I’d like to tell you the grueling and nearly laughable story of the last three and a half weeks of life at our house, but I can’t. In what is hopefully the bitter end to the tragic saga I am about to relate, I have completely lost my voice, so I can’t tell you anything right now.1
You see, we still haven’t celebrated Christmas with my parents and brothers yet, and we’re more than halfway through January. Even by the most stringent and orthodox of Catholic practices, that’s pretty late. But far worse than postponing half of Christmas for four kids aged five and younger, the past three weeks have been among the most difficult parenting weeks of my parenting life–and we lived through the Winter Quarantine of 2020. I need to get this down for posterity so that I can look back on it when things feel like they are getting hard and remember what hard really is.
It all started shortly after Christmas, when we drove back up from a wonderful Christmas with my in-laws. Several people down there were feeling a little sick, but nothing major, and the last COVID outbreak had been about two weeks earlier, so we convinced ourselves that we would be fine. In hindsight, this was rather foolish, as even before Christmas I personally knew more people with the ‘Rona than at any other point in this God-awful pandemic.
Nevertheless, we endured a white-knuckle drive through developing sleet and snow on December 28 until we landed at one of the hundreds of newly established COVID testing centers near our house. We had good luck with this one previously–both in terms of a negative test result and in rapidly receiving PCR results by midnight of the day we took the test.2 On this occasion, when we decided Maddie would also get tested, they even let her use the newly developed spit test. She was thrilled that she got to suck on some lemon hard candy in order to submit a more copious salive sample.
I don’t know what was in that candy, but the results came back as the clock struck midnight and Maddie turned into a pandemic pumpkin. While she didn’t have any visible symptoms aside from the minor cold that all of our children (and their parents) have been enduring since the start of school last fall, Maddie tested positive while Theresa and I tested negative.
This effectively canceled Christmas and New Year’s with my side of the family, as we would need to spend five days in quarantine and then endure five more days of “strict masking.”3 My brothers are teachers who were on Christmas break and I had decided to take the days off between Christmas and New Year’s as well, so we already had lots of plans for board game nights, kid-centered outings and other fun distractions that all went up in smoke with the positive result. While my initial disappointment was great, I can barely remember it after everything else that happened since. We also had a very lovely Zoom-fueled New Year’s Eve with my family, making our customary NYE peanut butter cookies together via video call and counting down to midnight at 8:30 before bedtime.
The new year dawned bright and hopeful on January 3, as we all piled into our van for our first outing since we had gotten home–this time to another rapid testing center right down the street from our house. We should have realized that this was probably not the most reputable operation in the world by virtue of the seeming high school students who were handing out the testing equipment or the fact that they texted us our results with a photo of said high schooler holding our sample and a card that said negative. Or maybe it’s the fact that I’m still waiting for the results of the 72-hour PCR test that they also promised to deliver. Hey, at least it was free.
Anyway, even these questionably obtained negative results would have been enough for us to finally take a chance and celebrate a belated Christmas with my folks because we were all symptom-free. Or were we? Shortly into the new year, I started having random cold symptoms and random bouts of exhaustion. I had heard enough from friends to know that this had all the markings of Omicron, so I immediately scheduled a more professional PCR test at Walgreens just to make sure that we would be in the clear and not infect my family. Theresa also scheduled a test, just to be sure.
My symptoms persisted, but my test came back negative a few days later. Symptom-free Theresa, however, came back with a result that we had not previously encountered: inconclusive results (presumptive positive). What?! So that meant five more days of quarantine, another weekend down the drain, and still more uncertainty about whether or not we actually had COVID.
Meanwhile, Charlie came home from school that week with a bad-sounding cough and started developing lots of gross gunk around one of his eyes. By the next morning, he was listless on the couch with double pink eye. The next day he developed a fever. Then Sam, who had already been enduring worsening cold symptoms, started getting gunk in his eye. We called the doctor and all the kids went for COVID tests, while Charlie also went for a checkup, which revealed that he had double pink eye and a double ear infection. The doctor prescribed antibiotics–which you will be shocked to learn that Charlie absolutely hates to take–and the first dose was administered as a shot in each butt cheek. Needless to say, I’m glad I was home watching the other kids for all of that.
Charlie spent two more days down for the count before turning a corner, and I’ve already pontificated on the sadness of having sick kids. Thankfully Sam’s pink eye was miraculously gone after a day or two (without antibiotics!) and all of the kids’ PCR tests came back negative, though the doctor said that we should assume Charlie is positive. So reset the five-day clock again!
Fast forward to this past Thursday and we are in discussions with my Mom to really, truly get together and celebrate Christmas this Saturday. Charlie and Sam are healthy again, and everyone else just has variations on that low-grade cold that we always have. It’s really happening! Or not.
I get a call from my Mom on Saturday morning that one of my brothers is losing his sense of smell. In an at-home test, he could smell peanut butter but not vinegar. This necessitated a rapid PCR test, which came back…drum roll, please…positive! Another brother went for a test and he was positive as well. My third brother just came back negative, but he had already had a bad cold several weeks ago, so maybe he already had it.
Back at our house, Theresa and I dove into the weekend developing really bad sore throats, but got negative PCR tests again. Mine was so painful that I could barely sleep. There wasn’t much sleep happening anyway though, as poor little three-month-old Jack–who had remained a picture of health throughout all these weeks–finally succumbed to the dastardly cold and now only gets quality sleep when being held basically upright in our laps. His pathetic baby lion cub cries make me more than willing to sit with him in his room so he can actually sleep peacefully, and being upright actually helps me sleep a bit, too.
My own sore throat spent the day moving up my head and turning into a terrible head cold that has now also completely claimed my voice as of this writing. I don’t know what we have to do to get through this and stop having someone severely sick in our midst. It’s truly all I want for Christmas at this point…whenever it is that Christmas will finally come.
I mentioned earlier that this has been the hardest parenting I’ve ever done in my life. That’s because it is always difficult to take care of sick children, but especially so when you are quarantining and can’t have any outside help or even let the healthy kids get away for a moment. We have been in our house with our kids exclusively for the past 20-some days. There have been no breaks from the needs of tiny children. We finally get the kids to bed and we watch a TV show like the zombies we have become, just so we can feel like we did something that was our choice to do today. We have not seen anyone aside from one trip to a work event for me and solo outings to the grocery store or to pick up meals. We are physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. We have flaked on so many commitments that we had scheduled before we realized the fresh hell that our lives would become in January.
Since the first week of January, I have also been working again full-time from home throughout this debacle, while trying to spot Theresa however I can between work duties and meetings, especially as she was running various kids to COVID tests and doctor’s appointments or had a sick baby who needed to nurse constantly.
It’s been a long haul, but I’m hopeful that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that the light is the Christmas star and not an oncoming train. The worst part of all of this is wondering if any of us did actually have COVID yet, or if even Maddie somehow received a false positive and we might someday soon get Omicron’d and be doing this quarantine dance all over again. I shudder at the mere thought.
On the bright side, this rodeo has been an opportunity to once again realize the blessing of Theresa in my life. One day last week was the nine-year anniversary of the first “not-yet-a-date” that we went on in 2013. I was interested, but terrible at showing it, and we wouldn’t start actually dating for another month. It’s hilarious to think about showing those two would-be lovebirds a video of their lives together in 2022 while they munched on their Denver omelets and made awkward small talk.
After asking if these are the shadows of things that must be or if they could somehow be changed, I’d like to think that I would take a closer look and be absolutely thrilled with the direction my life would go. I would see two people who fell in love and formed a beautiful family that is struggling together through a difficult time. In particular, I would see two partners who are sacrificing for one another as fully as possible and still finding ways to care for one another or share a laugh, even when their children are mercilessly requiring every ounce of their collective energy.
These weeks have been insane, but that’s life and that’s marriage. We have found a way to haphazardly be passing this test together, even when individually we have moments of failure and it doesn’t always feel like we are passing much of anything. Thank God Theresa is so good at math.
Speaking of tests, I need to schedule another PCR test this week. If everything goes well, maybe we’ll finally be carving the roast beast with my family next weekend, or maybe it will continue to be postponed until it’s a Groundhog Day celebration, which at this point, might be the most fitting of all.
Now go wash your hands.