Wild and Precious Life – Quarantine 2020

In this age of the world wide web being at the fingertips of nearly all, I have found that everyone has an opinion they wish to share about every event in our lives whether personal or global. It’s that understanding that left me hesitant to write an update for these last few months. What have I to share about this pandemic of which we, the entire world, are a part of? We are all so unified in this global thing while being so separated and it’s strange. There’s nothing unique to share, we are home just as the rest of the world, and yet I have heard from family and friends checking in just to see how we are. So perhaps, our quarantine isn’t that horrendously boring. Perhaps, years from now, I’ll appreciate writing out some update of sorts and sharing it here. This is history in the making, isn’t it?

The last update I shared was shortly after the start of the new year. It’s amazing to think this was only five months ago and yet it feels like a century. In the time that has passed, we have had minor excitements occur.

I began physical therapy to correct the damage done to my pelvic muscles, hips and lower back from pregnancy and symphysis pubis dysfunction and am still attending weekly appointments. I have seen great improvement in the past five months but I still have much further to go.

We paid off my car loan and fully own two cars. This isn’t some grand, amazing event but it was a huge relief for me and made me feel so completely proud. My little Prius is the first car I ever had and now it’s entirely mine. Old as it is, I plan to run it into the ground before replacing it.

We celebrated the Fire and Ice festival and meandered through our snowy world at the children’s garden with crowds of happy children and adults amongst us. We also celebrated Valentine’s Day as we always have–with sushi at a local restaurant (gosh do we miss sushi). And shortly after that, we drove north to visit Harriet Tubman’s home and final resting place. Our busy activities were thrilling but I wish, with hindsight, I had truly reveled in them since they would be our last chances to go out and about.

Ryland, our little joy, turned one. We celebrated with homemade decorations, balloons bought the morning of, and a chocolate cake I made from scratch. Both sets of his grandparents made the long journey to Ithaca to join in and celebrate with us and he was completely thrilled. It was the first dessert he ever had, other than baby crackers, and he absolutely devoured his little smash cake I made from the cut cake tops of the larger cake I made for us adults.

I am so completely and utterly grateful we had that birthday celebration at the end of February. Even then, we were discussing the virus that was ravaging China, but we had no idea that it would be the last time we would see our parents and Ryland his grandparents.

Things changed quickly after that last week in February. We spoke to Ryland’s pediatrician about the trip we were hoping to make to California so he could meet his great grandmother and whether or not it would be wise to make plans with the virus spreading to other countries. At the time, America had no known cases, but the pediatrician worried that would not last long. Ultimately, he said it was our decision to make but he wouldn’t particularly feel inclined to travel until more was known about the virus.

So we put off making solid travel plans, claiming we would settle on a date and book airfare once we knew a little more. Ash Wednesday arrived and I brought Ryland to church for the service. I had ashes placed on my brow and Ryland only screamed at the beginning of the service. It seemed normal, aside from the call for prayer to those getting sick across the globe and now those who were sick in Washington state.

During the first three weeks of March, every day felt completely overwhelming. The situation would change rapidly from day to day and I was left overwhelmed and anxious. Growing up, my mother always advised in having a little extra of essentials when we could afford to and that tendency has followed me into adulthood. If we have one container of dish soap on the counter, we have another under the sink. Once the one is pulled from under the sink it’s time to restock. I never feel comfortable unless we have one extra of those supplies…tissues, paper towels, toilet paper, soap.

By March 6th, not quite two weeks following Ryland’s birthday, I went grocery shopping and found all the cleaning supplies and toilet paper was wiped from the shelves. By March 9th, food was beginning to disappear from the shelves as well.

We had unseasonably warm temperatures in early March and spent as much free time as we had at the park with Ryland. He was filled with joy as he swung on the swing and toddled along with our aid. We didn’t realize March 9th would be the last time he played at the park.

On March 12, the country locked down and travel was suspended. I assumed there would be a rush at stores so went in the morning to grab some non-perishables to hold onto, assuming we would continue our regular weekly grocery haul later on.

On March 13, a national emergency was declared and I found myself once more at the store. By this point, we had managed to find a giant pack of toilet paper at Target a few days before, but now I was trying to stock up with food in case we had to self-quarantine for two weeks, something that kept floating around the news. I went in the afternoon, before school and work let out, and was completely overwhelmed by my surroundings. People were pushing through, taking cartloads piled high of nonperishables, meat, vegetables, any cleaner that happened to be left. I had an anxiety attack in one store and bordered a full panic attack in another. We determined that day that we would begin self-isolating that Sunday.

March 14, we went downtown and visited all the shops we loved. I bought books and cards and trinkets for Ryland, little items I assumed would be enough to entertain us for about a month because surely, surely everything would be back to normal after a month.

March 15, New York announced schools would close. By St. Patrick’s Day, the state was locking down.

I was a ball of nerves, feeling lost and hopeless and completely without control. Still, we attempted some normalcy. I made our traditional St. Patrick’s Day dinner and we feasted that week on other Irish fare. Shepard’s pie, bangers and mash, Guinness and soda bread. Attempting to focus on traditions felt both natural and overwhelming.

And so we began this slippery slope of the last two months passing by and days becoming meaningless. It overwhelmingly reminds me of early motherhood, just after Ryland was born, where we were awake at all hours of the night and time became meaningless. Looking at photos of the first month of Ryland’s life, I laughed at the timestamps. 8 pm dinner pictures, 1 am feedings, 4 am and Ryland did something cute and we’re all sitting on the couch. Time passed and we barely cared. It was simply about survival.

The start of the quarantine was much like that and I found it to be a particular struggle up through Easter. Easter was both joyful and hard. I had planned to bring Ryland to church for Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday services. Instead, I drove to the church the morning of Palm Sunday with a face mask on, rolled down my passenger window, and had a practitioner for the church throw a bag of Holy Week essentials into the passenger seat before I drove away. Easter Sunday, we watched the church’s service from home while eating breakfast. Ryland partook in a small egg hunt the Easter bunny left out for him in our living room and successfully found all of the missing eggs. In the afternoon, we visited the church and took photos in the garden–the closest to Easter pictures we could get without family, an in-person service, or an Easter bunny around.

After Easter, things became a little easier. By that point, we were under the New York State on PAUSE order for about a month. Each week, Bruce would make a trip to the grocery store to get what he could find on our grocery list–food was still hit or miss in the stores–then come home and strip off his clothing and mask, throw them in the wash, and shower before he would touch Ryland or I. I took as many walks in our neighborhood with Ryland as I could on nicer days, but the month was dominated by cold temperatures, snow, and if not snow then rain.

After a bit, I began to have more interest in my various joys. Reading, writing, crafts. The weather became more wild, with warmer, sunny days followed by multiple days of rain. We took as many walks as we could and on nice, sunny weekends, we took to the parks…but so did the rest of the community.

We continued practicing social distancing, staying far away from the many park goers, and this seemed to work perfectly fine. We had picnics in the sunshine as Ryland toddled about. He also, abruptly, learned to walk. After weeks of taking only three steps into the waiting arms of myself or Bruce, he suddenly waddled across the apartment with joy and has continued doing that ever since. This added a new element of speed and exhaustion to the mix. Now that he could walk, he wanted to walk everywhere, but the weather seemed to disagree with this pursuit.

Our community was also under major renovation. The roads and sidewalks were being repaired and the apartment above us was under renovation. The continuous noise, combined with Ryland’s walking, created a perfect storm in the form of sleep regression. So with frequent wake ups and the start of his day being before six AM, we all grew extremely exhausted.

In terms of the virus in our county, we were lucky. New York was ravaged by the virus but the majority of cases were centralized by the city. Hours away and in a relatively rural location, we had a brief and rapid increase in positive cases and then quickly the positives became less frequent and luckily, no deaths. Those living here were happy to apply social distancing standards by wearing masks in public and keeping distance from other shoppers in stores. After the initial fright of it all, we became more relaxed. Despite being in the hardest-hit state, we had the least cases around us out of all our friends and family. Our relaxation did not mean we were ignoring the protocol, rather we were able to slip more into the new normalcy of it all.

The weather improving slightly (although we still had snow as late as the first week of May), I feel helped greatly. Birdsong filled the air, particularly because we live beside the Cornell Ornithology Lab land which is protected and a habitat for birds. Seeing greenery and flowers blooming was a great joy to my soul. Sunny, warmer days where we wandered outside helped. I began growing various herbs in our window as I had last year, and after some research we joined a community-sponsored agriculture (CSA) membership. Through this, we will be able to get seasonal food each week from a local farm, thereby cutting down on our carbon footprint while simultaneously supporting local business and eating the freshest vegetables we can.

We are focusing on getting our finances in order. Having a young child means a lot of financial expenses in toys, clothing, food, so that Ryland may grow physically and mentally. But with social distancing and not being able to travel much of anywhere, we’ve been saving money that would have been spent in other ways.

We aren’t sure what the future has in store. We don’t know how long the pandemic will last, what it will mean for travel or visiting our loved ones, or what it means in terms of work or future childcare. But we have what we have now and will continue on until something changes, and then we will adjust. We hope the warmer weather arrives soon, and with it sunnier days, because we suspect that’s all we’ll need to be relatively content in this strange world.

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