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?
What an interesting compilation of family activities and "discoveries" you experienced during the "lockdown, Gayle." As for me, I too "fell in love" with Zoom — what a great way to attend meetings, renew friendships and connect with family! Needing to stay at home more, though, also encouraged me to hunker down and write more books– many more novels than ever before….and that did turn out to be a nice, creative reaction to this whole pandemic!….Karna Small Bodman
Thank you so much, Karna, for your kind words. And I'm thrilled at your increased output! Hooray! So love your political thrillers!
Gayle-What a fun family time you all have set up for yourselves. I love Zoom calls–especially when you can turn the video portion off–like still in PJs! I do my meditation with Zoom and the friend that holds that call started a new Zoom class–Telling Our Stories. It is a small group but we have all bonded well. We'll probably keep it going after we are done isolating and I woudnt be surprised if Meditation doesn't stay as Zoom!! Hope you and John and family are doing well. I just got my first vaccine last week so on my way to going more places.I do miss my family though-except for my daughter we are all in town so somehow we just never thought of Zooming. My daughter will be moving to Kentucky to live with me sometime this summer so will be so glad to have her close. We have seen each other a few times-she has had some foot surgeries and I went up to Ohio to take care of her (and the dog and 2 cats). But being co-located will be far better. I picture your house and surroundings and probably wouldn't mind as much not going anywhere if I had that to stare at!!! Hugs, Debi
How wonderful to hear from you, Debi. What a terrific idea to meditate via Zoom, and also love the idea of "Telling Our Stories." John and I are getting our second vaccination tomorrow — so exciting, and such a relief. Glad you're in the pipeline, too. Fingers crossed for the rest of the world. I'm so glad your daughter and you will be together soon. Children are so precious, even when they get so darn grown up! x
Very true, I’m so many ways! As stressful as the pandemic was and is, your grandson will never forget working through all the problems with you.
My life, actually, didn’t change so radically, since my husband already worked largely out of the house and I, as a forensic specialist, ‘got’ to keep going to work every day. I do worry, through the perspective of my middle school teacher niece, how kids’ education has been affected. If I wanted to mention good things, can count a few—businesses discovered just how much work can be done from home. And I got the garage cleaned out!
OMG, you got the garage cleaned out? You are my heroine! I'm glad you've stayed safe through all this year with the important forensics work you do, Lisa. I think about that sometimes and am in awe. And I love the way you weave it all through your books. I always feel not only satisfied by a great adventure and mystery, but also that I've learned a lot along the way. Thank you!!!!
We did Family Zooms, too. We also held gender reveal parties, baby showers and birthday parties. We’ve started phasing them out again, but I feel motivated now. I’m going to jump off here, go set up a Zoom and invite all the kids!
I just created a new zoom to invite my kids tomorrow! We're on the same track! I've really enjoyed getting to know them in this new way. They've turned out to be so funny and fun and occasionally LOUD. Aren't we lucky!
You know, my husband and I took more daily walks, too.
So many people have told me that, Chris. What a wonderful change in lifestyles. I know I love my alone times with John, which seems kind of crazy because we're both working from home, but that's the thing … we're both working, him in his office, me and mine, so when we finally are together, wowee! 🙂
Great blog, Gayle! Love the photos, except that one of the old guy sitting in front of the computer screen.
Oh, you handsome dude! You are so modest! 😊💘
What a gift of family–and flexibility–and adaptation, Gayle. I love this portrait of your Year In. I relate to much of it, and admire the rest. Here's to keeping the gifts when the new normal ensues.
I love the way you say it, Jenny, "keeping the gifts when the new normal ensues." Yes, I've been thinking about that, and wondering what will happen, too. Still, this challenging period's sweetness will stay with me, and I can't imagine anything but good from it will follow. 😊
Love the stories, Gayle, and the positives. The Zoom family get-togethers are, and will be, treasured. Can't say there were many silver linings to my pandemic year but my daughter and I did sign up to run a half-marathon together and found some great online training materials. And I sighed up for a half-marathons in Ireland. Ever the optimist. 😉