It’s been about four weeks since my world starting to turn upside down. Depending on where you live, it may have been less time or more. Things with the coronavirus had been looking dicey before then, but it really started hitting home for me around four weeks ago. That was the start of what has become the new normal around our house.
I work from home on a full-time basis. We have three teenagers who are finishing up high school. My wife is a research accountant at the university. Basically, I was accustomed to having the house to myself during the day—with two dogs and two cats roaming around.
Suddenly March Break for the kids was extended and then became semi-permanent. Two of them saw their jobs suspended immediately, with the businesses shutting down—hopefully, temporarily. The third hasn’t had a shift in weeks. My wife is working from home as well. My office isn’t large enough to comfortably accommodate two people, so she is set up at the dining room table. After two days of working there (and recognition that this isn’t ending any time soon), we ordered an ergonomic office chair for her. We were able to get it from a store offering “curbside” pickup. I had a 32-inch monitor in storage waiting for a review, and it’s getting serious, hands-on use now… Fortunately, Amazon was able to deliver the necessary cable to connect her laptop. The dining room is now half “office” and half eating surface. It’s not exactly elegant.
Afternoons and evenings can be a challenge, thanks to half the house adopting their online gamer personas. The trash talk and music is loud enough to carry through air vents and into my office. I have a choice of turning up my own music to drown them out or wearing headphones. But at least they can interact with their friends this way because IRL is not an option. Our internet plan and high-speed, whole-home mesh Wi-Fi have more than stood up to the constant bandwidth onslaught. Knock on wood…
We’ve always kept a fully-stocked pantry and freezers, so thankfully we were able to avoid the panic rush to grab supplies. Still, we’ve been going out for groceries once a week, including shopping for elderly parents. That process still fills me with dread. On top of the necessary (but disconcerting) measures in place at the stores—cart disinfection and social distancing—returning from grocery shopping is a decontamination exercise. All the groceries are wiped down with Lysol Wipes (fortunately we had plenty of those on hand), all the clothes worn go immediately into the washing machine, and everyone involved has a shower. My credit card and iPhone are washed. I wipe down the house, the vehicle, and keys.
Basic house decontamination has actually become a ritual I undertake every morning after I’ve filed my first assignment for the day. I take Lysol Wipes and tackle every doorknob, drawer knob, light switch, faucet handle, handrail, appliance handle or control, and TV remote in the house. Any surfaces that may have been touched. Then I go out and disinfect the outside of the front door and the mailbox. It may all be for nothing, but I feel better doing it. I start to feel antsy if it’s 10am and I haven’t yet done my rounds.
There have been some great things about the current situation. With no commute in the picture, my wife and I are able to enjoy an hour each morning having coffee and reading before hitting our respective “offices.” With no part-time jobs in the picture for the kids, we spend more time together in the evenings as a family. We’re able to order (no contact) takeout here and there, and instead of feeling guilty about not making dinner, it’s seen as a positive—we’re helping out a local business and tipping generously to help out the delivery driver.
There are constant worries, of course. Obviously, COVID-19 itself is the big one. Besides the frightening health aspects, I look around what is currently a pretty cramped house, trying to figure out how we could effectively isolate someone if they showed symptoms. With the warmer weather, I’ve actually started eyeing the trailer in our driveway. It doesn’t have a bathroom but has everything else someone would need to be comfortable.
In addition to keeping them healthy, we’re worried about the kids and what happens this fall. Two were in the process of post-secondary education acceptances, the third was starting a co-op program as an electrician. The current school year situation (will the year ultimately be canceled?) throws all those plans up in the air. Even if applications are finalized, without their jobs, coming up with tuition money for the fall suddenly becomes a big maybe at best. Making that situation even worse, the value of the education saving plans we had been paying into since they were born plummeted in value when the markets crashed.
We’ve also been busy canceling vacation plans. We pre-paid plane tickets to Vancouver in May for a trip that clearly won’t happen. We just canceled the hotels for that trip today. When the situation escalated, we were literally days away from a deposit on a house in Cape Cod for a summer vacation that now seems like an extreme long shot. It’s not just that the vacation won’t happen—that’s a minor issue in the grand scheme of things and falls under the “first world problems” category—it’s the fact that this is the last year we can count on the kids all being at home. Next year, who knows? They may be living in other cities. They may be working and unable to take the time off. A family vacation with the entire family may not be in the cards.
When I was a kid, I remember always finding it amusing that my grandmother would never throw away used tin foil. It always had to be saved, added to a ball in a kitchen drawer. When I asked why she was saving the foil, it was a “war” thing. Growing up in the World War II era, households were asked to save tin foil for the war effort. She never stopped.
My morning ritual of wiping down household surfaces with Lysol Wipes is becoming so deeply ingrained that I suspect when I’m in my seventies, it will be my “tin foil ball.”