Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Alone time. On steroids.

“I’m just checking to see if you are feeling any better?” 

I hear his muffled little voice trying to make its way through the solid wood door. His sweet seven-year-old spirit swells my heart to overflowing and crushes me simultaneously. I know he misses me terribly and he’s worried too.

“I’m doing okay, Buddy,” I call. “About the same as yesterday.”

How did I end up here, I wonder, shut alone in my room, isolated from my family, calling my husband, who is only downstairs, on the phone, reading Harry Potter to my son via a Zoom call? Knocks on my door, followed by scurrying feet signal a plate brimming with food is waiting outside, or the butter knife I have asked for, or if I’m lucky, a small stack of thin paper napkins. Apparently I am the only member in this household who finds that last one essential at mealtimes.

The sound of plate hitting bare wood floors has become our passive communication. I hear it and it alerts me to wait a minute until the footsteps disappear, and then come fetch what has been left me. They hear it, and it signals them to don gloves and take away what I have left them. When my trash is full or my laundry needs washing, I toss it outside my door and yell to my helper elves. I’m quickly learning this door blocks out the sound more effectively than I realized, at least in one direction. 

Sometimes when I need something between mealtime hours and my shout goes unanswered, I resort to texting or calling Graham. I rapidly discern that when his phone is on silent, I can use the “drop-in” feature on my app to communicate with my people via Alexa. I am relentless when a cup of ice or a fresh kombucha beverage I can’t taste is striking my fancy. It is through this modern technology mode of communication that I learn, well after bedtime, that one of our Alexa devices has relocated to a kid’s room, where I accidentally revive them (I guess they all sleep together now?) from near-slumber with new energy at the sound of their mother’s voice in search of late-night chocolate. Whoops. 

I woke up feeling achy on Monday, December 6th. It had been a rough night so I chalk it up to sleeping wrong. But was that a mild sore throat I was beginning to feel? Nah, surely I’m just reading into things. Tuesday morning greets me again with full body aches. Now it’s getting harder to shake them off. A quick Google search of “body aches and COVID” produces far more hits than I’d hoped. My throat is definitely sore, very mild, but undeniable all the same. A couple more clicks and I find myself on the CDC’s website where a brief set of checkbox symptoms inform me that I meet criteria to be tested for COVID-19. 

I get tested on Tuesday, and ask the doctor at urgent care about separating from my family. Her message is very much The-Damage-Is-Already-Done but I still feel squeamish about how to interact with them while I await my results. I don a mask in my own house, and make it a solid day of wearing it while homeschooling my kids, before deciding “this is overkill” and resume my normal mothering duties sans mask. I won’t let Graham kiss me, but he doesn’t get kicked out of the bed...yet. 

I’m feeling what I would describe as generally “not great” come Thursday afternoon. I’ve survived a 4-day stretch of homeschooling while feeling unwell and I get a hankering for a peppermint mocha. I know I shouldn’t leave my house with test results pending so I pull out the decaf and come up with what I decide is an extremely sad substitute for “the real thing” that is my occasional winter Starbucks treat. It tastes exactly like…..nothing. Did I not just melt a fresh square of peppermint dark chocolate into a shot of espresso? I might suck at coffee but surely I should taste something. 

I’m only mildly worried and decide to pivot and go the salty route for my afternoon pick-me-up instead. For some reason, I only allow myself the luxury of nachos when I’m not feeling well (a topic for another day) and today I’m not, so I microwave myself a small plate. Again, I taste nothing. I tell myself I’m just creating problems now. My imagination is severely compromised (according to my husband) but it is not entirely dead. Surely I’m dreaming up symptoms to justify the “overreaction” of my going in to get tested.

I text Graham that I can’t taste my snack and we laugh it off. But in reality, this is my “Oh crap” moment. At dinner that night, I prepare a new recipe, chicken breasts pounded thin, rolled around asparagus, and wrapped in slices of prosciutto. I’m sorely disappointed with the final result - it is blah and flavorless and when I pipe up to say so, my family looks at me like I have two heads. I shut my mouth quickly, realizing I’m alone in my opinion. I give Graham the eye and he laughs nervously.

I wake up Friday morning and grab my morning cup of Joe. Usually I enjoy it downstairs but, on a whim, decide to take it back up to bed where my husband is waking up slowly. It’s his day off from work, which means it’s my day off from homeschooling. Little did I know that was to be the last time I would leave my room for the next week. My phone rings and I’m suddenly swirling with exposure dates and quarantine timelines and being told to isolate from everyone in my household. By this point, Graham has roused himself from bed to get the kids started on their morning routines. He walks in the room while I’m still on the phone and I frantically flail at him and motion for him to back away and get out, as if he hadn’t just been in here with me, breathing the same air. 

Suddenly the switch flips. I am contaminated. The door shuts, masks go on. It’s surreal, going from unknown to known. This is how I got here, to this very strange existence. 

I start crying. I feel everything almost instantaneously. How did this virus crack it’s way through our caution? Why me? Where did it come from? I feel ashamed, embarrassed, guilty, burdened,  and sad. I feel like I’ve failed, as if COVID is a giant game of evil tag and I somehow misstepped and failed to avoid it. Now I have let my team (my family) down. Graham will have to call into work for weeks. And this, on literally THE DAY that vaccine gets shipped out for emergency use. Ten months of calculated decision-making and risk-tolerance assessing, ten months of saying “no,” being told “no,” and everything in between. Only to fall victim to this thing we’ve been avoiding in the final leg of the race.

I’m sad and all the other things. But also, I am angry. No, it’s probably more accurate to call it furious. I followed the rules! It was just us for Thanksgiving! We have had no one in our home! I wear my mask! I order my groceries online! We are homeschooling! Meanwhile, people all around gather, have others in their homes, celebrate in various Christmas-y ways. My internal fairness meter is alarming off the handle. It’s a good thing it only sounds in my head, otherwise neighbors for miles in all directions would need to be donning earplugs. 

The short of it is, this simply doesn’t seem fair.

I know I can’t stay in this headspace forever. If there’s any hope of sanity while I’m locked away in isolation, I’m gonna have to hit a reset. 

I start looking for silver linings. I pray and journal and practice gratitude. Friends and family in my life show up in such amazing ways. Every day someone reaches out to ask if they can run and pick anything up for me. Our porch is covered with deliveries every time my little elves open the door - meals, fresh loaves of homemade bread, magazines to keep me entertained, lattes, crafts for the kids, cookies, cookies and more cookies, fresh grapefruit, flowers, the most adorable little Grinch tree, chocolate, croissants, groceries, bottles of wine, gifts, a virtual reality gaming system (I’m not kidding!), a card table for puzzling, puzzles and nail polish. I could go on and on.

The love and care we received from so many filled our tanks to overflowing. Truly, it blew us away! Graham was floored by my friends and kept exclaiming things like, “Kelsie! You should get sick more often!” And quite honestly, the outpouring we received makes that ever-so-slightly tempting. Kidding! ;) 

One of the most eye-opening pieces of this whole ordeal for me was what it took for me to feel 100% permissed to go entirely off duty. No one expected anything of me. Zero. I can’t think of another time in my life where I was so free of pressure and duty. 

I didn’t realize the freedom I was experiencing until it was gone. Isn’t that so often the case? Once I was no longer contagious and my bedroom door was free to open again, suddenly I was forced to stare down all the “shoulds” and “coulds” in my life that perpetually fight for my attention. I no longer had strict, understood-and-respected-by-everyone orders to rest and recuperate. Now I would have to make those things happen for myself in addition to my obligations like feeding my family and raising my kids.  

As “unfair” as it may be that I was the one to get hit with COVID after all my efforts to fight against it, I’m (slowly!) learning “Is this fair?” isn’t perhaps the best question to be asking when I encounter hard circumstances like those the last couple weeks have held. As I tell my kids all the time, “Life isn’t fair!” And yet it’s so much easier to bark those words at them than accept them as truth for myself. This week I was challenged to ask myself a different question, a mantra borrowed from my pastor a few months back: “God, what are you trying to teach me in this?” I have a long way to go but I found asking myself this question helped me reset without discounting the hardship I was facing. (Important Kelsie-ism: never discount my feeling or experience, just ask my husband. ;))

Miraculously, none of my family members caught this nasty virus, despite interacting with me for a week before we knew I had it. As I type this, we are waiting for the final test results for a second round of testing so we can officially end this Christmas Season Quarantine and Graham can return to work (and get his vaccine!) Even though I would not choose to do this again, I’m grateful for a strange and unexpected way to hit “pause” on life and take an extended Sabbath of rest. 


(Important author’s note: don’t let this get into the wrong hands but I actually didn’t mind a week of alone time in a small space without having to cook or take care of anyone. Which probably goes to show just how desperate us mamas can get who are with our kids constantly. Or it might just mean I’m a good candidate for jail. You be the judge).

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posted by kelsie