During my time as a copy editor I read thousands of news articles. In December 2019 I was laid off and had to get a real job. The last articles I edited were about the novel Coronavirus. I worked in the Capitol just under two months before begging to work from home again. I couldn’t believe I had set everything up only for it to fall down.
My husband and I argued about the time we were allowed to work and the time we were allowed to sleep, and everything in between. But then we’d have a couple of easy days, where the kids would play and we would work, and it occurred to me what we had in fact set up was a little stress factory of our own making: we had set up a house of cards.
When “Mom started working at the Capitol,” she (I) had to be at work at 7:30, which meant I had to leave home at 7:10 at the latest (after scraping windows – this was January) and wasn’t able to help get the kids ready for whichever combination of care providers they were headed (three for Immy, three for Beeb, one for both together).
We had an hour together in the morning, during which time I would be worried about getting out the door. Later, I would be the last mom at pickup, no dinner plan would somersault into bedtime, and another day would be over. Three hours together per weekday, and that wasn’t even taking into consideration how much outsourcing cost.
We had a “joke” during that time that the weekends were harder than the weeks: our family quickly grew accustomed to being apart and, once reunited, we would either over-plan or spin our wheels or both. Frustration would abound and we would find ourselves looking forward to staring at our computers in relative silence again… separately.
Fast-forward to mid-April: we are both still working full time from home. We have no childcare because it doesn’t exist, but we have realized when we both work from home we can do without it. When the weekend rolls around we grab a few things and go to the beach for as long as we want. It’s the easy time again, the way it’s supposed to be.
Obviously, we weren’t able to do this a month ago when we were obligated to go in to work. But I know I am not alone in saying I wasted a lot of time at the office. I am much more productive at home, where I can take a break and pitch in when I am needed and where it’s obvious when I am not. My husband, as it turns out, never had to go in!
It is worth stating at this point that since we moved to Juneau in 2016 I have felt pretty isolated at baseline. It feels like a fail when, after a raucous holiday video conference with cousins and grandparents, our house is a different level of quiet. Video is a pretty meager substitute for spending time together with family, as everyone is now able to see.
We are making our own way, my husband tells me in these moments, as we bundle the kids up for yet another walk. You are making your own way, say our family members in California and Wisconsin. And of course, the nature: the ocean, the mountains, the view. It is fulfilling to be surrounded by such dramatic beauty, even if one has had to learn it.
The virus, awful, bewildering, and consuming as it is, has made some of my guilt go away. Mandated distancing has allowed me to relax about my kids not seeing family; I’ve been able to mom without feeling as though our choice to be third-staters has left our kids craving, stunted without the precious grandparent time that informed every aspect of my own child- and young adulthood.
This pause is a deep breath for everyone. It took me a while to see that personally, because I was in a necessary-but-indulgent I-have-to-go-see-ya mode. And just when we realized we didn’t need the racing or the expenditure, the talk has returned to reopening: before the worst of it hits; before it has run its course. I feel physically threatened by the impending media onslaught.
Yes, I want to be able to donate to The Salvation Army and pick up my inter-library loan books and participate in life. I don’t want to have social anxiety about my mask or the post office or my daughter waiting outside. But I am also not much of a consumer and I don’t want things to go back to the way they were.
And this is not just me, obviously, doing my loop-de-loops around Juneau. In Nairobi, from a skyscraper shaped like a glass bullet, the jagged peaks of Mt. Kenya are visible. In India and Pakistan, the Himalayas can be seen. Los Angelenos are breathing better air than they have in decades.
We’re being given a chance. We might do what’s right, but my guess is we’ll squander it. Until whatever happens happens, we will be at the beach, at home by the fire, repeat.
4 thoughts on “COVIDiaries-19: When the House of Cards Fell”
Thanks for taking the time to write this, Jamie. It’s moving and smart and funny and I want a book of these. (Love the pictures, too!)
Thank you very much for reading! My writers’ group in Juneau, 49 Writers, may be putting together an exhibition on the topic when this is in our rearview.
lovely to read and to see – thanks Jamie
I hate to see you so stressed out, but it’s good seeing you often make the best of things.
All of us dads like to feel we can fix things for you… and are sad when we are helpless.
“Good judgement comes from experience, and a lot of experience comes from bad judgement” – Will Rogers