Latest Chart: Weeks 1 and 2 of Shelter-in-Place

March 27, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

As I sit here writing this, my kids are in school.

No, not that kind of school. The kind where they get to wear regular shirts but pajama bottoms. The kind where they see their teachers’ homes, because everyone’s in a different location but in the same place online.

The kind that separates the majority of the population due to COVID-19.

Last week Thirteen and Eleven were on spring break, but it was a vacation out of the Twilight Zone. On the Friday before their break started, the school had announced it would go exclusively online once we came back from our days off. By then the governor of Illinois, too, had asked everyone to shelter in place.

So that’s what we did last week. And this week. And, now, for the foreseeable future.

Now, mind you, we didn’t have grand spring break plans before all this even started. Our family had no travel plans. I was supposed to go to Louisiana for a wedding, but other than that were going to stay home. Catch up on our sleep. Watch movies. The girls both need hair trims, so I’d earmarked that for vacation. The middle school dance was supposed to be in April, and we’d discussed dress shopping.

We did catch up on sleep and watch movies, but that was the only thing that felt normal.

We didn’t leave the house. On the second or third day, Thirteen received word from some of her classmates of an online chat in Google Hangouts. She spent hours every day talking to her friends, all of them teasing one another and comparing notes on their experiences at home.

Eleven moped a bit when she heard her big sister’s voice ring through the house with excitement. I encouraged her several times to email her friends and video chat with them. They’d all be home, I reasoned, so she had a pretty good chance of catching someone.

Although she did talk to some of them, by the end of the week she’d hit her limit for the whole situation. I think we all breathed a sigh of relief when school started Monday online. Sure, it was weird not making the short drive to the school building, but it was closer to “normal” than last week.

On Monday, at the end of the school day, Eleven came downstairs sparkling with energy. She and Thirteen talked about how organized everything was. Her face exuded relief and gratitude to see her teachers and to follow the same routine she does during the normal school day.

That’s due solely to our amazing administration and teachers; they worked hard all during spring break to make this transition as smooth as possible.

By last night, however, the energy and optimism had diminished. Like the rest of us—like the rest of the world—Eleven is not just tired but weary. She wants to do normal things, and here the definition of normal, as all of you know, is incredibly basic.

Last night during dinner, without even thinking about it, I said, “I was supposed to be in Madison today.”

Madison as in Wisconsin where I go every year for my favorite writers’ conference; I was supposed to be there this week.

And just like that, like a series of blocks tumbling to the ground, we started mentioning in short bursts all the things we were supposed to be doing this week. Eleven took it the hardest. I suppose that’s my fault; I shouldn’t have made the comment about Madison or that Eleven was supposed to be starting her soccer season this week or that both she and Thirteen were supposed to have their school’s quarterly arts showcase last night.

Yeah, now that I’m thinking about it, it definitely was not my finest parenting moment.

“Coach was going to start me as forward,” she said, disappointment in her face and voice. “We were going to send off [all the senior players]. This was going to be their last season.”

The more she let all these things out, the more stunned she looked. It was as if she hadn’t gotten around to counting exactly how many life events had skewed to “abnormal” during this time. I tried to salvage the situation at one point.

“Just yesterday…or was it the day before?” I interrupted myself. “Anyway, I filled out a survey from the park district in which they asked if you could play in May or June or, if they made the season longer in the fall, if you could play. I said yes to everything.”

She seemed a little mollified by that, but not by much, and even as I said the words I knew how hollow the promise sounded.

Thirteen has her share of disappointments too. For the school’s Maker Faire (in which kids learn a new skill or improve an existing one and then do something creative with it,) she was building a dragon. Originally all Maker Faire projects were being completed at school, but when the shelter-in-place order ramped up I brought the dragon’s head home.

But this was no ordinary dragon. He was going to be a major prop in the eighth grade play that the school produces every single year. And Thirteen, our improv-loving actress, was committing her lines and the music to memory as if she were premiering on Broadway.

There was also the middle school dance, her last at this school before she moved on to high school, and the talent show. Not to mention her dance recital has now been postponed indefinitely. In some ways she, should have been more dejected.

Last night, though, she didn’t speak up, and she didn’t seem overly upset by anything. Instead it was Eleven who needed an encouraging word, and we offered many. I could see in my younger child’s face the same questions we’ve all been asking: how long is this going to last? Are we ever going to be able to see our friends face to face again?

When does life go back to being “normal”?

None of us know, of course, but my husband and I reassured Eleven as best we could. He’s got his entire medical career to back him up. I’m a mom, and a former cheerleader to boot, so I have optimism and encouragement in spades. Acknowledging for Eleven that we’re just as worried and anxious as she is for life to go back to normal made her steel herself against what she knew might happen next: the dreaded parent hug.

She finished sweeping the kitchen, which is her chore every night after dinner, and escaped to the solitude of her room. Thirteen finished wiping down the counters and strolled upstairs after her. I washed the dishes and went up to say good night to them both.

Eleven had already fallen asleep, but Thirteen was still awake and I asked her how she was doing.

“Fine,” she said.

“We talked a lot about how [Eleven] is feeling about all this, but we didn’t really talk about what you’re thinking. If you need someone to talk to, you can always come to me.”

“I know,” she said in that quick way teens use to get their parents to stop bugging them.

“Hey, it’s either Daddy or me,” I joked, “and you know what you’re going to get there.”

“Yeah,” she said with a chuckle, “I know.”

This time I heard the sincerity in her voice. She and both Eleven know they can talk to us at any time, about anything. After all, in this time of shelter-in-place, that’s what we have, right? Each other. Time. And, within the confines of our homes, space to talk.

All of us, I know, are eager for this to pass, to get back to life at its regular speed. I’ve had a few moments this week where it’s all overwhelmed me, like it did Eleven. But I’ve also gained a lot of comfort from the fact that when we say “we’re all in this together,” this is one of the few times in history that the “all” is literal.

So let’s stay strong. For each other. For the kids. For the everyone.

Newest post: Bracing for spring break (oh, yeah, and COVID-19)

March 13, 2020

By Ekta R. Garg

Today the state of Illinois announced that all schools, public and private, will remain closed until March 30 due to COVID-19. I wonder, when that decision was being made, whether the people involved realized today was Friday the 13th. I hope it made someone chuckle at least.

All right, so full disclosure here: I actually like it when my kids have time off. Within reason, that is. Summer vacation starts off great, but by the second week of August it starts to feel a little long.

As of right now, Thirteen and Eleven are just happy to start spring break. So far everything’s rolling along in our normal routine. Many of their extracurricular activities for next week are cancelled, but that’s also normal. With a major university here in town, all of the schools and many of the organizations offering activities for kids follow the university’s schedule. If they’re on spring break, everyone’s on spring break.

It’s the “after spring break” part of all this that has me wondering.

The girls’ school announced earlier this week that when the break ends, the school will move to online education for at least two weeks. Even though their teachers will handle everything—the teaching, homework, grading, everything—this feels a little like a homeschool model. Which I know works wonders for some kids and families.

I, however, would probably be terrible at it. The teaching part, that is. It would be too easy to want to skimp on the math and science stuff and dedicate whole weeks to reading and writing. Being literate and knowing how to communicate in the written form is crucial, isn’t it? Do we really need to learn algebra or to look at slides under a microscope?

(Don’t tell the math and science people I said this, by the way.)

Many of my good friends homeschool their children, and I prostrate myself in front of their courage. Their sheer determination to give their kids an education, as it’s formally defined. I know they probably have their challenges, but they’re doing it every single day.

I believe in education, of course. My parents have always said it’s the one treasure you can cash anywhere in the world with a limitless supply. But to teach? Myself? Little kids? Who ask all sorts of questions and seem to want to focus on everything except the one thing you want them to know at the moment?

Would it be terrible if I admitted that sometimes my most favorite time of day is when I’m at home all alone? If I homeschooled my children, not only would I be responsible for imparting knowledge to them but then when school ended they’d just stay. They’d never leave.

Really, to my friends who do it: you guys should be the ones running the world.

I have to say, knowing the kids will be home for a minimum of three weeks actually isn’t so daunting now. Had they been younger, I would have probably gone outside, rain or shine, every single day for about 10 minutes just so I could remember what quiet sounded like. Even as the littles would be knocking on the door from the inside asking what I was doing out there.

Now, though, they’re older and can entertain themselves and one another. (See, parents of littles, this does actually happen. It’s not a myth.) As the girls have gotten older, it’s become more common to find both of them in the same bedroom. Eleven will wander over to her big sister’s room, especially on sunny days because Thirteen gets the late-afternoon sun on her side, and they’ll sit together and read or listen to music. Often they’ll even do chores like fold laundry together. It’s nice to see.

On the other hand, I already know I’ll probably have to ref more than one fight. Experience from summer vacation has taught me this. Experience has also taught me that when I tell the girls to go to their neutral corners, they usually come back after several minutes and shake hands in a truce (well, in the metaphorical sense. And now, with all this COVID-19 stuff going on, do I really want them shaking hands? Hmm, must remember to ping Dr. Sanjay Gupta on Twitter about that one. :D)

I saw a funny meme on Facebook earlier today (if you want to see it for yourself, you can check out my Facebook author page where I shared it. For those of you not on Facebook—Mom and Dad—just enjoy the following description.)

The title of the meme is “Parenting over COVID-19 spring break,” and it’s a split screen. On the left is a picture of Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins when she’s in the nursery singing “A Spoonful of Sugar.” She’s holding a robin on her finger and has a huge smile. Above her it says, “Day One.” On the right is a picture of Carol Burnett in Annie as Miss Hannigan in her nightie holding two liquor bottles looking like an absolute wreck. Above her it says, “Day Fifty.”

You laugh, but I wonder how many of us will feel like that in a few weeks.

Today, though, everything’s normal. Everything’s going by our regular routine. We’ve officially started spring break, and the kids are looking forward to a week of watching their favorite movies, hanging out in their sweat pants, and doing normal things like getting their hair trimmed and meeting friends.

And even during this national crisis, we can still be normal. Think about it, if we all stay prepared, don’t panic, and remember to extend kindness to everyone (even if that just means a smile and a kind word, because, really, we can still do that even if we can’t hug one another,) we’ll get through this. Another great meme on Facebook said that this crisis was temporary, but we’d always remember how people treated us. Just take that into consideration.

Even if it means sitting outside in the rain every day for 10 minutes (and don’t forget to do some deep breathing; that helps too.)