It’s been exactly a month since my kids got off the bus after school one day and never got back on.
Thirty-one days of quarantine, or self-isolation, or staying home, or whatever we call this strange situation we find ourselves in. (I know technically those terms all mean different things, but shades of nuance is something my family has set aside this month.)
There are times I look at our family’s situation and feel so incredibly lucky. My kids are old enough to be largely self-sufficient when it comes to the massive and intricate distance-learning load our district has rolled out. They are well-versed in Google classrooms and meet-ups and various technology-based educational programs used to practice everything from math to reading fluency. We have enough hardware for them each to work on their respective tasks at the same time, without the need to share, and our internet is strong and consistent enough to handle the load of their devices coupled with my husband’s work from the basement.
I’m a stay-at-home mom who occasionally works as a writer and freelance editor, so my time isn’t strained with the added stress of a full-time job on top of parenting and teaching.
I am an introvert in a family of introverts. This whole staying-home thing is like living in a favorite sweatshirt—something soft and familiar that we are happy to pull around us, even if we are wearing it more than usual. We have a large property with plenty of outdoor space to run and play, woods to explore, a tree house that becomes a refuge, a driveway with endless room for chalk masterpieces and bike rides.
My husband, who usually travels for work more than he’s home, is home all the time now. Having him home feels like a missing piece of my body suddenly returned, the tissue fusing back into the whole, the scar lines fading.
We play family games and watch movies and have scavenger hunts with coded clues for each other.
I haven’t had completely uninterrupted time like this with my children since maternity leave, and with my husband around as well? Never.
I think about all the ways our privilege is manifesting itself, paradoxically, in this crazy time, and I feel so lucky.
And I also feel like we’re drowning.
I think about what’s going on in the world outside the boundaries of this little bubble, and I feel a weight on my chest that feels like a physical reality.
I have an intense compulsion to hoard money, to sweep all our available nickels and dimes under a rug, into a jar, buried in the yard. And I feel intensely guilty for not having a job that contributes more to our coffers.
I bounce back and forth between children for four to five hours a day (yes, this is how long it takes them to complete their assignments), checking their work, keeping them on track, motivating them when they slump down, head on table, completely done with yet another video, yet another link, yet another step to complete.
When I dare to sit down to sneak a few minutes to myself, I hear “Mom?” within 60 seconds. It is torture. To have the hope of solo thoughts, a taste of solitude for a moment, only to lose it just as quickly, literally drives me crazy.
On the days it rains, I cry. Our large house contracts around me and leaves me gasping for air, for space, for room to move, even though I know I have all the room I could want.
The laundry keeps piling up. Our house, lived in 24/7 for a month now, requires more cleaning than ever.
We have complete food security, and yet making 84 meals a week (and seemingly as many snacks) is exhausting.
I am a positive person. My friends and I joke that my zombie apocalypse skill would be keeping everyone’s spirits up and helping them to keep going. I am predisposed to positive spins and lighthearted jokes, but here’s something I know that is deeper than any spin or bright side:
Things right now? They’re bad.
And good. So good.
What we are experiencing right now is the most painfully pure example of dichotomous truth I’ve ever witnessed.
We are living in the truth of both right now.
There is beauty found in this time with my family, and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done with them.
They are self-sufficient in their work, and they need me constantly.
I am comfortable cocooning in my amazing, delightful space, and I am suffocating from the lack of freedom.
I am desperate to connect with my friends, every cell craving social contact, and I hide from calls and commitments.
I have all the time in the world, and I have no time at all for anything.
I am champing at the bit, straining at the leash, ready to burst back into the coffee shops and the mountain trails and the beaches and the arms of my people, and I don’t know how I will ever go back to human contact and crowds without seeing microscopic danger everywhere, without the noise and bustle completely overwhelming me.
There is not a single truth to this moment. We have at once been given the unprecedented gift of a reset and the unprecedented challenge of losing nearly everything we built our days—our lives—with.
Feeling gratitude and despair are both right. Both true.
It’s a hard experience to sit with, this simultaneous holding of such opposites. It’s ice and fire in the same hand. It’s disorienting. But if we can realize that both truths are valid, that we can grieve and celebrate at the same time, we free ourselves of trying to solve an impossible calculus.
When this is all over, don’t ask each other how it was. We already know.
It was beautiful and impossible.