We don’t yet know how this all plays out, but one thing is certain: we are never going to forget this time. To make absolutely certain of that, I think three weeks in is an appropriate time for me to put down some notes on what exactly life is like right now so that I can one day better describe to my three-year-old, one-year-old and newborn just what they were unknowingly living through.
For my family, this quality quaran-time has been surreal long before it even started for anyone else. Our own social distancing began when our son Sammy was born on February 27,1 and started in earnest for everyone else in Chicago while we were visiting my in-laws for a week in southern Indiana. We were in a pseudo-lockdown before the government even proscribed one, so returning home to a city that had followed suit was a strange and somewhat depressing turn of events.
I remember the night we got home–two days after all restaurants were told to close–I went to pick up Potbelly’s. Even for a late Thursday evening, the streets were empty of traffic and parked cars. I called ahead to make sure the store wasn’t closing early and the employee told me that she hadn’t had a single customer for the past two hours, but would nevertheless be staying open. As I drove home, I saw handmade signs in many restaurant windows encouraging customers to order takeout and directing them to newly established curbside pickup spots. Our world had already changed dramatically while we were out of town, and Illinois hadn’t even received the Shelter in Place order yet.
So then all hell broke loose and we were told to stay in our homes unless we absolutely had to venture out for food, and only those whose jobs were deemed essential could go to work. Having been deemed parental2 by my employer, I was supposed to be on paternity leave until mid-May anyway, soaking in the fountain of youth by holding my newborn son, playing baby dolls with my daughter until I truly believed I worked at a daycare and shooting hoops in the basement with my son until I qualified for the Little Tikes NBA.
Once the virus hit, however, this director of communications was called back into duty on a more regular basis out of necessity. After drafting a few need-them-now emails, announcements and press releases, I started attending the 9:30 a.m. all-team meeting via Microsoft Teams. This has remained a regular part of my day3, but my coworkers have been great about helping me set some boundaries and take advantage of the benefits of paternity leave.
If I’m being honest though, my breaks to meet digitally with my colleagues and contribute to work things have been a welcome interruption and–oddly enough– a break from the somewhat endless feeling of these quarantined days at home.
When Sammy was born, Theresa and I decided that she would handle the overnight feedings by herself4 and I would wake up in the morning to take care of the older kids while she slept in. It’s worked pretty well for both of us, but it’s not without its challenges.
My already deep respect for my wife and all stay-at-home parents has grown three sizes lately. When you wake up every day to the prospect of 13 hours tending to three children under four, it feels both a little daunting and a lot thankless. It’s not that I don’t love my kids or appreciate the chance to spend this time with them. In countless ways, we have come to know and love each other so much more, even just in this short quaran-time period. The reality is that each of these kids is almost constantly relying on the adult in the room to provide them with attention or sustenance or discipline or…or…or…
When you add in the special ingredient of no preschool, no library trips, no family grocery store outings5, and no outside babysitting help, it can really make you feel like you’re living in Groundhog Day. And you start to wonder why Bill Murray was contemplating suicide when he was just stuck at a bed and breakfast the whole time.
Presented for your perusal and my future recollection, here is a typical day of La Vida Lockdown:6
|7 a.m.||Charlie wakes up, no matter what time he (or I) went to bed the night before. Lately he has started yelling “Maddie!” after a few minutes, causing me to sneak into his room like SEAL Team Six, grab him and a fresh diaper, and rush him into the living room so his sister can continue to sleep. Please note that I do not grab new clothes, as Charlie’s obsession with spending the day in his pajamas conveniently coincided almost exactly with the onset of lockdown, when I, too, adopted this habit. Every evening is a pivotal decision between basketball, football, raccoon or dinosaur jammies. The fate of the following day’s wardrobe is riding on this decision.|
|7:05 a.m.||Charlie and I sit in the living room glider and read books. There is a solid rotation of 8-10 favorites including “Chicago Cubs ABCs,” “I Love My Daddy,” “Splish Splash Spring”7, “Elmo’s Balls,”8, a Golden Book retelling of Toy Story, “Chicago Baby,” various Sesame Street open-the-flap alphabet books, and a three-stories-in-one book of Daniel Tiger adventures. Spoiler alert: Daniel keeps trying and gets better at catching a ball.|
|7:30 a.m.||Charlie decides it’s time to go to the “bayh-mint” and play “ba-kih-ball, twains, puppets, cahs…” I should also note that Charlie has an irresistible habit of ending every question with “daddy.” So it’ll be “Pway in da bayh-mint, Daddy?” And then when I say, “OK, I’m going to brush my teeth. I’ll meet you down there!”, he replies with “Daddy pway in the bayh-mint.” Once down there, it’s “Daddy pway twains.”|
|8:30 a.m.||At some point after we spent about 5-10 minutes on each basement game–Little Tikes basketball with the Space Jam theme playing on our Google Home, playing trains on our little circular track set, playing “bunnies” in this elaborate anthropomorphic animal house playset, or playing with various Disney/Sesame Street/random puppets, Maddie joins us. This is where the real fun begins, as they both want to play different games and there is absolutely no way to split my attention between them in a way that satisfies any of us. With one hand, I’m controlling Kermit the Frog, while with the other hand, I’m trying to orchestrate a Matchbox car demolition derby. |
Art has been a major feature of our quaran-time, as we will both attempt to draw a Disney character and then trade each other to color them. We also have watched tutorial videos on YouTube about how to draw various characters. She and I both really enjoy it!
|9:15 a.m.||We head upstairs for breakfast–Oikos strawberries and cream yogurt–while Sesame Street educates them and I take a little break on my phone to prepare for my 9:30 work call.|
|9:30 a.m.||Work call. Depending on whether we ate breakfast earlier or later, they are either babysat by breakfast with Sesame Street upstairs while I take my call in the within-earshot basement stairwell, or they are back down in the basement watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse while I take the call in our guest room/office.|
|9:45 a.m.||Charlie, no longer interested in the antics of Mickey and friends, saunters into the office and makes a beloved cameo on my work call. Yesterday, he walked in and had a blue stripe on his tongue. “Charlie, what were you eating?!” “Markers, Daddy!”|
|10 a.m.||Sometimes the work call goes a half hour. If so, I come back for more basement playtime and we usually try to complete the video and assignment from Maddie’s preschool teacher. Other times, the call is a bit longer or I have some resulting work to do, so Theresa will probably be getting up with Sam around this time and entertain the kids upstairs while I work.|
|10:30 a.m.||This becomes a Choose Your Own Adventure portion of the day. Sometimes we go upstairs and Maddie does some art. Now that the weather has been getting nicer, we have gone outside more frequently to take walks and play on the swingset in the backyard.9|
|12 p.m.||It’s time to start thinking about lunch. That usually means peanut butter and jelly for Maddie and peanut butter and bananas for Charlie, usually finished off with some raisin bread, clementines or grapes. We also read our patented “Lunch Book” or two, which tend to be slightly longer books that Maddie enjoys and Charlie tolerates.|
|1 p.m.||We made it! Time for Charlie’s nap–a welcome respite for everyone involved. He will sometimes go as so far as to ask for his bottle of milk, and when I suggest it myself, he runs into the kitchen to dig through the drawer and hand me three bottles. He’s usually out for three hours.|
|1:30 p.m.||Maddie plays our patented “Last Game” before going down into the basement for her patented “Quiet Play Time.” This was my wife’s brilliant pre-newborn innovation to ensure that both older kids are out of commission/self-occupied for 70 minutes per day10 Maddie used to take her quiet time in her room, but once she started sharing with Charlie, he naps in there and she heads down to the wonderland of toys in the basement. She also chooses which music or stories she would like to hear while she’s down there.|
I haven’t mentioned Sammy very much, but that’s because he is constantly eating, sleeping or sitting. He’s a comparatively easy newborn by the standards we had grown accustomed to, so we are usually able to triage his needs throughout the day while focusing on maintaining the happiness/sanity of the big siblings.
|2:45 p.m.||During the overlap of Maddie’s playtime and Charlie’s nap time, Theresa and I are able to have some moments to ourselves when Sammy doesn’t need one of us. This sometimes includes my doing more work or taking a nap, or both of us watching Jeopardy together and playing against each other with a fun app I found for my phone.11|
|3 p.m.||Maddie’s playtime timer goes off and she returns to the real world. Theresa or I will play a game with her, generally one that includes getting chores done…like clothing store (laundry) or mail (writing and decorating birthday cards to send to people we know) or emptying the dishwasher (we don’t have an appealing name for that one). She also loves completing workbooks on basic number writing, letter writing and pattern finding, or coloring and painting. It’s incredible to see how quickly she is learning things that seem well beyond the preschool curriculum to me.|
|4 p.m.||If he hasn’t already awakened himself, it’s time to go get Charlie and give these kids a pre-dinner snack. Frozen blueberries often do the trick.|
|4:15 p.m.||We head outside again when the weather’s nice, or start to go a bit stir crazy in the basement for yet another round of playtime.|
|5 p.m.||Dinner preparations begin, which means they are either playing by themselves, complaining about not wanting to play by themselves or perhaps contributing in some small way to the dinner creation effort.|
|7 p.m.||More pre-bedtime playtime or a bath on some days. Charlie hates hair washes with every fiber of his being.|
|7:30 p.m.||Start the bedtime routine which includes another patented “Last Game,” getting in pajamas, reading two stories from Maddie’s children’s Adventure Bible12, brushing teeth, giving out stickers for various good behaviors during the day13, nighttime prayers and the ceremonial putting of the children into the bed, which requires the presence of a water bottle in each bed, a lullaby to be sung14 I’m not sure how this tradition got started15, but I also can’t leave the room without blowing them each kisses until Maddie yells “All done!” and lies down in bed. Charlie then immediately yells, “KISSES, DADDY!” and I have to blow him a few more.|
I close the door and run away.
|8:30 p.m.||But who am I kidding? There is always a reason to return. Someone drank all their waiter. Someone pooped their pants. I still didn’t blow enough kisses. Usually by 8:30 p.m., they are finally in bed and mostly settled for the night, barring whatever they deem to be a big emergency. Theresa and I embark on our evening–usually watching TV or having a digital hangout with friends or relatives to catch up and/or play games via Zoom and Jackbox.|
|11:45 p.m.||Sammy finally seems to be ready to sleep for the night, so Theresa excuses herself. On far too many evenings throughout this quarantine, I have claimed this portion of the evening as “Foolish Me-Time.” I blog, I browse the news and social media, I watch YouTube videos. I do all of these things, knowing that the sleep meter is running and that I’ll be hearing Sonny and Cher serenading me again at 7 a.m. the next morning.|
|1:30 a.m.||I shouldn’t even admit this, but that’s been my bedtime for a while now. Here I am writing this at 1:04 a.m. Help!|
Congratulations! If you read all of that, you are either my Mom or a stalker. If you’re my Mom, I promise I’ll start going to bed earlier. If you’re a stalker, please don’t come within six feet of me unless you’ve taken your temperature and you don’t have a dry cough.
Even though every day can feel essentially the same, every day is not the same. Some days I venture to the grocery store for the weekly food essentials. Other days, the kids miraculously sleep in. Other days, my parents or brothers will video call my kids and read them a story or distract them for an hour. As of this week, Theresa and I agreed that we feel like we have begun to develop a better rhythm to our daily lives that might not be reflected fully in my intentionally sardonic schedule above. Our children are happy and healthy, we are happy and healthy, and we are privileged to be sheltering in place with all the comforts of home and the ability to easily obtain most comforts that we desire.16 As I read through the increasingly scary headlines, I know that is not the case for many, many people, and I consider myself truly blessed.
Then there was yesterday, which started out rough, but ended up being perhaps the best day of quarantine yet. I was awakened before 7 a.m. by the sound of the alarm going off on my minivan. This had happened a few other random times recently, but this time I went to shut it off and it turned on again five minutes later. This repeated itself several times, necessitating a suddenly essential trip to the mechanic later that day. I donned my mask and gloves and reported the problem to the receptionist, who coughed repeatedly into her sleeve saying, “Don’t worry, it’s bronchitis, not Corona.” Turns out the battery was corroded and not communicating with the car’s computer or something.
On my trip to the grocery store the previous day, I bought pub burgers to grill. Yesterday was the most beautiful day of weather we have yet had during this quaran-time, as it approached 75 degrees. I pulled the kids along for our first bike ride of the season and prepared to grill once we got home. I had my bluetooth speaker cranking some summer tunes, I unwrapped the patio table for the first time, and leaned down to light the grill, when I noticed that apparently someone had stolen the propane gas tank over the winter.
But nothing could ruin this picture-perfect day, so I took a suddenly essential trip to Walgreens–donning mask and gloves again–to splurge on a new gas tank and get those burgers grilled.
As we were about to start eating on our back patio, I looked around and honestly took in the beauty of the moment in which I was living: my family sitting outside our lovely home enjoying delicious food on a perfect evening. My kids were laughing, my newborn was sitting serenely on a pillow on the patio table, and for the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel confined by the quarantine or fearful of the future. This was exactly where I wanted to be. To quote Phil Conners when he finally breaks free of the Groundhog Day spell, it felt like the end of a very long day. This was the kind of evening I would have begged for even in the Before Times, much less expected to enjoy in the Age of Corona.
I know there will be many long days to come, as I’m not convinced that April 30 will necessarily even usher in the end of this strange time in our lives, but I don’t want to miss or forget the treasure buried in these moments that are so often overrun by stress and seeming helplessness. There is a purpose to all of this–and maybe part of that purpose is simply recognizing the blessings of the present moment and quarantining the best of those moments in our memory.
- I swear there is a full and detailed birth story coming soon to this blog…
- couldn’t resist
- and sometimes other quick projects emerge for me to work on
- in previous pregnancies, I had at least roused myself to change the baby and bring the child to her each night for the first couple weeks
- Isn’t it funny how you miss taking your kids on such a horrific errand simply because it would be a change of scenery and help to pass some time? Quarantining makes you think crazy thoughts.
- all times are approximate
- a Sesame Street book that Charlie calls “Elmo splashing in the water” because of its cover image
- Well, that’s what I call it, but it’s about Elmo’s love for all types of sports balls.
- a beast of a project at the end of last summer that I am now grateful for every day
- “Hey Google, set a timer for 70 minutes!
- I’m destroying her in the series.
- We have been working our way through the entire Bible for the last several weeks. We’re finally in the New Testament!
- Completion of a full sticker chart results in an outing with one of the Chicago uncles. At least it will, when we can have outings again.
- “Stay Awake,” “Brown Bear, Brown Bear,” and The Five Stairsteps’ 1970s hit “O-o-h Child” sung as “O-o-h Charles” are all in heavy rotation.
- I blame Theresa
- Though the race is on to see if we run out of Kleenex or paper towels first. We are all good on toilet paper. Anyone want to barter?