For those of you who might not know, magazine articles are written well in advance of their publication. As I type these words into my iPad Pro, it’s a clear sunny morning in early April and my family has been social distancing for about a month. As of right now we’re all healthy. Life is moving pretty slowly these days, but with the awareness it could start moving fast at any moment. I don’t know what the world will look like by the time you read this, probably dramatically different while uncannily the same. I hope you and yours are well.
We are a food-secure family that spends more time thinking about how we might give help, rather than how to get it. Our worries so far have been relatively few. My wife Kat already works remotely and my job has me on remote work. Our daughters, Immi and Lorelai, are old enough to manage themselves (mostly) for large chunks of time. We spend all of our time in our house (for which we continue to have enough money to pay the mortgage) except when we need groceries (which we continue to have enough money to buy). We’ve got broadband Internet service and more computers than people. We are immensely privileged.
The biggest peace I’ve found since this began is how, now, almost everything is decoupled from the pressures of time and energy reserves. Before, I’d wake myself up and get ready for work, help get the kids off to school, do a full day at work, come home, help with dinner and homework, tidy up, help with bedtime, and maybe have enough energy to watch a streaming show with Kat before it was time for bed. It was a daily “I have to do this now so I can do that other thing so I have time to do that third thing before I run out of the energy I’ll need to do yet another thing.” Ease and spontaneity were rare, and it felt like finding the time to just be together as a family was the exception rather than the rule.
Under Virginia’s stay-at-home order, we’ve got nothing but time. Kat and I are still putting in full workdays, but if one of us needs to take a break to help the kids, we can. Lorelai can do her schoolwork next to me at the kitchen table. The chores haven’t gone away (if anything there are more of them), but that stack of dishes doesn’t feel nearly as daunting as it did before. I know I’ll have the twenty minutes of time and energy it’ll take to do them at some point, so it’s no big deal. Things just seem to matter less. With no set schedule the next day, what’s the harm in having a later bedtime so we can read together even though someone dragged her feet getting her teeth brushed?
It’s as if the word “now” has been removed from the English language.
It helps that we are a family that has always been able to find joy in retreating to our respective corners. A common weekend would find some of us reading a book, working on a jigsaw puzzle, or playing Minecraft. The house is our natural habitat. Our introvert times haven’t changed, but what we do in between them has. We might go on a walk or bike ride. We might play Animal Crossing on Nintendo together. We might play cribbage. We might FaceTime friends and family. We always could do these things before, but it often felt like there was something else coming up that I’d need to save that energy for.
With the pressure to have to do anything greatly diminished, I find myself voluntarily doing things that I’ve been putting off forever. We have a side porch window that in The Before Time was a place we stored miscellaneous yard stuff and cardboard boxes we were keeping for some reason. We tidied up that area, brought out a card table and some chairs, and now we have a place for doing jigsaw puzzles that doesn’t monopolize a large chunk of the house’s valuable surface area. There was a giant pile of brush in the yard for months; it’s not there anymore.
Without the expectation of productivity or thinking about the opportunity cost of what I could be doing, life just seems to happen. I feel an ease that I haven’t felt for a long time.
There still are days of sadness, and there are days of worry. I mourn that which we’ve lost and will continue to lose. I worry about that which we haven’t lost yet. I’ve given myself permission to feel these feelings, to take the time I have in abundance to fully feel them, and to share those feelings with my family. My family always helps me feel better. There’ve been more hugs and snuggles all around lately.
None of us know what our future will look like in The After Time or how long this will last, but I’m grateful for all the days I get to spend with my three favorite people: Kat, Immi, and Lorelai. I love them, and if I have to shelter in place, there’s no one I’d rather be sheltered with.