Coronavirus Diaries: Week Four

March 21

So many states have now been ordered to shelter-in-place, and though Michigan is still low on confirmed cases compared to other states, our governor is proactive about containing this virus. We’re certain she’ll order us to stay home soon. We have provisions to last a week, but we haven’t really planned ahead long-term. We figured a trip to Costco was necessary; besides, we are low on paper towels, and with a shortage of toilet paper, those are certainly next on the to-hoard list.

Everything looked the same on the drive over, but when we parked in the half-empty lot, there was a line out the door. A staff person said the store was at capacity, so we had to wait to be let in. There have been plenty of weekends where we’ve struggled to find a parking spot, and yet the store hadn’t been at capacity then. There was a pile of pallets separating us into two lines, lines that were at least 6 feet apart. Those carts are almost 6 feet long themselves, so we stayed a safe distance between those in front of and behind us. For once, people weren’t crowding, weren’t shoving, weren’t trying to get ahead. We all just waited patiently out in the cold.

Once inside, we saw they were out of paper towels. Go figure.

March 22

It’s still chilly outside, but the sun was out, and I wanted to enjoy it and escape my family for a little while. I walked to the playground that Amelia and I usually walk to in the summertime, because for some odd reason, I wanted to see what it looked like. Would it be wrapped in caution tape? Would there be kids playing on it? Would it even still be there? I felt like it had possibly disappeared. There’s that old riddle: if a tree falls in a woods, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If a playground sits in a field and no kids can play on it, does it even exist? I honestly didn’t know. I had to see for myself.

Naturally, everything was still there and still the same, only some punk kids had graffitied the sidewalk. I wasn’t surprised. These times feel a bit like the wild west: desolate, dangerous. Every step out of the house is risky. Those punk kids were just trying to show their grit, I’m sure, like one accepting a dare. When the stakes are so high, even the smallest acts seem reckless. And people love to be reckless.

March 23

Today, any large events for the foreseeable future were postponed or cancelled. Restaurants, bars, gyms, anywhere that usually held more than ten people at a time, were ordered to close their doors. It seemed like the world was shutting down.

Not the whole world, though.

My daughter’s private preschool/daycare is still open, too. She attends four days a week for half days in the morning. They assure parents that they are taking new precautions to keep everyone as safe from Covid-19 as possible: vigilant cleaning, regular hand washing, etc.

I could keep my 3-year-old home. I am off work. I am available to watch her all day. My niece’s preschool is still open, too, but as soon as a coronavirus case tested positive in the state, my brother pulled her out.

My daughter has never really been all that excited to go to school. She puts up a fight at every drop-off. Usually tears and snot flow from her face as she grips tightly to my arms; her teacher pries her off me. But the minute I’m gone, they tell me, she’s fine. She smiles. She plays. She’s a happy girl. They send picture after picture of her dancing, coloring, finding hidden items on scavenger hunts. When I pick her up after lunch, she walks with me calmly to the door, not in a frantic rush to leave, and waves to her friends and teachers. I ask her if she had a good day, and she says with a smile, “yeah.” I ask what she did, and she tells me with enthusiasm. She likes school, I know she does, even if she doesn’t like leaving me every morning.

Motherhood has come easy for me in the way that I instantly loved my daughter, instantly knew I would do anything to protect her, comfort her, make her happy. She makes me laugh and she makes me smile and I am so grateful and so lucky to have her in my life.

Motherhood has not come easy for me in any other way. I have always been more of an introvert. I like my space. I like having time for me. I like being able to do what I want to do with my days.

When she’s at preschool in the morning, I get that space, that time, that freedom to do what I want to do. I can write. I can read. I can be who I am outside of the title of “mother.” It’s a hard thing to give up voluntarily.

I have plenty of excuses or explanations. Covid-19 isn’t very high yet in my state. Children are the demographic that handle Covid-19 the best. If she gets sick, she will likely be fine. If we take her out of school, it will be so much harder to get her to go back. She needs the socialization. She needs time away from her mommy. She needs to remember that other adults can care for her besides her parents.

Her school is good for her. Her school is good for me, too.

Any yet school in general is being targeted as harmful. School is where viruses spread unknowingly. School is where people get sick. School is where silent killers lay on all surfaces, just waiting to infect.

It feels dangerous to let her keep going in these pandemic times. But it feels just as dangerous to keep her home.

March 24

Our governor called for a shelter-in-place of all of us, so Amelia is officially off school for at least three weeks. And Chris has moved into his home office. So it’s all of us all of the time now for at least the next three weeks.

Coronavirus Diaries: Week Three

March 16

Now I’ve got a cold. Christ Almighty. 

I’m 95% sure none of us has had coronavirus. Chris did have a fever on Thursday, albeit, a slight one (101), so I think that’s what sent up the red flag. But he didn’t have a cough or trouble breathing. Still, it’s awfully suspect that we’ve been super sick during this pandemic. But not with the symptoms of the pandemic, so…whatever. 

This was our first weekend “social distancing,” and it was boring. It’s hard staying at home with a toddler. If it were just Chris and me, we’d have no problem. We’d binge watch things and read and work on projects. But Amelia demands all our attention all the time. I wonder what our lives would have looked like if this happened five years ago. Would we have used the time wisely?

Oh, just got an email from the library. They’re making us work half our time but paying us for our full. I’m happy for that, but I’m not happy that the stakes of life keep changing every hour. 

March 17

Day four of “social distancing,” and nothing really feels too different. Amelia’s always been a bit of a homebody, and she has plenty of toys. It’s me who misses the excuses to get out of the house. Though taking Amelia to the museum, to the gardens, to the mall can be just as exhausting as sitting on the floor and playing with her for hours on end, the change of scenery is always welcomed. It would be convenient if the weather would warm up sometime soon, so at least we could play outside, but spring in Michigan can be so elusive.

Our vision is limited to our own house and yard. It’s strange not to be able to physically see how this is affecting the world. Our only windows to the outside are the television and our phones, where we read and watch and listen to a myriad of fabricated things; how are we supposed to differentiate between reality and fiction? Even though I know the deaths are real, it feels more like I’m watching a dystopian or apocalyptic movie, because when I look out my front window, the world still looks the same as it always has.

March 19

The library decided that people aren’t allowed in the buildings anymore, at least until April 6, but who knows how long really? I brought home 12 books at the end of my shift yesterday, not knowing when I might get back. I still have to work from home, which, as someone whose job is solely based on physical materials, doesn’t seem especially sensible. I think it will be a lot of watching training videos, essentially.

Coronavirus Diaries: Week Two

March 8

Amelia woke up two minutes after Chris and I had turned out our own bedroom light Saturday night and puked all over her bed and the floor. And then we brought her in our bed, and she puked there, too.

But after she’d puke, she’d tell a joke and laugh at herself or ask for something to eat and be totally back to normal. So it must have been food poisoning or eating too much. At least it’s likely not coronavirus, since they say that doesn’t include gastrointestinal problems.

Today Chris and I were like zombies. Chris spent most of his afternoon washing all the puked-on laundry.

March 11

Yesterday I woke up feeling nauseous and weak. I went to work but they sent me back home immediately. I slept and then I threw up and then I slept and then I threw up again. And then I slept more. Eventually, I thought I was feeling better so I came out to the couch but Amelia made me read her a whole bunch of books and I should have stayed in bed, but I missed her. It’s so lonely being sick. 

Apparently what Amelia had on Saturday night wasn’t just overeating or eating something that disagreed with her. It was some stomach bug that got passed onto me. And I just hope now that I won’t pass it back to her or onto Chris. Because we’ve run out of laundry soap and there isn’t any more available anywhere. Fucking coronavirus. 

March 13

Chris came home from work before lunch yesterday saying that he felt “icky” and couldn’t concentrate. He called his doctor who said that if he starts feeling worse, he should GET TESTED FOR CORONAVIRUS. Why would he suggest that? Gastrointestinal issues aren’t a symptom of coronavirus. Chris asked where he could get tested, but his doctor’s office said they don’t have any tests. Chris tried calling the Health Department, but–surprise–he can’t get through. At any rate, he has self-quarantined himself in the basement. I feel like this is all an overreaction. He hasn’t even thrown up! But then he’s worried that he has something different from what Amelia and I had BECAUSE he hasn’t thrown up, that he MIGHT have the coronavirus and he doesn’t want to give it to us. So I guess better safe than sorry.

Our governor, late last night, announced all Michigan schools would close and stay closed until after Spring Break. It was quite the shock to wake up to.

I went to Meijer. THERE WAS NO MILK. THERE WAS NO BREAD. Not being able to navigate the aisles without bumping into other’s carts, seeing the shelves bare, starting to feel panic that I might not find a gallon of milk left in the whole county, it really started to feel like the world was ending.

Amelia’s preschool is still open, and we wrestled with whether to send her this morning. We decided to because she let me drop her off yesterday with no tears (a first!), and I would hate to break that good streak. No tears again today! What a brave girl! Now, please, my brave girl, don’t catch anything while you’re there!

Oh, and the library is closing until “the foreseeable future.” But we might still have to go to work? To…clean the books? Who the hell knows.

And my mother keeps asking us to let her come visit. Hey, lady, if you want to GET SICK AND DIE, sure, come on over.

Coronavirus Diaries: Week One

Feb 27

Whew. What a morning. Amelia seemed to be being difficult on purpose, refusing to wash her hands for, like, ten minutes after she peed in the potty. And I’m like, if you want breakfast, you HAVE to wash your hands, or your pee hands are going to go right in your mouth, and that’s gross.

Meanwhile, coronavirus has made it to the U.S., and if anyone is gonna contract it, it’ll be Amelia for sure, if she keeps refusing to wash her hands. 

March 3

A lot of the writers I follow on social media are debating whether or not they’ll attend the annual AWP Conference. It’s in San Antonio, Texas, and the mayor there just declared a “state of emergency” regarding the coronavirus. Apparently, they were considering canceling the whole conference, but lats I heard, it’s still happening. They’re letting people back out and refunding their money, though. My friend Maryann was going to go but has a sinus infection now; it’s not a good time to go to a city that is teeming with a highly-contagious virus when your immune system is already compromised.

Hundreds of people are backing out.

All this worry might be for nothing. They might be missing a great opportunity out of fear.

Or they might be saving lives, including their own, by not taking the risk.

I guess we’ll never know.

“Did I frighten you?”

The problem, I’ve noticed, with Shirley Jackson month, is not that I haven’t the time for it (#parenting); by taking quotes from her short stories, I had hoped to generate interest in her writing. Yes, I wanted to focus on the more unsettling qualities of her voice to match the eerie atmosphere of October, but by focusing on only a sentence or two, her stories are taken completely out of context.

So when I posted a quote from “The Witch” (a misleading title) where an old man talks about how much he loved her sister that eventually he strangled her, it’s no wonder than my mother, bless her, commented that the story must certainly be one of Shirley’s “more morbid pieces.” To her credit, my mom was one of those people who was completely mistaught Jackson in high school, so no wonder she is inclined to think the worst of her.

On the contrary, I can’t think of one thing that I’ve read of Shirley’s that I would consider “morbid.” Yes, strangulation is not particularly pleasant, and no, stoning someone from the village in an annual ritual isn’t exactly cheerful. But when I think “morbid,” I think gruesome. And Shirley never gets gruesome. She leaves the gruesome up to the imagination of her readers, always giving them a taste of panic and then cutting them off. I can say with a great amount of certainty that she always believed it was her readers who were the morbid ones to imagine such violence. She just wrote what she saw. 

Case in point: “The Witch” is not morbid at all. It takes place in a train car. And old man has an inappropriate conversation with a little boy while his mom tends to her baby. No one gets killed or tortured or mutilated. It’s all just talk.

The little boy is just as guilty at being outrageous as the old man, insisting that his mother’s name is “Mr. Jesus” and his baby sister is 12 and a half years old. He tells the old man he’s looking out the window to look for witches. 

It’s important talk, all the same. One interpretation of the story could be that it unveils patriarchal themes, that the boy, even though he is only 4, is not at all dismayed by the man’s story of violence against his sister, because violence towards females is something our society normalizes with males, no matter the age. In fact, it seems the little boy respects the man more than he respects his mother, since he laughs happily with the man when his mother tries to intervene in their conversation.

Or it could just be a realistic story of a weird old man and an imaginative bored little boy on a train.

Shirley Jackson’s writing is scary, certainly, but not because she’s morbid. No, it’s scary because it shows the shocking reality of American society.

(Read the whole story here.)

The Lottery

Yesterday was the first of October, and I hereby declared it to be not the month of Halloween, nor Fall, nor the month of Pumpkin Spice Lattes, but The Month of Shirley Jackson, because her writing is brilliant and beautiful with a touch or two of bewitching. What better reading material for October than one that puts a spell on you?

I wanted to start out slow with one of her most famous short stories, “The Lottery.” It is usually required reading for middle schoolers, which is a terrible idea (like middle schoolers can appreciate any good literature) and is usually mis-taught with class-held mock lotteries and lacking any sort of cultural or historical context. But that’s a post for another day. If you haven’t read the story, go ahead and do so now, because spoilers lie ahead. Trust me, it won’t be time wasted.

I originally thought that this blog post would be about some of the topics I touched on in my 100-page Master’s Thesis: how American Cold War culture led to strict regulations of what was an acceptable lifestyle, and anyone who varied from that lifestyle was considered a threat (I’m looking at you, Red Scare). In this case, it’s Tessie Hutchinson, who is late for the annual gathering and then speaks out about the unfairness of this age-old tradition that no one questions ever. No wonder she’s the one (SPOILER ALERT) who is murdered in the end.

Tessie Hutchinson was in the center of a cleared space by now, and she held her hands out desperately as the villagers moved in on her. “It isn’t fair,” she said. A stone hit her on the side of the head.

Ralph Ellison had a story along the same vein called “King of the Bingo Game,” where a man is picked to play a lottery-like game of chance in order to win money to save his ailing wife, but he fools himself into believing that, with the right push of the button, all his dreams will come true, and no longer is willing to take a chance. The audience that watches him play (or not play, since he refuses to make a move to advance the game) tires of his inaction, takes the game away from him, and beats him.

Super nice stories, I know. While there are many ways to interpret these stories, one thing is for sure. When it comes to games of chance, you can’t win.

I’ve never been a lottery player. I don’t have the best of luck.

How appropriate, then, as I’m thinking about writing a blog post about “The Lottery” that I, in fact, win the only lottery I’ve ever played regularly: the one where, if you win, you can purchase tickets to the Broadway smash Hamilton for $10.

There’s a catch. Of course there’s a catch.

You get less than 24 hours notice for the show that you’re able to attend. The closest theater with Hamilton running is in Chicago, a three-hour drive. I’m a mother of a toddler with a part-time job and few daycare options.

My mother-in-law, our go-to caretaker, is up north on vacation. My mother was already planning on coming over and would probably be tickled to, instead of just visit for a few hours, watch my kid all day long, but I can’t help feeling how terribly rude that would be to ask. My husband has a big project scheduled for work (kind of a rarity, to be honest, so go figure), so he can neither attend the show with me nor work from home and watch the toddler so I can go with a friend. My friend S can’t go because her only childcare option–her parents–just left on vacation (although she does offer to watch my daughter if I find someone else or go alone, which is beyond sweet). My brother can’t go because of lots of good reasons, one of them being a newborn; I didn’t really expect him to drive two hours to my house and then another three to Chicago anyhow.

What a bad time to have good luck.

I should have known from Shirley and Ralph that I shouldn’t even bother playing the game.

I could have made it work. I could have dropped my kid with S, who my kid adores and probably would have had a lot of fun with her two boys, and I could have gone on my own. When else might I get the chance to see this world-renowned show for so cheap? In the end, I decided that just didn’t feel responsible. I didn’t want it bad enough to screw up everyone’s day and spend the whole day alone in my car.

I’ve used the excuse that “kids ruin everything,” that if it weren’t for my daughter, if it weren’t for S’s lack of childcare options, if it weren’t for my brother’s newborn, there wouldn’t have been a question if I were going, and I would have had my pick of who I wanted to go with. Spontaneity does kind of fly out the window when you’re a parent.

But really, being a parent just brings focus to perspective. I didn’t care enough about that show to drop my daughter somewhere for the day, to cancel on my mother, to go off on my own. There was too much to sacrifice. And having a lot to sacrifice is an indication of how much you have to lose, and if you have a lot to lose, then that means you’ve won in your life.

I’ve won. Even though I lost this, I’ve won.