Well, not entirely kidding. There were (surprisingly) some really good things. This month marks a full year of quarantining for many of us who didn’t have to leave home to work. We are grateful, John and I, to have been able to stay here.
Remember last March as the pandemic was just starting to hit? How does one deal with such a dangerous and unpredictable time? Sometimes it felt as if the ground under our feet was quicksand. Under stress, most of us fall back on habits of a lifetime while integrating what one must from the present. So we coped, and we hoped.
Here’s the story of my side of our little family, and a pandemic gift we stumbled on that has brought all of us closer, even though some of us live thousands of miles apart….
My daughter figured out public schools in Brooklyn were going to close, so she, her husband, and my grandson escaped with a packed car and two frisky kitties and moved in with us near the beginning of March. We’re fortunate to live in a forest with lots of outdoor options, and our house has two floors, one of which easily absorbed a second family. Thankfully, the kitchen is large, too.
There were downsides of course. While everyone else in the place continued to work their jobs virtually, I became my 9-year-old grandson’s #1 helper with school and homework. I’d been using computers for three decades, which gave me some confidence I’d be able to figure out how to do remote learning. Right.
We bought a Chromebook and dove in. He’d never had his own computer, is highly active, and smarter than me. As for myself, I couldn’t remember fractions or algebra (yes, he was doing rudimentary algebra!), and I found I wasn’t as patient as I wanted to be. The “classroom” system of learning baffled both of us, then made us crazy, which means it probably made the teachers even crazier.
But there were moments of fun when we discovered we had simultaneous reactions — throwing up our hands together in despair, walking away when it just got too hard, but then shouting hooray every time we figured something out. We’d look at each other and find ourselves smiling. He became adept using the Chromebook in ways I still don’t understand, but then kids are that way. And we grew wonderfully close.
Meanwhile, my son had been isolating with his family in suburban Maryland from the first of the month, because the day he returned to his office from a vacation, someone down the hall hadn’t come in because she’d been diagnosed with the coronavirus, the first victim in a very large office building. It was an ominous event not only for the patient and her family, but for everyone else who worked in the close-knit group.
Because there are serious health issues in his family, my son takes no chances. He packed up his stuff, went home, and set up an office in his basement. From that point on, he, his wife, and their daughter stayed in their house and backyard, working and going to virtual school. And they got lonely.
The last of my side of the family — my stepdaughter and her husband — live in a rural valley in Southern California and were also isolating. Over the last year, they’ve endured wildfires, floods, and a mudslide that took out their road. (It could’ve been much worse!) They’re two musicians who have each other, their bicycles, their instruments, and three bossy cats for company. Still, they got lonely, too.
Back here in Maine, no matter how busy the five of us were, and how much time we spent together, we sensed we were missing something as well. Our pre-pandemic lives likely had been very much like yours, with trips to grocery stores, dinners with friends, movies, simple things like that, but as March passed into April, we began to understand all of that was over not just for now, but for no-one-knew how long.
Becoming lonely for our “before” life morphed into something difficult to describe, a feeling perhaps, an emotion. It was like an open door that just wouldn’t fit into its historic frame.
This is when a mini-miracle occurred. My son, who is notorious for not answering phone calls or emails or text messages, announced all of us needed to meet weekly for a family Zoom. As far-flung as we are in normal times, and as infrequently as we’re in touch even then, this was a revolutionary concept.
What? ‘See’ each other every week even though we don’t live nearby? It’d been years since all of them had been in school and living at home with us in Santa Barbara….
There’s something unsettling about making a commitment to reverse a longstanding (a couple of decades’ worth of) habit. What if we found we bored each other? Or argued? Worse … what if we discovered we didn’t really like each other all that much anymore?
I was put in charge. I learned how to create a free Zoom. I sent out invitations. And here we are, all of us nearly a year later, with my daughter and her family back home in Brooklyn, still meeting weekly.
We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries together. We discuss baseball and football, which is reliably lively since we don’t all cheer for the same teams. The grandkids drop by to wave and relate news. Last weekend, my granddaughter was riding the family’s stationery bike to earn screen time. Some of us hold up our cats in greeting. Others of us cook and Zoom at the same time. Or eat and Zoom. No one is bored. Everyone shows up most of the time.
We’ve grown a connection among us that feels alive and nurturing. We are alone physically, but not emotionally. The door to life fits into its frame again, and we have a family closeness we’d forgotten.
Dear Rogue Reader … What have you found to make the pandemic better for you?