We Are Not Used to This

by Sharon Tjaden-Glass

Both kids are now home.

Both of us are trying to work remotely, tagging each other in as the day allows.

We are creating a New Normal.

We are trying “home schooling” and mandated House Clean-Up times and schedules and nipping bad attitudes in the bud.

We are also just trying to not lose our minds.

I consider it an astounding feat that we have managed to limit TV time to less than 3 hours per day. Winning.

Here’s a real conversation that happened this Tuesday, 3/17.

  • Henry: “Is it Sunday?”
  • Me: “No.”
  • Henry: “Oh, it’s Saturday.”
  • Me: “Nope.”
  • Felicity: “No, Henry, it’s Monday.”
  • Me: “No.”
  • Henry: “No, it’s Saint Patri’s Day!”

Aren’t you jealous?

3/17/2020

***

On Thursday, 3/12, the first wave of anxiety hit me with the announcement of the closure of all K-12 schools in Ohio.

On Sunday, 3/15, we learned that all restaurants would be closing to dine-in customers. The second wave of anxiety hit me. Not because we eat out a lot. Not at all. We actually eat a lot at home.

But it felt like the first sign that soon, very soon, public places were not going to be an option for occupying the kid’s time.

Read: No kid’s museum, no indoor parks, no library, no movies, no all-the-typical-places-where-we-might-take-them-to-stay-sane.

I’m not prone to anxiety. I worry, sure, but anxiety? No, not really.

But the thought of losing my go-to methods of occupying the kids, actually, not even really having a break from home life for 2, 3, or 4 months…

Oh, Sweet, Sweet Jesus.

This is fine meme.
Art credit: KC Green

So after driving to at least four stores to find toilet paper (still haven’t found any. Thanks to friend, Cate, for sharing some rolls), my husband decided that we should order take-out from a local Mexican restaurant, while we still can.

But by the time we got home with the food, he had decided to drop us off with the take-out bags and continue his search for needed supplies, as the thought loomed in our heads: When we will be officially told to shelter-in-place? And are we ready for that?

The kids ate the tacos and beans like champs, happily and hungrily. I stared at my food, cold waves of anxiety rising and washing over me again and again. Feelings that I haven’t had since I had my first baby and my mother returned to her home in Minnesota. That feeling of floating alone in the ocean, holding on to a life preserver, not knowing when the circumstances were going to change. Not knowing if a wave was approaching that I couldn’t see. Not knowing if I had the fortitude to hold on. And then all of the guilt because, let’s face it, I am likely to be just fine. A healthy, 30-something in the suburbs.

Before I knew it, the kids were done with their food, and I was still sitting there, thinking of what I needed to do to get ready for a week with my daughter at home.

They abandoned their plates, leaving the mess behind and disappeared somewhere else in the house.

When I realized they didn’t wash their hands before they had gone upstairs, I yelled at them to do so, but remained there, paralyzed, looking at the take-out bags.

But they washed their hands before dinner. Pretty sure they did. Yeah, they did. Or was it just Henry’s hands?

And then the thoughts started.

You can be asymptomatic for up to 24 days. Wash your hands. Cough into your sleeve. Wash your hands to Happy Birthday. You might not even know you have it. Stay home. Don’t go out. Wash your hands. My hands, but also the kids. All the time. Wash three sets of hands, that’s six hands. Every time you enter and exit a room. The virus can live on surfaces for up to two days. It floats in the air. Someone doesn’t need to cough on you–You can just breathe it in. There aren’t enough ventilators and there may not be enough hospital beds. What about my friend who is pregnant? Is she okay? What about Mom? What if she gets it? Can’t think about that. Can’t let the kids see her until this whole thing is over. What happens when the daycares close?

And then, I started eating. One taco. Two tacos. Three tacos. Chips. Beans. More chips. Salsa. More chips. Beans. The second bag of chips. More salsa. Oreos? What the hell. Sugar felt good. Where’s all the chocolate around here? Maybe some ice cream. Oh, there are cones, too. Hm.

Oh my God, I realized. I’m stress eating.

I haven’t stress-eaten in probably 15 years or more.

When my husband got home, we let the kids play alone upstairs while we processed what was happening around us.

“Sweets, people are getting f***ing crazy out there,” he said, eyes wide. “I saw a guy, two older guys actually, at Sam’s with–I swear to God–nothing but Swiss Miss packets in their cart. Just boxes and boxes of Swiss Miss.”

“Shut up,” I said, relieved at having something to laugh about.

“I’m serious. I’m serious,” he assured me.

It felt good to laugh. (Is there anything more attractive, at this moment, than a partner that can genuinely make you laugh? I think not.) And he was more than happy to oblige, with story after story of Ridiculous Carts in Sam’s Club.

“It’s really hitting me,” he said, “just how many people there are that have literally no idea how to cook. They’re like holding these cans of food and saying things like, ‘Could we make this or this?’ ‘What about this?’ There are people walking the aisles of stores with actual faces of fear and panic. I’ve never seen it like this before.”

And welcome to Life in the Time of COVID-19.

A time when we will choose to either battle our internal demons of the fear of scarcity or succumb to them and war with each other. Over toilet paper and Swiss Miss.

Those end-of-the-world disaster and pandemic movies that massaged our basest instincts to flee or fight, it feels like our brains are feeding on them to fuel our daily behaviors.

We didn’t think we would be here.

Disasters on this scale don’t happen to the U.S., right?

They happen in “third world countries.” They happen in places with less technology and fewer resources. They happen in countries without the same number fighter planes, tanks, and missiles.

Turns out, they happen here, too. We are not so special that we get a pass on this one. Perhaps we shouldn’t have disbanded the National Security Council’s pandemic team in 2018 in the name of reducing big government because “we can get them back if we need them.”

But for some global perspective, let’s remember that Syrians continue to run for their lives as Russian planes swoop in and bomb the living hell out of Idlib. Meanwhile, we are experiencing a very, very, very mild version of the panic and fear that these refugees face every day of their lives.

But we are not used to this.

More specifically, affluent White America is not used to this.

We are not used to restrictions and limitations and “unavailable” and “2 per person” and postponing elective surgeries and schools closing for months and church services moved on-line for safety reasons and March Madness being cancelled. (Okay, honestly, that last one doesn’t bother me at all.)

This is Land of Freedom and Choice and Individualism, baby.

Right?

Not today.

Actually, not for the next 2-4 months.

Now, we’ve got to learn how to be Collectivist, to behave in a way that benefits the common good, to postpone or abandon plans, to cooperate and be kind, to put competition aside so that we can protect lives and ensure that we don’t end up holding the hands of our 60-, 70-, and 80- year old loved ones as they die without proper treatment because of health care rationing.

Think about that.

Toilet paper is the least of our worries.

I’m concerned that there is not enough emphasis on looking out for each other and supporting each other through this difficult time.

That’s what led to my meltdown on Monday night this week, as our son came home from his last day of daycare.

No more daycare. No more support, was how it felt to me.

Now, it’s just the four of us.

No help from grandparents.

Now, we will have to alternate work with care-taking. Now, we will have even fewer quiet moments together without the kids.

Our village of friends, daycare, school, after-school programs, libraries, and church just collapsed into the space of our home.

I wasn’t prepared for this. None of us were.

So that’s where I’m at with coping. How about you?

If you’ve got a story about Ridiculous Pandemic Carts, I could really use a laugh.