We were early to the shelter in place party. On March 7th, we received notice that a faculty member in the school system tested positive, and schools would be closed for two weeks. Naively, we thought we were granted a two-week reprieve from the craziness. A ticket to slow down and work from home, clean the basement, cook some food, play some board games, watch a few movies. It was as if life was put on pause, and we could organize and go back to living.
And then life starting turning back on. The schools started sending homework and then holding Zoom classes. Violin resurfaced over FaceTime, skating “off-ice” over Zoom, ballet over Band. There were concerts to live stream and virtual parties to join.
But I still didn’t feel like I was living, I felt like I was waiting. Why do I feel this way when I’m still doing the things I used to do?
We are still working in roughly the same way we were working before. Meetings, writing emails, making slides…still the same gargantuan volume of slides. Still dealing with politics, company reorgs, personalities, demands.
The kids are still learning and doing math worksheets, writing essays, reading books, complaining about teachers and freeloading group mates.
We are still interacting with friends by texting, calling, Zooming. We play Mah Jongg online, attend knitting class, have drinks with couples who live far away.
We still see family even more than we did before. We joined two Seders for Passover, not having to disappoint one side this year.
We are still cooking, cleaning, shopping in fantastical quantities.
We are still going outside to walk, to go on drives, to ride bikes. We play catch in the field. We read on beach chairs in the yard. We tried to plant herbs (in vain).
We are still exercising we run, we do yoga videos, we do core workouts as a family, we stretch.
We still celebrate birthdays and milestones and holidays. We do drive-bys, we decorate the house, we attend virtual celebrations, light candles, sing, and make cakes.
It still doesn’t feel the same. I asked my family if they feel like they are waiting or living.
My husband and older daughter say they’re living. My husband is enjoying being handy. He fixed the toilet, oiled the bike chain, reconfigured the WiFi. He’s reading the paper and watching TV. He’s happy as a clam. My older daughter loves getting up a full 5 hours past regular high school wake up time every day. She stays in her room and talks to friends over FaceTime just like before. She’s happier than a clam.
I am waiting. I am stir crazy. My body aches. My emotions go in waves. I stare at photos of the beach. I am close to giving up on this seclusion thing. I long to go to the grocery store. I surf Airbnb.
My youngest, she says she is “dead.” Despite having a packed schedule and endless screen time and a house full of toys and a yard full of swings and daily bike rides and even outdoor playdates with the neighbors (shhhhh), she cries every day.
Here’s what we’re not doing:
We aren’t making plans for the future. We’re not booking flights, we’re not buying new clothes for camp, we’re not deciding which side of the family to visit for what holiday. We’re not even figuring out carpools and child care coverage for business trips.
We are not experiencing new things with all of our senses. We attend concerts and we hear the music, but we’re not absorbing the smell or the heat or the taste. We’re not giving our brains the same ongoing stimulation that it’s used to.
We aren’t always guessing. In a way, these days are the most unpredictable in that our jobs are insecure and the fear of illness and even death is looming like never before. But most palpably, each day brings predictability. We never run into an old friend or overhear a fascinating exchange on the train. We never have much to talk about at dinner. We know exactly what tomorrow brings, and it does not bring novelty or the unknown.
So I wait. I wait until I can dream and plan and experience the unexpected so I can live again.