Part 1 of this series can be found here. Part 2 is here.
The Weekend: March 14 and 15
Saturday morning, a friend suggested we meet up at a basketball court so the kids could play. I’m thinking, that’s OK, right? It’s just my younger son and one other kid. My husband Gurpreet says he thinks we should shy away from that, especially with contact sports, and in general we should keep everyone at home. Yet again, I’m thinking this is nuts, we’ve gone from no crowds to no school to no small gatherings to no get-togethers with even ONE kid? But he was spot-on about not going to India. That gave me pause, along with having just experienced an entire week of safety thresholds changing by the day.
Moments later, I got a message from another mom on a group text. Her son was already asking to have the usual small group of boys over—what did we think? I replied that our “family policy” was evolving in that moment. One of the dads said his family was observing strict social distancing and suggested Google hangouts instead. He shared the article many people reading this will have already seen, “Social Distancing: This is not a snow day.” I was convinced.
Despite the background anxiety, we had a nice weekend, relaxed and harmonious. We cooked a lot, took a long walk together, played Pandemic (because what else?) and actually won for the first time. Even though the reason behind it was nothing to celebrate, I set out to intentionally appreciate the empty calendar and whatever blessings this mandatory downtime and togetherness might bring. I listened to my boys chatting and laughing before bed and playing basketball together (thank God for our little backyard “court”!) and felt grateful for their relationship, since they would be spending A LOT of time together.
I got nostalgic for our homeschool days and in a way looked forward to having them at home again, especially the relaxed mornings, something I missed from those days. With my husband working from home and our kids being older, there would be no child care issues, and with all the assignments from school and me not having to curate or plan anything, I thought, this will be a piece of cake! (Let’s see if I end up eating those words.) And nothing would start for a couple weeks anyway, since they would be on spring break.
Knowing I wouldn’t have to plan everything, it was even more fun to make a short list of activities we could do within the current constraints. Providence Preservation Society self-guided tours. A walk on the beach followed by researching piping plover conservation. We would go find the harbor seals.
Monday, March 16
Did I say relaxed? Harmonious? Relishing the blessings? Even a little excited? Right. Welp, that was short lived.
Monday, reality set in. Not going anywhere, and who knows for how long. No friends, at least not in person. No team basketball. All together, at home, all the time. There was fighting (them with each other and me with them). Yelling (me). Complaining (everyone).
After dinner, I dragged everyone, kicking and screaming, out for a walk. It was just the reset we all needed. I asked them, “How would you describe this time to beings from another planet?” My older one said, “It’s like you can do anything you want, but at the same time you can’t do anything.” That resonated with me, as it did seem this time would be a strange combination of freedom and restriction. When it was my younger one’s turn to describe it, he said “Boring, boring, and garbage.” He’s usually articulate and wise beyond his years so I don’t know what happened there, but at least he said it with good humor.
We talked about how although we are all going through an adjustment to this new reality, people all over the world are suffering and dying and many others have lost their jobs. We told the kids—at the same time, reminding ourselves—it’s OK to feel disappointed about things we are missing, but relatively speaking, we have nothing to complain about. And what can we learn from this time about living in the moment, adjusting to the unexpected, and not taking the future for granted? What can we do to serve others?
Tuesday, March 17
Off to work in our office to do outpatient visits. This was the first day I wore a surgical mask for all patient care. It felt awkward, particularly in the outpatient setting. I felt compelled to apologize to my patients for the mask and explain that I was not sick, it was just the new protocol.
By that Friday, the next time I worked in the office, it was clear no one needed any explanation.
Wednesday, March 18
Back at the hospital for 24 hours. Birth happens. Babies will come out the same way, always, no matter what else is going on.
My midwife student and I were busy. We had four births and another woman in active labor besides. In the early evening, I received a text from a colleague. She had just heard that until further notice, our hospital would not allow any medical or midwifery students, in the interest of reducing “nonessential” personnel. I decided that since I had not yet heard this by any official notification and my student had already established relationships with all our patients, I was not throwing her out on the spot. She would finish her shift, and I would keep this information to myself until the morning so she could care for our patients and attend their births without being upset.
She did a fantastic job. When I told her in the morning that she wouldn’t be coming back until further notice, she was disappointed but had been expecting it. Some of her classmates at other clinical sites were already gone. A couple of weeks later, it would no longer be up to the individual clinical sites. The school itself would soon suspend all clinical training for their students.
I do not envy decision-makers in this situation. I pray for them daily and I know there are many considerations going into every difficult decision that I may not know about. I had trouble with this one. This exemplary student has decades of critical care and labor and delivery nursing experience. Even as a new grad midwife, she could hit the ground running after graduating in a few short months—just as we may be facing a provider shortage due to illness and quarantine. We are pulling health care providers out of retirement, and yet here we are hitting pause on the training of new ones who would have soon been ready to step in and fill urgent needs.
I wonder if we would be doing that if we were not facing such a dire shortage of PPE, needing to save every scrap for those of us who are currently licensed to provide care. This makes me angry.
Thursday and Friday, March 19 and 20
The week’s end involved a lot of contemplation and discussion with family and friends about what this time means—for now and the future. A larger conversation was emerging about how as horrible as this crisis is likely to get, it also has the potential to catapult us into a reordering of society that could result in a more compassionate, creative and just world.
Like so many people, I was determined to appreciate the opportunity for more family time, more time for care of the home and creative projects, and simple enjoyment of nature and reflection. At the same time, I wanted to take care not to spiritually bypass the horror of what is happening around the world and increasingly here in the U.S. I always struggle with what can feel like the perversity of personal gratitude while other individuals and entire populations of people face extreme hardship. To some extent, I always live with the question: am I doing enough to be of service in the world—not only to do my part, but also to deserve to enjoy my life? All this is intensified now.
The freedom of unstructured time alongside extreme restrictions. Collective and individual blessings alongside collective and individual anxiety and grief. It was clear this time would be nothing if not a lesson in living with paradox.
Gurpreet said: Imagine? Something a thousand times smaller than the width of a human hair has brought the whole world to its knees.
© Camille Williams and Wake Up, Mama!