I don’t think anyone could fully encapsulate the depth of the strangeness of our lives these past few weeks: the coronavirus pandemic and self-isolation, the closure of schools and work, the stock market dive, a 5.7 earthquake and constant unsettling aftershocks, standing in line to get into Costco to panic-buy toilet paper and a fresh layer of spring snow on my kids’ backyard soccer field.
Crushing aloneness and calming togetherness all at once. Certain unknowing. And days lost in time.
I would love for this to be my time to write a novel or even get through the stack of books on my nightstand. My seven kids stuck in this house and my need to work in order to afford the panic-buying and the support-your-local-restaurant with take-out, and the mortgage, means that this is not that time.
We started isolating on Friday before the schools closed. By Sunday we were excited for this adventure, complete with color-coded poster-board schedules and a temporary table full of school supplies. Keep in mind — this was almost 10 days ago.
We started our new reality last Monday. Up by 8 a.m., it was the 13-year-old’s day for breakfast. He made pancakes and everyone was all syrup and giggles. Then scriptures. Then a nice little family walk outside where we laughed at the 5-year-old running up and down the street.
Then it was back home for academic time while I got on a video work call. I was somehow the only one with kids hanging off me.
The first tall glass of water fell. Then the second. Then we pulled out all the water bottles and made a new rule about no cups on the table.
One hour later we started creative time. I put out a snack of apple slices and peanut butter. The twins took out some watercolor painting (after a quick spat before they realized there were two). The older boys took turns at the piano. Then lunch.
Chore time came and then the blessed quiet time/free time. I was exhausted but felt like I hadn’t accomplished anything! After an hour and a half of screen time, we tried academic time again. The twins were having none of it. I got the 5-year-old to read a book and do flash cards with me for all of three minutes. Then I sent them outside for playtime where they played soccer in the backyard together for the first time since last summer.
And I cried. Then I made dinner, cleaned it up, read Harry Potter, and let them turn on the television while I tried to get some work done.
Ten days later and the schedule is out the door, we all have raw hands from washing, my daughter has a do-it-yourself haircut, and the table with academic supplies has gone untouched for days. There’s yelling and fighting and endless dishes.
I think at this point all we can do is keep trying and give ourselves a break. Everyone is experiencing this differently – each person, each family, each state, each country. My oldest daughter has lost the rites and traditions and celebrations of her senior year, my boys don’t understand why they can’t see their friends and my 5-year-old is just glad to have everyone at home to play with.
The only thing that’s going to get us through is more charity, for each other and for ourselves. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has an apt scripture, whether you believe in scriptures or not:
“Charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”
Yes, some of us will have a hard time at home with our children. Some of us will need to go outside to work.
Resist the urge to judge and condemn. Believe instead that people are just doing their best.
We can bear this. We can believe it will pass. We can hope for better days. We can endure. Even if we don’t stick to the schedule and watch a little more television than we should.
Michelle Quist is a columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune.