1 Month Into Quarantine: Things I’ve Learned I Can, and Cannot, Do Without

It is one month into our coronavirus stay-at-home experience. I live in the suburbs of Philadelphia with my husband, and we have three boys, ages 2, 5, and almost 7. Our fabulous nanny has thus far stayed with us since Governor Wolf closed the schools, which has been a God-send. That is our coronavirus “quarantine” unit. I am continuing to work from home, full time. My husband owns a small business, and he faces an impossible set of decisions and issues to manage each and every day.

It has now been several weeks of not seeing any other family member or friend (besides our quarantine unit), not going into the office physically, and not venturing away from our house except for an occasional drive — to nowhere, really — for the sake of some variation in the day. Back in February, when I saw blog posts about parents in South Korea being stuck inside with their kids all day, trying to get work done while forcing their kids to do something other than the iPad, I remember thinking to myself, “oh goodness, how do those people do it?” Well, I am now one of those people.

To my surprise, though, during these extraordinary times, I have learned that there are certain things about my “normal” life — things I never questioned before— that I can do without. Indeed, I have even found it somewhat liberating to forego these things, and I may never resume them. On the other hand, I have come to realize that there are certain things about my normal life that are so fundamental to my happiness and sense of a good life, and that I often took for granted, which I really — really — cannot do without. Here are my top 5s in each category.

Things I Can Do Without:

1.Paying for Haircuts for My Kids. It turns out, I don’t really need to spend $25-$35 a head (plus tip), and what-always-ends-up-being a solid half a day, every two months, for professional haircuts for my kiddos. Nope. I can actually just have them stand on the back porch, take a small scissors, and cut it myself. For my 2 year old, it only took three snips! For my almost-7 year old, my husband and I had to tag-team it — with my husband using a clipper, and myself, the scissors — but after approximately 4 minutes, we had given him a very decent “shag-top” cut. Going forwards, I probably should still invest in a real hair cut for each kid every 6 months. But it really does not need to be more than that.

2.Going to Girls-Night Outings in Person. This one may be controversial at first glance, but hear me out. Typically, I put a lot of pressure on myself to keep up my friendships by seeing friends in person. And I feel guilty, like a loser, if I have to miss out on these opportunities. The pattern is always the same: A plan will be made for a “girls drinks night” or something of the sort, I will excitedly mark the date on my Google Calendar, and then, as the time approaches, something will come up — an unfinished assignment at work, or a kid with a fever, or just a deep feeling of guilt because I already stayed late at work two nights this week and now I really do need to be at home to help. Inevitably, I end up missing the girls-gathering half the time, and then hating myself for it. The irony of this period of social distancing is: I feel closer to my girlfriends than ever. We are doing “zoom” and “Facetime” chats, “Houseparty” card games, and “Marco Polo” video montages. I am seeing more of my friends’ kids — and not in exalted situations, but in ordinary, typical moments — than ever. I am having happy-hour Yahtzee games with parents of my son’s classmates, and dialing up friends on Facetime who I haven’t spoken to by phone in months. I love this! And I don’t need to get dressed up, or deal with the work-family-juggling act, to make it happen. After quarantine ends, I will miss this newfound set of social mores. I hope some of this continues, but I fear it won’t.

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3. Buying Coffee from a Store. Starbucks, Wawa, and other coffee spots, have always been a regular part of my daily ritual. Now, it is all the Keurig machine at home. I’m doing just fine with it.

4. Paying for Landscaping — at least the “Spring Clean Up.” We love our landscapers. But up until now, I never even fathomed that taking care of plants, grass, shrubs, or flowers, was something I could do myself. It is not that I am “above it” — rather, it is that I grew up in a house with little landscaping, and so I never learned a thing about plants. These past few weeks, my husband and I have been spending a lot of our extra hours at home — on weekends in particular — pulling weeds, whacking invasive vines, and raking dirt to create flower beds. I just placed an order of seeds, so that we can start an herb garden and a few patches of flowers. Perhaps by summer, I’ll be surrounded by overgrown shrubs and declare this a failed mission. But for now, we are rolling with it.

5.Spending the Weekends Going to Birthday Parties, Playdates, Soccer Practices, Etc. I do miss — deeply — watching my children socialize with other kids. At the same time, having now spent several weekends without one solitary child-social obligation, I realize how lovely it is to have regained ownership of our weekends. We can all sleep in late, lazily watch “Thomas the Train” in bed as a family, wander outside when we are ready for fresh air, and let the day unfold. There is no: Waking up at 6:45 am (on a Sunday) to squeeze in a work out, only to rush home and shower and scramble to a 10 a.m. kids’ birthday party, only to spend the rest of the day juggling cars/duties with my husband to coordinate the 1 pm baseball practice, 3 pm swim lesson, and so on. The truth is, our weekends had snowballed into an exhausting cascade of children’s “obligations,” none of which were really obligatory at all. After this social-distancing phase passes (if it ever does), I will remind myself how liberating it was to have weekends with all of that clutter stripped away — and I will work hard to find a more reasonable balance for my family.

Things I Cannot Do Without:

1.School. (And Camp.). I would give the home-schooling experiment, in my household, a grade “D” if I am being generous. I cannot teach my children educational content, period. Sure, I can read books to them, engage them on topics that are of interest to me, challenge them with riddles and puzzles, and teach them values. But I simply cannot stand in for my kids’ teachers, not to mention all of the other wonderful things their schools offer them (library, gym, music). And I certainly cannot replicate the social learning that goes on inside the classroom, as children takes cues from each other and model themselves after each other. I miss sending my children to school so much. I miss their backpacks full of worksheets. I miss the drop-off line. I miss their teachers. And this summer, if it is cancelled, I will miss camp deeply. If there is anything that this quarantine has taught me, it is that I am humbled in the face of our educational institutions, and I believe school and camp are the greatest gifts our society has created for children — and their parents.

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2. Going to the Grocery Store Myself, Even For Something Small. For three weeks now, I have forced myself to use grocery-delivery apps and other online platforms, to bring food into my household. It sucks. It is virtually impossible to get an Instacart time; sometimes the order does not even arrive; and when it does arrive, half of the items are not the ones I would have chosen for a replacement. I miss being able to go to a grocery store myself — and not just once for a multi-week period, but on a random Tuesday night if something runs out (including my favorite snacks!). As I write this, I realize how fortunate I am to even be able to afford groceries, including if someone else is picking them out for me. But something I never appreciated, but now truly do, was being able to go to the grocery store all by myself, on any given day or night of the week, even just to buy something as small as a package of my 5 year old’s favorite string cheese.

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3. Being Together With My Extended Family. I miss watching my mom squeeze my 2 year old’s body, hugging him like a stuffed animal, or my father and brother rough-house and chase my older kids. I miss hanging out with my in-laws, and seeing the joy that washes over my children’s faces when they see their grandparents and cousins all together. I miss family dinners, and I am really going to miss holidays. Zoom is not a replacement for any of this.

4. Exercising Among Other People. I am a social exerciser, I have come to learn. I love seeing my trainer early in the morning; he makes me laugh, and he motivates me to get out of bed. I love going to my cousin’s spin classes (even though they are early) on the weekends; she is a rockstar, and she powers me through the 60-minute sessions. I even love going to Planet Fitness, and working out alongside people I don’t know, because seeing them around me motivates me to work harder. I have tried to maintain fitness at home with outdoor runs (well, one monotonous run, where I circle around my son’s school 4 times), jumping jacks, push ups, and apps. But I am bored and lonely. For me, exercise is social — even if among people I don’t know — and I miss drawing on the energy of others.

5. Returning Home to My Husband and Kids, After I have Done Something For Myself. Perhaps what has changed most for me — and what I realize I really need to reclaim— is the experience of leaving the house each day, doing something myself for a stretch of time , and then returning home to my husband and kids. It is usually going to work and busting my ass at my job, but it can also be a shopping trip, exercise, seeing a friend, etc. All of that is gone now. If we leave the house, it is as a family unit, to go for a drive, and then return. Sometimes late at night, like now, I have a few moments to myself. But generally, we are all one big unit, moving in and out of rooms of the house hour after hour throughout the day, performing our daily acts alongside each other. I love my husband and children more than anything, and I do treasure the opportunity to spend this extra time with them. But I also miss being my own person — at least once, every day.

Written by

hillary for america

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