It’s such a strange disconnect between my real life joy and the worry in my mind these days.
It feels like the world is falling down around me, yet, on my little island, everything seems sunny and bright. Quite literally as well as figuratively.
Every day for the past several weeks, the Florida weather has been relentlessly bright, clear, dry and hot. Completely inappropriate for an apocalypse. And inside the walls of our suburban home, with an air conditioner that whirs and rumbles most hours of the day and night, things are cheery and comfortable. The halls are filled with squeals of joy and laughter that bounce off the wood floors and invade every corner.
Sure, there is also infighting and whining, and tears of indignation brought on by the most recent personal affront doled out by a sibling, but all in all, our home remains a happy one. It’s surprising, really. Our routines, schedules, activities and even our school days were yanked out from under us just a few weeks ago.
I had expected my three children would be more disoriented by the upheaval, but they’ve taken it all in stride. Their insouciance is almost unnerving. Like the big orange street cat that sprawls out on our driveway and refuses to move until an oncoming car is about 12 inches away.
Perhaps one upside of living an introverted, mostly insular existence is that my children are used to us doing our own thing. They’re used to being entertained by their parents, each other, and of course, the television and iPad.
Or maybe it’s just true what they say. Perhaps kids can really adapt to anything. But can adults? Can I? That’s the real question.
Keeping my worry on the inside
My wife is a labor and delivery nurse at a nearby hospital. At the moment, I’m thankful — for my own selfish reasons — that she’s not an ER or ICU nurse. Still, she works in a hospital, so that’s reason enough for me to worry. However, I have managed to channel my fear and anxiety into mostly positive action. I’ve spent most of my recent days caring for the children, trying to work from home on writing projects, and refreshing the COVID-19 stats website seven million times. I did say mostly positive action, not completely positive action.
On one of her off days, my wife found a homeschool schedule that seemed somewhat realistic and we began to follow it.
The schedule was relatively simple. We took one of our chihuahuas — the more agreeable one — on a walk in the morning after breakfast. Then we did academic time, creative time, lunch, chore time, recess, quiet time, technological academic time, P.E., and, everyone’s favorite, TV time.
When my wife was home and we could share the job of wrangling a second grader, kindergartner, and 3-year-old, it was actually relatively pleasant. Tiring, but pleasant.
The beginning of formal distance learning for my kids’ elementary school changed things. We began to slip away from our little schedule because there were actual assignments to keep up with and video conferences to do and my 5-year-old got Animal Crossing for his birthday.
But still, all things considered, we are doing pretty well. When my wife is not working, we do a pretty decent job keeping the kids entertained and marginally on task. Of course, when my wife works, it’s a bit more frantic and scattershot with only one adult present.
And there’s the additional burden of the worry that sits on my chest like an anvil.
Fear checks in
She’s up and dressed well before dawn. If I happen to still be sleeping in our bed, which is rare since our 5-year-old typically pulls me into his bed shortly after midnight, she stops to kiss me and say goodbye. By the time I’m fully awake and starting my day, she’s been at work for at least an hour.
As I brew a cup of coffee and fetch cereal bowls and cups of water, I try to decide how soon is too soon to ask how things are.
I pull out my phone, type out a text and then delete it.
It can wait. I have work to do. An impromptu homeschool to manage. Children to feed. Trampolines to bounce on. COVID-19 stats to refresh.
There’s nothing to worry about, right? At least, there’s nothing to worry about that I can control.
So, I slide my phone back into my pocket and move on to the next thing. Whether that’s breaking up a fight or trying to unlock 17 different distance learning apps. I focus on what’s directly in front of me and try to ignore the bigger picture. I make like Anna from Frozen 2 and do the next right thing.
Because right now, each of us has to focus on doing the next right thing in front of us. Stay home when we possibly can. Protect ourselves, our families, our healthcare workers and everyone in harm’s way. Do our small part and shove aside the rest. At least for an hour or two.
“How’s it going?” I finally text no later than 10 in the morning.
“Not bad so far.”
A temporary relief. Better not to ask for more details. Instead, I make three peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches, get out the sidewalk chalk, and head outside to soak up the hot midday sun. Hoping with everything I have that the stunning brightness can keep the darkness at bay.