Perspectives on the pandemic
I suppose I should almost feel guilty about my life bobbing along merrily.
People I know have suffered with COVID. Some have died. Many have had their lives and livelihoods disrupted.
I’ve been healthy. My children live in town. I’ve met a marvelous friend. Although colleagues on a computer screen weren’t as much fun, we were still there for each other. And my home basement office did have a window.
Nevertheless, emerging into the sunlight has been wondrous. Seeing people face to face (at least part of their faces) is welcome.
Seeing people face to face (at least part of their faces) is welcome.
But the stress that the last couple of years has had on people remains. Cultural divisiveness increasingly festers. I wouldn’t have thought that a time would come that businesses would feel the need to post signs asking customers to be nice to stressed-out and stretched-thin employees.
Having been at UD for more than half a century, I appreciate it as, for the most part, an oasis of civility. Once, when I was talking to a world-class scholar from my alma mater who was serving as a visiting professor here, he said the two schools were alike. I thought he might be referring to excellence in teaching, scholarship and research. But what he said was, “They are both places where people hold doors open for each other.”
The pandemic has given us time to remember and reflect. I remember something I learned as a young child, well before I encountered it in the theological and philosophical complexities of the likes of Aquinas and Aristotle. I learned that virtues and vices are habits.
Holding a door open once is nice. When it becomes a habit, it becomes part of who we are. Vice works likewise. If we become antagonistic each time we disagree with someone, we lessen who we are. But holding a door open on campus, speaking a kind word to a store clerk or being patient with a restaurant server (and perhaps leaving a little bigger tip) can make us (and the world) better.
Daily breakfasts with the kids. Lunchtime runs. Hikes every evening. Family game night. Family TV night. Backyard camping.
If life was going to give me lemons — um, I mean a pandemic — I was going to make lemonade with cocktail umbrellas and a side of zucchini bread.
I added those activities to my life in March 2020, when our routine was upended and our three girls were left disoriented by the sudden close of school. The least I could do was cook them breakfast, something we never could have squeezed into life pre-pandemic with a 7 a.m. bus call.
We went through a lot of scrambled eggs — so many that my husband and I acquiesced in April 2020 and bought six baby chicks for the kids to raise. By the time the hens started laying, the girls were sick of eggs and I had ceased making breakfasts.
In the beginning, every Thursday was art day. At lunch, I’d walk down from my bedroom office and join them on the driveway. We drew. We made tie-dye T-shirts. We splatter painted. I, not being a crafty or artsy person, ran out of ideas before the summer’s end, and Thursdays instead became days for PB&J sandwiches at the kitchen table.
Full disclosure: I also rarely bake, my lemonade comes frozen in a can, and I have never purchased cocktail umbrellas.
Those goals were good, and I’m glad we started the pandemic with a list of things the whole family could look forward to. The girls needed distraction from the nightly news — which I watched way too much — and the reality that I wasn’t going to allow playdates, sleepovers or mall outings. It helped. It brought us closer together. It allowed us to sleep at night.
In the end, though, those new routines were unsustainable. First off, no one wants that much family time, especially three mostly-teen girls who prefer to entertain one another. Even though I plied them with post-hike ice cream, the kids eventually refused to take another step.
But we were all together. In our bubble, we all stayed physically well, even if our mental health still needed the occasional Oreo Blizzard.
When we are all past this danger and life around the world truly returns to normal, I will still see, when I look out the kitchen window, the fort we built together in the woods. That’s what I hope to remember about our COVID lockdown. The fear, death and loss can take a hike.
I wasn’t yet working for the University of Dayton when the pandemic struck, but instead was employed by the university across town. On our very first day of quarantine, the VP of my division thought it would be fun if every employee took selfies of their home offices and emailed them around.
One colleague shared a photo of her cute home office and her two French bulldogs snoozing on the couch beside her. Her hair was washed and straightened, and her makeup was on.
My boss shared a photo of his setup in his guest bedroom; the bed perfectly made and not a book out of place on the shelf behind him. I think he was even wearing a collared shirt.
Then there was my photo:
I’d been up since 6 a.m. I hadn’t showered. My hair was stacked on top of my head in a messy bun. I still had on my pajamas, as did my two kids — Cooper, 4, and Margot, 2. I don’t even think I had washed my face. Under my eyes I had bags the size of Texas, weary from sleep deprivation after endless nights spent awake worrying about the virus. It was my new COVID look and I rocked it.
It was very clear early on that I was in an entirely different situation than most of my coworkers. This was only the beginning.
A week before Ohio’s stay-at-home order was issued, my husband was labeled an essential worker on his program at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and was still going into the office each day. I was home alone with two small kids and a full-time job. To say I was losing my mind is an understatement.
I love my kids, but they are a lot to handle, even when they are normally in daycare five days a week. For two little ones each with the energy of a Labrador retriever to be stuck inside with near freezing temperatures outside for the first several weeks of quarantine was a recipe for disaster.
Pre-pandemic, my kids’ iPad time was limited to 30 minutes per day, but after one week, I didn’t care if their brains were fried, I just wanted silence. The top of every hour was greeted with the question, “Mommy, can I have a snack?” Whoever invented applesauce pouches should be knighted. Playing with slime became a regular afternoon activity, until it took the finish off my antique dining table — never again.
I remember after three days in, I wrote an appreciative Facebook post and tagged all of my kids’ daycare teachers. They are saints on Earth to deal with 10-15 toddlers at one time. Each one of them needs a raise.
Over the next several weeks, our Zoom calls included my coworkers’ tales of binging TV shows, books they were able to finish, Pinterest recipes they were cooking and long walks they took over lunch.
I had nothing to add to this conversation. I told them no one had pooped their pants yet and I hadn’t cried today, which was a win.
At one meeting in particular, I remember being on a Zoom call with our entire division when everyone noticed my son behind me in full costume, dressed as The Flash. My VP stopped the meeting to say hi to Cooper, then gave a very poignant speech that I really needed to hear that day.
He thanked us — every parent of small children on his team — just three of us. He told us that he knew this was the hardest on us and he appreciated we still showed up for work each day, trying to make the best of a horrible situation. He had teenagers and the pandemic was driving his family into madness, but he couldn’t imagine if his kids were small, like ours, dealing with potty training, pull-ups, nap schedules, crying fits, temper tantrums, etc.
Before I knew it, the three of us were crying.
Sometimes, all you need is a little support. And wine. Lots of wine.
I’ve been UD’s photographer for over 30 years, and pre-pandemic, most of my workday was spent roaming campus looking for visually interesting situations that would yield good photos.
In March, 2020, within a 48-hour period, the campus was transformed from a bustling hub of activity to a desert devoid of most humans. I was sent home with my computer to work from my dining room — hardly the location for campus activities our alumni would enjoy seeing.
Early pandemic rules kept me home for a while, but I eventually could go on campus to look for feature art. Even so, there were few others on campus — no students, no professors, no sorority or fraternity happenings. The one constant on campus, though, was the presence of UD’s flora and fauna. Thus, the majority of my photos were people-free. See for yourself.
For everyone I know, March 13, 2020, is the day life as we knew it stopped.
As a working mom of two teenagers, “life as we knew it” was pretty busy. Other parents of teens will understand all too well. Add to it the fact that our oldest was a high school senior and all that comes with that. She was days away from her 18th birthday. She had just purchased her dress for her senior prom. We had just ordered the invitations for her graduation. She was hard at work rehearsing for a part in Grease (her dream performance throughout high school). And then everything came to a screeching halt.
Kids were sent home. My husband and I both transitioned to remote work. My kids finished out 12th and 7th grades virtually (and I suddenly became a teacher, while also working from home). For our daughter, so many “lasts” were canceled. She had no senior prom. Graduation was postponed (and eventually converted to a drive-thru format). For our son, his entire 8th grade year was spent in virtual school. For more than a year, big, in-person family gatherings were put on hold. Birthdays, Christmas and other special events were held over Zoom. Even though we knew it was what we needed to do to protect our vulnerable loved ones (including our own heart patient kids), the feeling of loss was still great.
But I can’t help but think about how much was also gained.
We learned about the common good, and put it into practice. We protected ourselves, as well as others. We showed kindness, and received it in return. And as parents of teenagers — the clock counting down our time together ticking away — this was “bonus” time we wouldn’t have otherwise had. With all the pandemic has taken from so many, we count ourselves as some of the truly lucky ones. I thank God every day that we’re all still here! And we have been given this incredible and unexpected gift of this time together. We’ve laughed, played games, made art together, baked, snuggled on the couch while binge-watching TV, reconnected with nature, gazed at the stars, and ultimately just loved each other more each day.
Despite all the challenges and loss that the pandemic has brought, for this, I am eternally grateful.