Thursday, April 9, 2020

#ParkTV As I See Things (Seven) A Pandemic and a Pause Button

The world we knew just a few weeks ago, a week ago, a few days ago, even last night, will never be the same. None of us will ever be the same after Covid19.

The last full week in February, I went on a writing retreat at Wellspring House in Ashfield, MA. While there I took walks, napped, meditated, read, and FINALLY finished writing my novel. I have been working on the damn thing in one form or another for twenty-five years, so needless to say, that felt quite good. I spent a ton of time alone during that week and missed my family quite a bit. 

My alone time at Wellspring House was like a dress rehearsal for this, the world during a pandemic, our new normal. 

My sister texted me while I was still in MA: “Virus has escalated. Buy food as soon as you can. At some point everybody will. Best to be ahead of the game.”

I texted back, “Thank you.”

She texted, “Also any medications. Over the counter or prescription.”


I pushed back from my writing desk. I had seen the crisis coming, but wanted to pretend it wasn’t true. 

So, here we are. At long last. We’re here.

This is “The Zombie Apocalypse” I have been warning my children about. It’s finally arrived. And maybe, just maybe, that’s not such a bad thing. 

I’m not saying it is good that people are suffering or dying or that it’s good that the economy has tanked. Stress is at an all-time high for so many and that isn’t great, but it’s like the world has paused. That’s the good part. We’ve hit the pause button.

After I processed what my sister had communicated, I had to clear my head. I went downstairs for a cup of tea. She’s smart. Very bright. Knows way more than I do about most things. I tried to forget what she said for the time being. I was on a writing retreat. I wanted to feel peace. 

John, the Wellspring House writer-in-residence, stood near the stove. “Have you been keeping up with the news while you’ve been here?”

“Sort of.”

“By news I don’t mean politics. I mean the Coronavirus.”

“Oh,” I waved my right hand through the air as I poured water into my cup with my left. “I don’t usually pay attention to hysteria surrounding this sort of thing.”

“Oh, that’s where you’re wrong. I trust my resources. This is the real deal.”

So… I couldn’t ignore it. I had to allow it in. Had to give it more thought. 

I took my tea back to my room and settled into the chair at the desk. The woodsy view from the window had become familiar during my time there. There was still a dusting of snow. A squirrel climbed out onto a nearby branch; it skittered along and stopped close to me. Our eyes met through the glass.

Squirrels are always in fight or flight mode. They always look scared. They’re surviving. Little did I know then, in the coming weeks I would become more like that squirrel than I ever thought possible.

I didn’t store up massive amounts of food or toilet paper, but I picked up extra canned food here and there during the following week. When my husband stopped at the grocery store on his way home, I asked him to grab whatever he thought might be good to have on hand. He came home with tissues, paper towels, Chef Boyardee (yuck.) 

I’m not a foodie, but I cook every meal from scratch. Canned food is not my typical go to, but it doesn’t go bad and can be stored for a long time. 

I worked that whole week with the threat of the Coronavirus on my mind and with my sister texting me articles and my boss establishing new protocols which included social distancing and extra hand washing. I called my doctor to get backup prescriptions for my two asthmatic children. I made larger amounts of food every night and stored more than the usual amount of leftovers in the freezer.

The next two weeks were a blur in my classroom. A blur at home. My family thought I had gone crazy when I would try to talk about Covid-19. I had a wild look in my eyes as I described the pandemic which was inevitable.

I lost patience with my teenagers once during the weeks leading up to the schools closing and the local businesses adjusting to the Governor’s mandates. I had asked my kids to move our recycling bins from the side of the driveway into the garage while my husband and I went vegetable shopping. Five hours had passed while we were gone and when we returned with the groceries, the bins were still in the exact same spot. 

Filled with rage, I entered the house to find my teens. I needed to make them understand how lazy they had been. How inconsiderate. I didn’t take a deep breath to remain calm. I didn’t become Zen before I spoke with them. Each teenager, glued to a different screen, sat in a different room and hardly noticed I had returned. 

“I thought I asked to have those bins moved!” I shouted as I went from room to room disturbing their peace. Each teen looked up, bleary-eyed and confused about why I would rant and rave like a lunatic. Who is this woman and what is she saying?

I called them to the table for “Family Meeting,” a concept we’ve used for years to remind ourselves of rules and expectations. 

I am not proud of how the meeting went or the things I said. 

I told them I had failed them as a parent. I had raised such lazy children. Selfish children. Technology had stolen them from me. They ALWAYS stared at screens when they should be living in the real world. They feared actual telephone calls with actual humans and they avoided talking to one another all the time! How would they ever get the needed skills to function in the real world if they couldn't do a simple thing like move the bins I had asked them to move? I even said that my life would be easier if I didn’t have to do EVERYTHING around the house!

I don’t do everything… But I had lost my mind. Not my finest parenting moment. 

With the stress of this virus and feeling as if we were all at risk every time we left our home to go out into the world, the bins not being moved was my breaking point. Hey, I’m human. 

They said they were sorry. They would try harder to help out. They didn’t mean to be so selfish. I apologized for flipping my lid.

And I felt guilty. So functional, right? Our dysfunction is out. 

We’re being asked by this virus to stop living the way we have lived for so long. Almost the entire world has hit the pause button. And it is okay. It’s more than okay. It’s what my family needed. A pause. A much needed one.

Here it is. This is where we are. We have all stopped and taken an emotional inventory. We are following a schedule so we can all share the space without wanting to kill each other and we’re holding daily family meetings, we’re working together to cook meals, we’ve taken many walks together. We do our chores. All of us... 

They’ve stopped sneaking peeks at screens and are homeschooling fairly well as far as I can tell. 

A microscopic life formcame to our rescue and I am getting “quality time” with my family. It’s like a bonus: extra time with my teenagers before they move away. And they are paying attention to the world now because it has become real. My resentment has melted away as well.

We just took a walk with our neighbor and as we said goodbye to him, the five o’clock church bell rang out. We didn’t hug him like we normally would. 

Vermont is officially on “lockdown.” And so it begins...

1 comment:

  1. Is it wrong that I grin at the idea of you in wild-eyed anxiety deciding that your children's' whole way of life is bad because they didn't move the bins? And at them gazing at you in wonder?

    For me it was the pot roast. "The whole world is falling apart and you can't even make a pot roast! I can't DO EVERYTHING!!" while they gaze at me, agape in the exact same way, probably, as their cousins (your children) had done several days before, without any real fear or anger or shame because they see these our tantrums as rather curious (though annoying) aberrations. They're not scared of us. They're not truly scared of anything. We carry that.

    Does that make us good moms or bad moms?

    Today, Aster removed dozens of stitches from a wound on my face left by a plastic surgeon who had removed an aggressive basal cell carcinoma. Aster did this medical procedure between watching something on youtube and playing a video game, with absolutely no sense of the drama of the moment. They were kind, efficient, careful, and totally done with it once it was over. Back to the video games.

    Danny takes his life in his hands to go to the drug store, also between video games and online socializing. I ask myself, "Is it worth risking my son's life to get this from the drug store?" When I point out to him that this is the question, he rolls his eyes. "It's not like that," he says.

    But there is a calculus. If I, at 58, get sick, I could die. His odds at 23 are better. But if there were any certainties, rather than mere odds, I would claim the illness with all jealousy of a mother of any species protecting her young. Yet I am needed, so if we can all survive, that is best.

    So he went to the drug store, and I stayed home. I don't even know if we actually thought it through or just went with it.

    Your life is on pause and your children seem to have taken something essential to heart that isn't fear. I am haunted by numbers and an acute understanding of what's coming and I feel like the pause is the ocean is pulling back from all the beaches, but the tidal wave is coming. It might sweep me away, or my children, or you or some member of your family. So I draw from you some hints about how to live in this giant pause.

    How to wave a hand and not follow that stuff.


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