This Is How We Live Now

Since our city was devastated by a tornado, then blindsided by a global pandemic, I’ve been writing. I’m a parent of a Kindergartener, a worker, artist, wife, and musician. This has been such a strange time, complete with delight, exhaustion, fear, and pockets of profound peace. But the fear is very real—even when it’s not living within you. It’s on your street. It stands at the edge of your yard.

This is how we live now.

We move through our stations in life. We work. We “teach.” Matt does breakfast, I do lunch. We convene for dinner. We smile as our ships pass each other throughout the day and share snippets of success when they occur—the times our son “M” learns something or exercises with us without complaining. As the parent who now wakes up three hours earlier to get a jumpstart on my workday, I also tend to fall asleep shortly after dinner. We’ve been married for ten years, but together for fifteen. I suspect this is the glue that secures us. We remember who each other are, even if the versions of ourselves that exist now offer only a glimpse of the other person. We are, without a doubt, even busier than we were before COVID-19 shut everything down.

At the same time, we are exceedingly lucky. We still have jobs. We can work from home. We have a house and food. We get to see our family and friends on video chats. We even have some hand sanitizer. I don’t lament what our lives are. I observe, I document, I talk about it with our son. I think it’s important that we get this all into a kind of time-capsule so we can remember it in the future and set a marker for when things changed.

I thought homeschooling would be the biggest challenge going into this weird period. But, as it turns out, it’s not that bad if you have a work/school schedule you stick to and honor those boundaries with your partner. I know this isn’t possible for all families, and I get that. But, for us, I’m certain that without a consistent schedule and alone time to focus on work when I’m “on the clock,” everything would feel like a half-baked, mentally foggy pursuit. The schedule Matt and I came up with has taken on a new meaning of respect and dignity within the dynamic of our relationship. We honor each other as creators and parents—as equals.

The biggest challenge for me is how to handle the social and emotional side of pandemic living with our 6-year-old son. He’s managing remarkably well, but he is also very sensitive. He’s experienced people recoiling when he accidentally gets too close to them on the street. The other day he asked me why he and I can touch each other, but he can’t go near anyone else. We explain how the virus spreads. He gets it logically, but I know there is a rejection imprint inherent in all of this social distancing, too. The darker side of being safe and following guidelines is a harsher world where fear turns a child into a potential threat—an “other” who is not worth the risk of being near. This is awkward for adults but for kids, I worry this is devastating to internalize. A friend’s elderly mother fell in their yard the other day, and a passerby swooped in to help. It was a challenge, at that moment, for them to make the call whether or not to allow help and risk exposure to the virus.

This is how we live now.

I wonder about “germ dating” another family if this shutdown extends for months. Perhaps if we agree to be germ monogamous with one family, we’ll be willing to assume the risk of mixing our collective germ pools. If this means we can play with and maybe even hug other people, that sounds pretty good. But, the fear and uncertainty is so palpable in others. How do you choose a family to do this with, and how do you approach the topic? What kind of rules do both families need to follow? What if they say no? How does that feel? Maybe it’s not worth the emotional risk of going through that.

Will things ever be normal again? This is the question that has taken root in my mind. I hope we get to the other side of this before we forget what it’s like to share time with each other without fear.

KJ Parish is a designer and the Art Director for Thought Catalog Books.

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