Are you currently possessed by the eerie sensation of being trapped in a science-fiction fantasy? I am. It didn’t help that my family was on “vacation” until yesterday, and I felt like a delinquent parent even dragging my kids through an airport while some people are hoarding rice and Lysol.
My children’s skin is probably permanently wizened into Hobbit-like wrinkles from my compulsive slathering with Purell. And it didn’t even feel like vacation, since I was constantly checking Twitter, the news and my email to get the latest coronavirus dispatches from home, all while standing in line with smiley, blissfully calm retirees at Fenway South Park. Which world is real? I don’t even know anymore.
Actually, yes I do: The coronavirus has come to my town, and a parent at my older son’s school was tested (luckily, they turned up negative). It feels like a matter of time before they shut down all of the schools and implement distance learning; I almost felt guilty even sending my son out the door today, under a false guise of normalcy.
I know everyone’s trying their hardest to stay calm and to stay clean, but really, a deep sense of dread and bracing seems to have descended on my neighborhood. I have an ongoing text chain with a few close parent-friends, and we’re constantly swapping notes about the latest case, news, data and missives from the superintendent. Who’s next? What’s next?
One thing is for certain: For those of us with the luxury of a job that allows it (and, yes, it is a luxury), working from home seems like the way to go to stem the spread. I’ve worked remotely (that sounds more sophisticated!) for more than a decade and have perfected it to an art, if not a science, but for many parents, it’s a totally new experience. Add in the potential for school closures, and there’ll be no need to crowd grocery stores: We’ll be ready to eat our young.
A bit of advice from someone who’s been there:
Work when you’re at your most productive.
Sometimes you can’t control meeting times. But to the extent that you’re able, work when you’re at your most energetic, such as early morning or late at night. Without the traditional parameters of commuting and office hours, you can make your body clock work for you even more. Consider the possibilities! (Really!)
Ain’t no shame in an iPad.
You are not a bad parent if you need to stick your kids in front of a screen more than usual right now, even if it’s YouTube videos of kids opening boxes (why do my children love these?). We are living in strange times. Go easy on yourself and lower the bar.
As much as you can, eat regularly instead of dead-eyed and paralyzed by indecision in front of an open fridge. It helps me to cook extra at dinner and then have leftovers for lunch for when I get lazy or absorbed in what I’m doing.
Repeat after me: Your home is not your office.
It’s really easy for work to overtake your life when you’re tethered to your laptop on your sofa. Suddenly, your home, your sanctuary, has become your base of work operations…and there’s no escape! It’s not healthy. Set aside designated places to work, or better yet, make certain areas off limits, such as your bed. (I am currently writing this from my bed and hating myself all the while.) Some areas need to function solely as a refuge from the crazy outside world.
Engage with humanity.
This is admittedly not easy when we’re told that social distancing is the best way to slow this thing, and yet: Do what you can. Go for a walk. Grab a cup of coffee. Remind yourself that, to some degree, life still hums along with a certain element of normalcy and that the world is bigger than your email, computer screen and sense of impending doom. It’s easy to get lost inside your own head right now, so nudge yourself (and your kids) out of that place as much as you’re able.
Remember when we were kids, back in ye olde tymes before the internet? When we got bored, we had to do things like…play board games. Go outside. Talk to one another. Weird, right? As horrible as this situation is, it’s also an opportunity to reconnect with your family on a more human, maybe even more leisurely, scale. If there’s any silver lining at all, it’s a newfound sense of togetherness. Embrace it. But then wash your hands.