Bangor to shop at Target, no vacation budgeting, no visiting family on the coast, eating at home almost exclusively, no movie theaters or date nights. At this rate, we’ll pay off the majority of our debts by the end of the year. Silver linings!
Many of my coworkers have already writteneloquentlyabout their experiences with remote work and how to be an effective remote worker. I’m not going to do that, because despite working from home for the last eight years, I’m not qualified to talk about it. I do everything you’re not supposed to do.
I’m terrible about separating my workspace from the rest of the house. I have a desk, but it’s usually a mess and I’m usually too tired to clean it. I find my dining room chairs more comfortable than my fancy ergonomic one.
I rarely stick to anything more than a very rough sketch of a routine. I sleep in. I leave at 3 pm and return at 8 pm, or I work straight from 9 am to 4:30 pm. I forget to eat lunch, I eat dinner at 4.
Sometimes I don’t bother to put on a bra (that’s what sweatshirts are for), sometimes I curl my hair and wear my Nice Clothes, sometimes I don’t shower until I can smell myself.
I always wear pants. Ahem.
I work when I feel like it. I stop when I’m tired/hungry/a kid bops me on the head with a stuffed animal and asks me to play Monopoly on the iPad for the nth time.
I position myself strategically in front of my camera so my colleagues won’t have to look upon the pile of dirty dishes in the sink behind me. (This is a good thing. You’re welcome, Automatticians!)
I’m a hot mess remote worker, but I do my job and I do it well.
Right now, the fact that any of us are working at all is a testament to the human spirit. It’s hard to feel like moving pixels around on a screen and sitting in a video chat with your team is helping anything when it feels like the world is crumbling around you–but we persist!
If you’re juggling kids and a job and all the regular household stuff and not just staying under your comforter all day, you’re basically a superhero.
And y’know what, even if you’re stuck under that comforter, even if you’re only responsible for you, yourself, and your cat, you’re still a superhero because you’re surviving.
So, COVID-19 real talk. I’m going to make a point of documenting our lives in a bit more detail using this blog, because one day we’ll look back at this series of events and marvel at what a strange time it was.
They closed the kids’ school this week, along with many others in the state. Initially they were slated to reopen in two weeks, but then the governor changed that to “indefinitely”, which leads me to believe kids across the nation are getting the world’s longest summer break, starting now.
Yesterday I picked up their work packets outside the elementary school; I drove up, and Ellie’s gifted/talented teacher handed me her work through the passenger window. She said she was grateful I hadn’t brought Ellie or she might have cried. You can tell their teachers miss them, but they’ve done an amazing job of putting together a curriculum at the last minute.
I also picked up a couple prescriptions for our pets, having paid over the phone so I never had to get out of the car. Weird.
The grocery store was another story; many Hannaford locations in our state offer curbside pickup, but ours isn’t one of them. I’ve never seen the shelves so empty. The run on paper goods like toilet paper is probably the most strange (y’all gonna eat toilet paper when things get bad?), but bread, frozen veggies, and canned goods were picked over, too. I watched a woman pile at least forty bags of frozen vegetables onto the checkout conveyor. We got ahead of the rush by stocking up last week, so I only needed to pick up a few things; I’d hoped to find a sense of normalcy by getting out of the house, but I left the store feeling more disconcerted than ever.
Everything else–dance lessons, counseling, physical therapy, school board meetings, etc.–is cancelled. Restaurants and bars have been ordered to close their dining rooms. We’re only going out to shop for groceries and other necessities. The atmosphere in town is weird, and maybe it’s because we just watched Contagion, but I can imagine society slowly devolving as this drags on. I’m not afraid of the virus, I’m afraid of people’s fear, and the American every-man-for-himself attitude. I hear gun sales are on the rise nationwide.
Thankfully the weather has cooperated and we’ve been able to get out for walks up and down the road. We’re also baking, and playing video games, and watching TV, and reading books. It all feels a bit perfunctory under the circumstances, but we’re trying to keep things as light and normal for the kids as possible.
Throughout all this, our jobs haven’t changed much; people need the internet more than ever, and we already work from home. The mechanics are the same, but the constant anxiety makes it hard to focus. Automattic (as always) encourages us to take the time we need to rest up, and I did take last-minute AFK on Tuesday because I couldn’t juggle the kids and everything else going on in my head. But I don’t want to take too much time because work can be a nice distraction when things feel heavy, and because everyone is experiencing some variation of this slow-moving disaster.
I have a sinking feeling things are going to get worse over the coming weeks and months, as the number of cases in the US continues to rise and we realize we reacted too late. What a house of cards our nation is built on, that one little virus could take so many lives and livelihoods.