Here For A Long Time, Not A Good Time. What Now?

Here for a long time

What now, parents? It’s time to consider our next move because the life we knew isn’t coming back any time soon.

I just got the official word that our schools will not be reopening this school year. By now we do have a bit of a routine: my eight-year-old’s morning Zoom meeting has ended and I’ve set her up with some school work at the dining room table (wishful thinking!). My older kids are both logged into their Google accounts, planning out their own school work for the week. I’m trying to get some work done myself at a make-up-table-turned desk in my bedroom. It’s slow going as I have to stop to make lunch and prod the kids to stay on task. But we are figuring it out as we go. This is where we are now.

We’ve all dealt with the initial shock, that sudden collective realization that COVID-19 had been secretly spreading in our communities and we all had to move fast. Trips were cancelled, schools closed, concert tickets refunded. And then there was the second shock and the third as the closures extended beyond the March break and into June. We all hunkered down with our mountains of groceries. “Move less and eat more,” became our way of life. We can wait this out, we told each other. This is the era of Zoom and Netflix and Uber Eats, after all. We will wait it out!

But we can see now that it’s not that simple. There’s no magic finish line in sight after which life goes back to normal. School boards are scrambling to come up with contingency plans in case schools still can’t reopen in September. (The horror!) The New York Times published a story over the weekend that explained how epidemic models are now suggesting we could be in for two years worth of elastic distancing measures. (See the image below.) That’s all to say that we’re in this for a long time, not a good time, friends. Buckle up.

These experts predict that we will see a pattern in which society opens up a little and then the virus starts to spread again. When infections reach a critical point, we will all need to shelter in place again until those numbers are brought down. Rinse and repeat until enough people have been infected to achieve herd immunity without overwhelming our health care systems. (Or until an effective vaccine can be developed, tested, manufactured and distributed–whichever comes first.) It means living with this virus hanging over our heads for a long while. And I don’t know what “opening up” will look like either. Perhaps it will include schools and libraries and restaurants. But will it also include concerts and conferences and international vacations? It’s hard to imagine how those things could be possible.

But no matter how much I understand those models intellectually, part of my brain keeps trying to make sneaky plans. I’ll be driving home from the grocery store and my thoughts will light on the idea of going out for our anniversary dinner. I’ll wince, remembering, and then swat that idea away only to have my thoughts flit around again and start planning for our summer road trip. All of these ideas are shiny possibilities that might not happen, not for a long while. And I need to replace them with some solid future plans to keep from going insane.

So what now? There is no clear direction and there is no timeline, but I do have to stop wallowing. It’s time to step away from snacking on junk food late into the night every night, the 24-hour pyjama cycle and screen-time numbers I’m afraid to look at. And the kids! They need to stop seeing this as a non-stop snack food binge party, mowing through the supply of frozen waffles, cookies, crackers and snack bars I expected to last for weeks. “Mom! Don’t forget we need popsicles and doughnuts,” they call out when I’m going shopping. Excuse me?

And the lazing around! My active kids who walked to and from school every day and had daily gym, recess or seasonal sports practice have become total couch potatoes. I, myself, had just gotten into a solid New Year’s gym routine and bought myself a new bike for getting around on. Now my daily commute is back and forth to the kitchen for coffee refills. I have to practically drag the kids out for family walks to get any steps under our feet, and while I love my kids, I don’t need more time with them these days. I would really much prefer to spend that time walking or running by myself in blessed solitude. But no more!

Some version of these stay-at-home orders is likely to keep cycling back into effect over the next year or two. I don’t know what this summer is going to look like exactly. Camps have been cancelled. Perhaps we’ll still be able to drive up to Toronto to visit with family, but we might have to quarantine for two weeks before we see anybody. I don’t know. My son is starting high school in September, but he might be sitting at the same old home computer table instead of navigating a big new world. Will university students be moving into dorms? What will our political campaigns and elections look like? Will people with family overseas get to hug their loved ones anytime soon? Our world has felt small in recent years, air travel is more easy and affordable than ever before. And now these distances seem insurmountable.

But this is the life we’re living right now. So I need to figure out a way to get us all on track. I don’t know exactly how. It will probably consist of more productive weekday routines that incorporate school work and working hours for myself. Perhaps some scheduled outdoor activities, a fitness program or a skill to learn. We will definitely all need to set some goals for the summer to keep our minds and spirits occupied. But all of this will also need to be administered with grace for the kids and for ourselves. Because, no matter how long it goes on, this is not our normal life.

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