Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Gone viral: part I

I’ll probably never cough again without thinking about this period in time, when Covid-19 brought normal life to a grinding halt and we were all ordered to #StayAtHome until further notice. France has been under lockdown since mid-March, with all comings and goings requiring paperwork, ID, and a properly-founded explanation. School is out. Everything’s closed. Work is forcément from home (SEE? NOT SO EASY, IS IT?). This new social experiment, which consists in forcing families to spend roughly every second of every minute of every hour of every day together, has me vacillating between “I think this obligatory bonding time is doing us some real good!” and “So this is what a mental breakdown actually feels like.”

Here are a few anecdotes from the past few weeks. A growing number of you may relate:

March 12
President Macron addresses the nation and for once, we as a family gather around the television to listen together. I know what’s coming. I know he’s going to say it. And then he does: out of an abundance of caution, all schools nation-wide will close Monday morning and remain so until further notice. “Well,” I say to myself, “it’ll be like any other school holiday. I’ll lose 50% of my work productivity, but it’ll be OK.”

March 16
It’s Monday morning and my inbox is crammed with messages. My three-year-old daughter has a long list of projects to make and online resources to discover. My six-year-old son has a 10-page chart of lessons to learn, exercises to complete, links to visit, experiments to conduct, songs to learn, and poetry to memorize. The kids’ English school has also sent me the week’s curriculum for both classes. My husband has redirected all his calls to our home and has been Skyping with his boss for the past two hours. I start to wonder how viable any of this is.

March 17
Time to give this home schooling thing a whirl. I gather the mountain of paperwork and supplies we need, and the kids and I sit cross-legged in a pool of sunlight on the floor of my son’s room. I explain to each child what his and her respective activity is, and they go to it. My daughter intently sticks her little magnetic numbers onto the black board I am suddenly so glad we bought years ago, while my son unconsciously bites his upper lip as he focuses on his math exercises. I look at them working away and for a split-second think, “God, maybe I can do this.”

The rest of the week is not quite so easy, though. I realize after much trial and error that the children both need my undivided attention while doing their school work because otherwise they get frustrated, or space out, or squabble, or decide they’re too tired despite having slept for 12 hours straight. So the problem then becomes how to occupy child A while teaching child B. Both of them would happily spend every free second glued to a screen of any size or shape, but we can’t do that, now, can we? Wait … can we? Do rules still exist?

March 21
The first lockdown weekend arrives and it feels almost normal. We engage in our usual traditions of jogging, which is still allowed, and grocery shopping, which is also still allowed. Granted, grocery shopping in an actual physical store has morphed into an extreme sport in which one races about with a radioactive shopping cart, literally risking life and limb for things as trivial as pasta and toilet paper. So I do what any sane person would: I send my husband out to sacrifice himself for the family. He returns a few hours later, triumphant, and I ask how the store vibes were. “Post-Apocalyptic,” he says.

March 23
We survive the weekend and begin a new week. After nine solid days together, everyone is feeling a little cabin feverish—in addition to feeling actually feverish: my son is running a temperature, I have a nagging dry cough, and my daughter has a runny nose. How we managed to get sick while stuck at home all day is a mystery, but none of our symptoms seems especially serious and in my case nothing a glass of wine (or four) won’t fix. My husband informs me that several recent studies are reporting a jump in alcohol consumption since the start of lockdown. Funny he should mention it, since I was about to suggest we move cocktail hour up to 3 p.m.

March 24
Back when life was normal, I used to enjoy jogging for purely physical reasons. But lately, I have come to depend on it not just for physical health but for mental health as its literally the only moment of the entire day wherein I am alone. I have always been a loner. And by “loner” I mean someone who needs time alone each day just in order to remain sane. That is a highly Cancerian trait, by the way: rapid social exhaustionI still think I would have made a fantastic hermit. But thanks to our pal Corona, the only way I can find any quiet time these days is by locking myself in the bathroom or by going for a jog. Unfortunately, Corona has also managed to complicate that, since joggingjogging!is suddenly the object of controversy. I’ll sum it up in a conversation that is only somewhat fictional:
  • Non-jogger: you joggers are selfish jerks, spreading your germs without a care in the world. I bet you just learned to jog this week anyway, because it gives you an excuse to go outside and INFECT EVERYBODY WITH YOUR BREATHING AND YOUR SWEAT DROPS AND YOUR GROSS, GROSS SHOES.
  • Jogger: but you’re cool with my going grocery shopping while breathing and wearing shoes IN ADDITION to touching products AND exposing myself to other people’s germs?
  • Non-jogger: you’re still a selfish jerk.
  • Jogger: and you are being a judgmental asshat more Catholic than the Pope! Jogging is not only legal but also the only thing standing between me and outright insanity so BACK OFF.
March 25
I realize something: my children’s behavior is actually better than it has been in a long time. Usually, Wednesdays fall somewhere between “crappy” and “horrendous,” but this Wednesday everyone is in good spirits and I wrangle the kids into bed without anybody shouting, swearing, or sobbing, which is a straight-up miracle. I give my son a last squeeze before turning out the light and he asks quietly, “Mom, why was my friends birthday party cancelled?” “Because everything’s been cancelled, sweetie,” I answer. “Remember all the stuff we used to do, and how we never really stopped to think about how cool it was that we could do it?” “Youre right, Mom, he says. We should have been more grateful.” 
See? Something new is happening here.

March 26
I receive a fresh mountain of homework to print out for the kids. This proves to be the final blow to our printer, which gives up the ghost once and for all and decides to turn itself off for good. I have always disliked this printer. It and I have never seen eye to eye, and this latest betrayal in the midst of WAR is just typical. Well never mind. I will order a new, far superior one, and WE’LL SEE WHO’S LAUGHING THEN!!!

March 27
The French government announces that lockdown will be extended through mid-April. Welp, there goes Easter with the grandparents in the South of France. This will be the first time that we spend Easter here at home, which means the egg hunt now falls squarely in my lap. Maybe that’s a good thing. Time to do it American-style. I race to Amazon, which thankfully is still up and running, and order 48 plastic eggs and two baskets. This will be fun. Plus, I WON’T HAVE TO EAT GREAT GRANDMA’S LAMB! So help me, I hate the very idea of eating lamb. It’s barbaric. You know it is. I don’t understand the tradition, especially from a Christian perspective. “Christ is the lamb of God, so we should go massacre an actual lamb and serve it with flageolets”? Seems arbitrary. And mean. 

March 28
Our washing machine starts to make strange noises. I wonder what exactly the protocol is when one’s appliance breaks down in the middle of a national quarantine and very quickly decide that that’s one thing I really don’t want to learn more about. I add “washing machine” to my prayer list.

March 29
I’ve been having strange dreams that leave me even more disoriented upon awakening than I usually am. In the pre-Corona days, my first thought used to be how can my alarm be ringing already? But that has been replaced by where the hell am I and whats my name again? Anyway, my latest dream is an old favorite, right up there with missing a flight or falling into a bottomless pit: I’m in some kind of major trouble or am trying to warn somebody about something terrible, except that when I try to scream I realize I’ve lost my voice. I try again, and nothing comes out but a whisper. I try again, and usually at that point I’m so truly distressed that I do scream and thus wake myself up. According to Google, the bottom line in such dreams is a loss of control. GOSH I DON’T SEE WHERE MY SUBCONSCIOUS GETS THAT IDEA FROM.

To be continued!

No comments:

Post a Comment