March in the mid-Atlantic states is glorious. Dissatisfied with the quality of C’s preschool and the annoyances of weekly commitments, the COVID school cancellations were a bit of a relief. Sure, museums and other places were closed, but as long as we can go outdoors and explore, it would feel mostly like summer vacation without the awful mosquitos. Maybe I could even explore what it could look like to keep her home next year?
So off we went, seeking out nature spaces where the kids could roam freely, playing their games and enjoying the young spring green, the blossoming trees, the blooming flowers. Every day, I read a little bit more in the news about COVID-19. I checked DC, MD, and VA’s confirmed cases, I’d get emails from friends about how important it was to completely self-isolate.
What does that mean?
To stay indoors the whole time? Endure the whine, “mom what should I do?” countless times and lose my patience? To lose my sense of self?
I cannot bear the thought of being stuck here without any escape to more open, outdoor spaces. I felt as if I was isolated for the majority of a year and a half already, having moved from Boston when R was not even 1… so in a way, how different would this be?
The first few days no one really knew what was meant by social distancing other than to stick to groups of 10 or less, so we saw our neighbors and the neighborhood children out and about more than I ever had. Even now, if I take the children out biking in the neighborhood, I’m more likely to see someone we know. Here it is, week three of everyone at home, and the spectre of COVID is behind all interactions. I struggle to keep the children from getting into the other neighborhood children’s 6ft radius if we stick to our street and alleyway. Some parents are very vigilant (our next door neighbors to the left, for instance) about limiting how much their children are outside at all, and enforce that their children stay in the yard. Others maintain a distance from us in general, but say nothing/shrug when the children start playing more closely together. Some parents seem to roll their eyes if I try to limit the interactions. And I wonder, do I stop them? What limits do I place?
Our street has a “mayor,”—this very welcoming, slightly awkward man, dubbed “Mayor Joe.” His children are in middle and high school, so there is no worry there about his children not comprehending social distancing. He ardently wished back in February that people would be out on their porches more—that we would all see each other, spend time chatting. He is furtive, now, if he comes outside. He creeps out and sits in a chair on his porch, and doesn’t call out hello. Haunted by COVID, he’s shrunken into the safety of his house. Understandable. Sad. I do not wish to make him uncomfortable.
Two weeks ago I half wished we could just go ahead and be inoculated with COVID-19 and be done with it already. Then the spectre would be gone. We could coop up, knowing we were officially sick, get better, and then be free to live again. To visit my grandparents, who are 97 and 95. My dad is spending all his time there, including overnight, taking care primarily of my grandfather, but then also doing errands and the like for my grandmother. I’ve suggested trying to FaceTime them but it’s clear it will have to be something I schedule with my dad. My grandfather is in a miserable state. Each time we see him, he is weaker and in pain. What if he dies from his own body breaking down, and here I’ve been avoiding seeing him?
I haven’t seen my dad in over a week; we had my mom come for dinner last Friday. How much should I be seeing my parents? They are both higher risk—being over 65, my mom an asthmatic, my dad a smoker. If we were already sick and better, then I wouldn’t worry about being asymptomatic and sickening them.
Then I began reading more letters in the media from doctors in Boston, families in Italy, and I know, I knew already, I cannot risk myself, my children, my spouse, to the unknowns of how much COVID may ravage our bodies.
Nearly daily, I take the kids outside. Usually I bike them somewhere I know or suspect people won’t be around. Where we can let the sun bake the shadow of COVID away from my mind. Where the breeze as I pedal pushes the minute viral particles past us. Where I do not fret about what the children are touching, where we can all just be. I post photos of our excursions online, satisfied with our day, and simultaneously apprehensive that others may think I am flouting the rules of staying at home. Are these bike rides risky? They don’t feel like they are. Only afterwards, do I wonder. If we eat while we are out, I douse our hands in rubbing alcohol spray. When we return, I help both children thoroughly wash their hands after I’ve already washed mine. Their clothes are no longer checked to see if they are clean enough to wear again. They are thrown into the laundry. Daily, now, the children take a bath, and WITH soap. Not just water any more. Is this enough to scrub the risk away? Still, the numbers in DC of infected people, of people who are dying, are increasing. I worry, is this not careful enough? When the numbers were in the 100s not even two weeks ago, it felt manageable. Even when one assumes that the actual number is far higher, it’s easy to believe that a veil of containment is there. DC is now at 499 people officially infected and the veil torn asunder.
The DC, MD, VA region issued a Stay Home/Shelter in Place order yesterday, formalizing what I thought was already happening—but this time with warnings and fines if violated. Clearly written in the rules: exercising with family members is permitted. I biked yesterday to a park I’ve never visited. Initially, it felt safe. A few people with dogs, a few people exercising, but easy to maintain a distance. The children and I climbed up the steps and discovered at the top, an open field filled with people. This was no place for us to stay and explore safely. We walked back down and I insisted we head elsewhere for our picnic. Does this mean I ought to limit the time we are outdoors exercising?
C knows that schools, playgrounds, museums, and much else is closed because of the virus. Still, there are many questions relating to, “Why?” I tell her the basic truth while avoiding what may sound scary. A 7-year-old neighborhood girl tried to keep explaining to C why she had to keep her distance while playing with her, adding, “people are dying from the virus.” I hadn’t shared that with her.
“They’re wearing their masks to keep themselves and other people healthy.”
“The playground is closed so we can all keep each other healthy.”
“The virus is like a cold; you share it if you cough or sneeze on people.”
I keep the virus at a distance for her, all the while, the knowledge of what COVID could wreak on my family festers. I keep our young family life routine as normal as I can, with outings I deem safe, while fretting over how wise it is. To keep my own sanity, it must be.
This blog post was contributed by A-L. It is part of a series attempting to share the many different stories of individuals as they experience the pandemic. If you or someone you know have a story you would like to share (anonymously or not), please feel free to send me a message or comment here.