I know that I haven’t updated this site very much over the last few years since becoming a father. And I also know that worldwide pandemics aren’t really the topic du rigeur here. But I figure I need an outlet for putting my thoughts down, and rather than starting another blog, I’ll just update this one. If you don’t want to read about what my day to day looks like now, I can only say that there will be some discussion about cocktails and what not because that’s still a big part of who I am.
Like most Americans (I think), I was vaguely aware of the outbreak going on in China and that there was a high likelihood it was going to come here and be very bad. Also like most Americans (I guarantee), I recalled the concern over SARS and H1N1 – both of which were horrible epidemics and neither of which touched me in any personal manner. And so I was aware and wary, but not too wary. It would probably come here, we’d have some response, the current administration would do something inept that made it worse than it needed to be, and we’d all move on with our lives.
And then suddenly it was very real.
In the span of 10 days we’ve gone from “a thing maybe we should worry about” to “we’ve shut down most of the economy of the most prosperous nation in history.” That’s quite the trip.
As someone with a blog and a Twitter account and subscriptions to many news sites, I am what you might call “very online.” So my very online friends and I started having some very intense conversations about the kind of responses that might be necessary. We had spreadsheets and talked about morbidity rates and transmission rates and it was all theoretical, but all bad. So bad.
And then Seattle went to hell – quickly. I have a lot of friends up there. I used to work for a company based up there. I was up there in January for Rocky Yeh’s memorial service (which I kept putting off writing about because it just hurt too much). Things started getting more real.
I have friends who work in government at various levels. I’ve worked in public safety for over 15 years. Eventually information on what was possibly coming down the pike tomorrow or the day after started appearing in my chats and phone calls. Seattle started to shut down piece by piece. California started prepping for the same.
Things moved so fast that one day my wife was being told that they may move to online teaching for the rest of the semester and the next she was being told that she’d be teaching online at least through the summer sessions. A family trip to a friend’s birthday party turned into my stopping by to drop off a gift and chat – everyone keeping several feet between them. What was going to be a party with probably a few dozen people ended up being 6 of us standing in a circle around a table, sipping whiskey and trying to sound like this wasn’t a big deal while all planning what things we were cutting off next.
A trip to the grocery store revealed the panic in the community as all bread and milk and toilet paper was gone. (Side note: Why the toilet paper for a respiratory infection?) An attempt to do an online order resulted in a delivery date a week away. My wife and I had to talk about what we were going to do when, not if, our children’s daycare closed – and if we should even wait for that to happen.
And it’s here that I have to pause and say that we (my wife and I) are incredibly fortunate. People talk about “checking your privilege” and boy do we have some. My wife transitioned to working from home full time, which wasn’t hard because as an English Professor, she was already teaching online courses and this was more of a shift of part of her course load rather than a complete overhaul of her job. I already work from home four out of five days. Telling my client that I was not coming in one day a week but would still do my Teams conferences and calls wasn’t a big deal. We aren’t going to suffer much, financially, from this for a while (until the tax base dries up and government budgets start getting slashed).
In the meantime I was watching friends who work in restaurants and bars – or who own restaurants and bars – have their entire futures dissolved in acid in front of them. I watched my brother struggled with what he was going to do about his small business that would definitely need to be shuttered for the duration of any mass “stay inside” movement. I talked with colleagues who had been laid off recently (predating the arrival of The Bad Times). I talked to the teachers at our private daycare. What are all these people going to do with a necessary near-complete shutdown of the US economy?
I stay up at night thinking about this. Feeling so worried for these people. But I eventually fall asleep – because in the back of my head I know that I will be OK. I may have to help out a friend or my brother here or there, but I’m gonna be fine. I cannot fathom the anxiety and fear that must be gripping others. My brother has mentioned not sleeping well at night and all I can think is how do you sleep at all?
The social cure for this disease is going to be hard. So hard. The choice literally comes down to letting millions die, or destroying the economic livelihood of tens of millions of people. Obviously you have to choose the latter but I do not envy the people having to make those choices. Then again, the elected officials chose that path. I don’t know what society is going to look like when we come out the other side of this thing – but it will be different. It has to be.
We’re going to see a lot of so-called “socialism” coming through soon and hopefully the people in the various governments will get over the fear of the word and just do what’s right. Make sure people are secure enough to live. Find ways to make sure people have shelter for sheltering in place. Make sure nobody is starving right now because we need to all be in this together. Hand out cash so people are liquid. Freeze loans and rents and whatever until we’re ready to boot the economy back up. I don’t know the mechanics of any of this. But we’re gonna have to swim a bit in the waters of collectivism to pull through this without lots and lots of people dying.
I worry that this country will do it’s normal half-measures and hemming and hawing at hard decisions. But I’m constantly reminded we got our shit together for World War II so we can do it again. Of course a lot of people DID die in WWII. So maybe not the best comparison.
Of course our kids did get sent home – a scant two days later.
So now we both work from home, with a three year old and an eight month old (who is teething) at home with us. I’ve had to go from working a solid 8-10 hours in a row during the weekdays to stealing time where I can find it and putting together a disjointed forty-ish billable hours (I’m not an independent contractor, so I can’t just decide to work less – or maybe I can, I don’t know the rules anymore). My wife isn’t happy with what for the first week has been a series of six hour days that take the entire week. I’m not thrilled with it either, but kids need feeding and activities and playtime and attention and love and my wife needs time to work and feeding and attention and love and that stuff often happens when I’d normally be working. It’s frustrating and I’m exhausted, but I’m very aware that there are people wondering if and how they’ll pay rent next month while I’m annoyed that I had to work until midnight last night and then the baby woke up and needed a bottle. My problems are small.
We’re a week into this mostly-isolation. I’m not sure what to call it. Safe In Place is what I think California or Los Angeles are calling it. We’re staying home. We go out only to go to the store or pharmacy or a restaurant to pick up food (so we can support local restaurants and put some salve on the guilt I feel at not being in the same place as my friends in the industry). Grocery stores are still a mess of missing things, so we’ve “gone European” by shopping at a small bakery for bread, another shop for vegetables, and another for things like coffee. Our Amazon subscriptions are continuing. We’re able to use Target to fill in some gaps. We’re fine.
The kids are a little stir crazy. My three year old daughter loves that she’s getting to watch TV a lot more, but she’s very obviously missing getting to play with her friends. She isn’t allowed to go see her cousin. And while Mama and Daddy will both take turns playing with her during the day, I’m sure it isn’t the same. Mama and Daddy ask a lot of questions as they try to construct the narrative of the story she’s building through play, and she’s three. I’m sure there’s a narrative, but it’s the narrative of a three year old and we’re both adults who can’t get into that mindset all the way. I’ve noticed she’s singing more, probably because she missed her singing class this week. To try to give her some normalcy we’ve given her a “practical life job” (something they do at her daycare), which is to give Mama and Daddy hugs during the day. She’s really good at it and even though she thinks it’s funny and a game, it always makes me feel better. Just a necessary hit of endorphins or oxytocin or whatever it is. It works.
We’re trying to implement a schedule of physical activities during the day. A morning walk. An afternoon walk or bike ride (for her). Stuff to get her up and outside and moving so she’ll be a little less sensitive and whiny and maybe we will too. The eight month old doesn’t seem to care. He just wants to be physically attached to Daddy and for Daddy to give him Tylenol all day for his aching gums.
My daughter doesn’t really grasp what’s going on. She still asks if it’s a school day every day. She asks when she can go see her cousin to play or go to the park with her friends from school. The park with the ponies, please. She only knows that the reason we’re all at home and she can’t see her friends and family is that a lot of people are sick. She keeps talking about when everyone will be better.
Last night, during bedtime, she told me she hated the sick people. She hates that they’re sick and she can’t see her cousin. I explained that we shouldn’t hate people for being sick – it isn’t their fault – and she asked me who’s fault it was. I started to explain that it isn’t anyone’s fault. People just get sick. But that felt like a lie.
I found myself angry at the fact that people knew this virus was coming and they could have taken steps to make this better than it is, and they didn’t. People are getting sick. People will continue to get sick. People will die. People will have scarred lungs and reduced air capacity for the rest of their lives because small people who wanted to feel powerful did nothing.
But I wasn’t going to go into that with a three year old. “People just get sick” is enough for now. And while I do believe that a lot of this is the fault of bad people who refused to act in the public good, most of the anger there is really just impotence. There’s so little I can do. I donate to groups trying to help folks in the service industry. I’ll give money to family that need it. I’ll continue to try and support local businesses to keep them around.
But I’m not going to keep the french bakery down the street open by myself. I can’t keep my brother’s family safe and healthy or save his business. I couldn’t even keep my mother from taking a flight back to Texas this week after she’d been visiting to help my brother’s family deal with some significant health issues.
So for now, I just try to muddle through my day. I work when I can work. I sleep when I can sleep. I try to be a kind and patient father for my kids, who are just as discombobulated as I am, but without an entire lifetime of experience to help them cope. I don’t always succeed here, but I really do try. I try to make sure my wife gets hugs and kisses. And if there’s anything left, I try to find time for myself. Time to breath, time to be sad or angry or thankful. Time to cry if necessary.
We are ten days into an event that will – without any sense of irony or hyperbole – alter the course of human civilization on a scale we haven’t seen in a century – if not longer. That’s a lot to take in. Sometimes when you catch a glimpse of the scope of what is happening and what may come, it’s too much. And when it’s too much, it’s important to remember that that’s OK and to find an anchor at home. I am fortunate to have my wife and children and a collection of friends that I can stay in touch with to give me the foundation to not end up lost in despair or fear.
I hope everyone has something like that.
The next post shouldn’t be this long. I’m going to try to write fairly frequently to avoid trying to summarize the year that has happened in this week again. I hope everyone out there is staying home if they can and staying safe no matter what.