by Bea Clements
Friday, March 14, 2020 marked my last day of work. Had I known then, I would have rescued my now likely deceased potted plant, but at the time I thought I was just heading into another weekend. On Saturday, an email popped up that my daughter’s daycare was closing and, hours later, as we watched the president reassure everyone that the Corona crisis was “under control,” my manager called to say my services would not be needed for the foreseeable future.
In the span of a few hours, I went from working full-time to becoming homemaker and stay-at-home mom to my five-year-old daughter.
Initially, panic overwhelmed me as I imagined excruciatingly long days filled with limited adult interaction, hours of Play-Doh and Candy Land, and relentless cleaning and food preparation – not to mention the loss of income and the knowledge that there was no end in sight for this increasingly serious situation.
Yet, the first week was surprisingly fun.
It was punctuated with moments of anxiety, of course, but overall, my daughter was thrilled to have a week together (little did she know how much longer it would be). We resurrected our old camping tent one dewy March morning, set up our hammock and folding chairs, then huddled around our fire pit, counting the stars that night and making gooey s’mores.
We played UNO, made jewelry, and went for walks without a destination in mind for the first time I could remember. I began cooking again for pleasure; a novel idea I would have scoffed at merely a week prior. My anxiety was tempered by a sense of gratitude that my husband is still working and that I have the luxury of staying at home when a few years ago, this would have been an unsustainable option.
However, by week two, the reality of Corona set in and I began to feel unsettled by a lack of routine.
The initial novelty of a week at home with no one but me began to wear off for my daughter. She started asking when she could see her friends and return to preschool. At the top of her lungs she screamed, “Coronavirus!” when I asked her what she wanted for breakfast one morning.
Quickly, I realized that for this to work, I’d need to set up a daily schedule for the preservation for our collective sanity. After reaching out to some friends and researching online, I devised a breakdown of each day with plenty of built-in outdoor time. That week, we hiked Belle Isle, biked around the lake at University of Richmond, practiced letters and numbers, and completed various arts and crafts using Pinterest as a guide.
Chores that I once dreaded, and only completed while half asleep, were no longer as painful when I wasn’t drop dead exhausted. Even folding the hated laundry became tolerable as I binge-watched shows at night.
Three weeks in, and I’ve accepted the predicament that is Corona quarantine.
I’ve begun to enjoy watching my days unfold gradually versus following the rigid schedule I once adhered to. PC (pre-Corona) weeks consisted of jumping from task to task without much time to reflect, think, or contemplate. My husband and I frequently snarled at each other, each of us exhausted by the demands of juggling work, childcare, and household duties with neither of us able to carve out alone time.
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, before Corona, I wasn’t fully enjoying my life. Days consisted of rushing. Mornings were chaotic and stressful as I prepared both my daughter and myself for work and daycare. Immediately from work, either my husband or I would take our daughter to gymnastics as the other dashed home to prepare dinner. Often, I would fall asleep while reading our bedtime stories only to wake up and do it all again the next day. Our lives felt like Groundhog Day with no end in sight.
My house was a disaster; I was barely staying afloat, and I constantly felt a nagging sense that I wasn’t exercising enough. My marriage was tense and overloaded and I was sure that I was failing as a mom and friend. I paid bills on my phone during breaks at work. Friends’ birthdays came and went with nothing more than a friendly reminder from Facebook. Frequently, I would perch on the toilet with a computer in my lap, working as my daughter played in the tub at night. Still, I plowed ahead, driven by the proletarian mentality to stay busy and productive.
Today, I’m experiencing Spring through an entirely new lens.
I’ve witnessed our tiny Hydrangea buds uncurl, displaying lettuce-like emerald leaves. My daughter and I have completed hikes along the James River and through Pocahontas Park, Dogwood Dell, Pump House and Forest Hill. We’ve marveled at the Eastern redbuds, Dogwood trees, and cherry blossoms that dot our streets. Tulips abound, my daughter has made a game of “I spy” on the lawns of our neighbor’s homes. She’s learned to ride a two-wheeler and write her first and last name, plus we’ve both been enjoying an hour of yoga daily. I’ve tackled the piles of clothes she’s grown out of and have stored them away neatly in labeled boxes. Even cleaning out the fridge has been a satisfying task.
My marriage has improved tremendously too. My husband is able to come home from work, relax, then join us as a family. I didn’t realize how much stress was created with both of us working and wanting time to decompress after work when our daughter needed us most. I know it’s not possible for many families – and it hasn’t always been possible for mine – but I am grateful for the chance to discover how having one partner caring for the home offers a buffer for the one working outside the home.
Dinners are laid back and casual; even our daughter’s bedtime routine is more lax. We enjoy game night every evening. My husband and I then are able to catch up after our daughter is asleep, enjoying a show or reading.
Before all this, I would try to squeeze in a call on the car ride home from work but conversations were inevitably interrupted by my daughter. Other times I couldn’t even muster the energy to call simply because I needed to space out and listen to music after a long day. Connecting with family and friends felt more like a chore and duty.
Even though we haven’t been able to physically meet up with friends, I feel more connected to those I love than ever. Similar to the Brady Bunch with everyone’s picture in a tiny square formation, Zoom has afforded us the opportunity to pick times to connect with multiple family members. Now, we have video calls with my 91-year-old grandma on a regular basis. She shows us the medical masks she’s been making and shares stories about her childhood and other aspects of her life.
My daughter and I make birthday cards at home and discuss the markings on butterflies during our leisurely walks. We go exploring and find box turtles perched on logs at Belle Isle. I’m not barking at her to hurry up, get dressed, we’re going to be late! Pancakes can be made on a weekday. Even now, I’m fortunate enough to be sitting in our dining room, writing, as she completes her numbers workbook. Wind chimes are sounding outside our front door accompanied by a cacophony of birdsong.
For the first time in my adult life, I’m not hustling from activity to activity and I’m actually able to reflect and think deeply.
Do I like my job? Is this something I want to do in the future? Do I want to have more time like this with my daughter? What values do I want to instill? Do I define myself by my occupation? What brings me meaning and happiness?
There are so many questions and thoughts I never had the time to contemplate as pre-Corona me worked nine to ten hour days, rushed to the grocery to grab a few items for dinner, and raced home only to discover the dog was sick on the carpet. This was followed by face-to-face battles with mountain of laundry before needing to draw a bath for my daughter who decided syrup would be the ideal styling gel for her hair.
Multi-tasking was such a way of life that I couldn’t be present regardless of what was taking place around me. I was so harried and rushed; a mental check off list ominously present. I now realize that I long ago stopped enjoying my life. In the words of John Lennon, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.”
Although this situation was entirely unplanned, I am experiencing a greater sense of peace within myself despite the virus upending the world outside. It’s odd and strangely ironic that in the midst of total entropy, my insular little bubble has expanded in positive ways that I never could have imagined previously. I still have moments of frustration, uncertainty, and fear but the prevailing emotion of contentment remains. Even though this is a temporary situation, I am hopeful that my AC (after-Corona) self can re-structure my life in a more joyful and meaningful way.
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