Exactly two years ago today, I was mingling amongst my class of 8th graders while they worked independently, staring at the clock as we wound down the last few minutes of class, when my principal walked in and approached me.
Quietly he leaned in and said “So, the professional development scheduled for this afternoon has been canceled. We are going to be out for at least next week, possibly for two weeks. You might want to send the kids home with the next book you’re going to read, just in case.”
Just in case. Ha. No one could have predicted the shitshow that would become our lives. I mean, we probably should have seen it coming, considering the world shut down on Friday the 13th (I was never superstitious about that day before, but you better freaking believe I am now). And if I recall, it was also a full moon. Point being, all signs suggested we were moving toward an Absolute Clusterfuck.
A week ago, my district and the school committee for the town I teach in moved to make masks optional. And a week later, I’m nursing a massive head cold. Coincidence? No clue. But wanting to avoid feeling like I had a Scarlet C on my forehead, the kids and I avoided public places, took it easy all weekend, kept to ourselves and isolated, and the downtime gave me a chance to look back on the last two years: the good, the bad, and the downright crazy.
So, if you will, here’s my Covid Countdown.
5. I didn’t have to go all the places and do all the things.
B.C. (Before Covid, as I like to refer to it), I was a single Mom running ragged. I worked a full day, completed Target runs, grabbed the kids at their afterschool program each day around 5, traveled the 20 minutes back to our house, checked the backpack, made sure homework was done, orchestrated a dance party while they alternated taking showers, all while cooking dinner, before the three of us collapsed on the couch for a movie or Netflix show before their 7:30 bedtime. After they passed out, I cleaned up the dinner dishes, packed lunches, and tried to catch up with friends or potential dates before I crashed myself around 10:30.
On the weekends, we bounced between stores, playdates, time at my parents, soccer practice, occasionally church, and birthday parties (WHY SO MANY FREAKING BIRTHDAY PARTIES?!?!). It was EXHAUSTING. I never felt like I could catch my breath - like my life consisted of sprints between activities, trying to appease everyone and check off every item on the To-Do List.
Covid gave me a reason to SLOW THE EFF DOWN. I learned to breathe. I could suddenly tell everyone “Sorry, we’re in quarantine,” or “Oooooh, we’re still socially distancing and staying in our immediate bubble, so we can’t make it.” Things like DoorDash and InstaCart eased some of the burdens on my Mommy Load and saved me valuable time. And the sheer fact that most of the world was closed and many weren’t gathering for what felt like forever, allowed me to kind of bunker down with my two kiddos in our own little cocoon.
4. My resting bitch face ran free and with abandon.
I’m Portuguese. So hiding my emotions has never really been a skill at the top of my resume. With the introduction and mandate of masks, my unfiltered mouth and face rejoiced. Stub my toe? “Fuuuucccckkkkk!” I could mouth quietly, not horrifying the little kids accompanying their mothers through Old Navy. Talking shit about my co-worker, whom you didn’t realize I was actually besties with? “Douchebag,” my lips would dramatically deliver the insult unbeknownst to the person in front of me. Reigning in my eyebrow raise and pronounced eyeroll took a bit more practice, but I was happy to let my Potty Mouth Fly.
3. I SAVED SO MUCH MONEY.
When the world shut down, my wallet exploded. No more frivolous spending. How could we? Movie theater date with friends to see the latest Disney release? No go. That glorified YMCA afterschool program they spent each afternoon at for roughly $100/week? Gone! Spending anywhere between $20-100 eating out weekly? Chez Nicole was our favorite spot - always fully stocked, always open, and couch-eating was highly encouraged.
Those birthday parties we were cycling through, dropping $30-50 per week on gifts for their classmates? Poof! The mere mention of a sore throat was enough to get us disinvited, if there was even a party planned at all. We attended a few drive-by Birthday Parades, but those weren’t quite as elaborate or frequent. Expensive vacations were a luxury of Pre-Covid times. Traveling was out of the question, if for no other reason than the list of pre-qualifications you had to meet to even GET on a plane were enough of a deterrent. For almost a year, we didn’t go anywhere, see anyone, or DO much of anything.
2. Love in the Time of Covid.
OK - it was cute and relaxing and super awesome to be a homebody for precisely three months. Then my extroverted-to-the-max ass just about had a mental breakdown. I was NOT made for quarantine or social distancing. Prior to the shutdown, I’d been partying my newly divorced tush off as if I were a pledging college sorority freshmen. Give me all the activities, all the boys, and all the fun. But when Covid hit, it was like I’d been driving a tiny little Mini Cooper and just slammed it into the back of an 18-wheeler. Full stop.
I’ll admit, those first few weeks of being stuck inside were a Godsend. I had been burning the candle at both ends and in the middle, and the worldwide pause probably saved me from a full-on collapse. So to be forced to stay in, get to sleep at a reasonable hour, and spend time focusing on me, my self-care, and my home was nice. But, as I said, I’m a textbook extrovert. And having been newly divorced and free of a controlling ex-husband who rarely let me have nights out during our marriage, I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of having to date in a vacuum. Of feeling “stuck” again.
I adapted my strategies, hellbent on still dating and getting mine throughout Covid. Virtual dates became a thing - scheduled cocktails on a Friday night over Facebook Messenger. Once chemistry was ensured, then we’d decide if an in-person date was worth the gamble. On occasion, I determined the risk was worth the potential reward.
It was not. On at least three different occasions, I had to endure super awkward “So, I tested positive” phone calls post-dates gone wrong. We’d replaced our Walk of Shame down college dorm corridors with the Call of Shame and a hefty ten-day quarantine.
1. Working from home was a fucktastrophe and simultaneously amazing.
Let’s review: I am a teacher. I am a mother of TWO elementary-aged children. I had a 1,200 square-foot home and basically NO backyard. I was trapped in a house with two kids who were trying to figure out virtual learning while I tried to figure out virtual learning. They cried. I cried. We all screamed. There were days we couldn’t get the technology to work. Some days, they sailed through their assignments. Others, I tied their ankles to the chairs of our dining room table with decorative hand towels and taped their eyes open until their tasks were completed. Still others, I bribed them with a new Lego set or candy. I’m pretty sure I flashed at least one of their teachers post-shower when Avery gave me no notice that she was on a Google Meet and walked her Chromebook into the bathroom. And none of our schedules lined up. They had Google Meets and Zoom calls while I was free. And I attempted to teach about the Holocaust to a screen full of icons while my kids had a break and ran wildly down the hall where I was working, a full Lightsaber battle occurring outside my door.
The plus side? I could work from my bed or couch. I didn’t have to wake up at 4:30 and get them out of the house by 6:30. We could spend every day together. My dress code consisted of school-appropriate tops and pajama bottoms (as pictured here during our virtual Open House in the fall of 2019). No more making mundane lunches - death to sandwiches! If we wrapped early, we took a field trip and ventured to the beach, drove by the mansions in Newport, hiked nearby nature trails, or headed to the playground and hoped it was empty.
I let out an audible squeal when my district called us back to full-time in-person learning. I love my children, but all that togetherness had me researching extended stays at nearby wellness facilities and straightjacket color choices.
BONUS: All the freaking regulations.
Wear a mask. Don’t wear a mask. Masks required. Masks optional. Test on Day 7. Test on Day 5. If named a close contact, quarantine for at least ten days. If vaccinated, no need to quarantine at all unless you’re symptomatic. If traveling, you’ll need to test. PCRs required for international travel, but only by air. If traveling by land, you’ll need to test to get out, but ah, fuck it, no need to test to get back in.
Keep six feet apart. Nope, change of plans - keep three feet apart, but remain masked. Unless you’re eating, then still stay six God damn feet away.
Listen, I know that these regulations were all basically game-time decisions and the CDC changed them as more information and research became available. But Jesus, as if we didn’t have enough to worry about as parents over these last two years! The anxiety of keeping your entire family healthy and ensuring no one contracted a potentially deadly virus, praying to God YOU weren’t responsible for passing it onto immunocompromised family members, trying to assuage any fears your children had, attempting to be up to date on all research on the vaccines to make informed decisions for you and your loved ones, the Hell that was scheduling Covid tests, maintaining everyone’s mental health, making sure you had a steady paycheck and your work wasn’t compromised by the ever-evolving ways of this new world or your Hellians running wild in the background of your work calls… it was a never-ending list of shit on an already lengthy shit list for us parents.
I know we’re not out of it completely. I have daily discussions with my friends in the medical field about new variants, surges, and vaccines. And I certainly don’t look at these last two years and see only dread. I think as a society we’ve been able to reframe quite a bit about the way we were leading our lives B.C. We seemed to have shifted and found more of a balance between the way things were and the way they’re going to be now.
I don’t know where you stand in your political opinions of Covid, and this certainly wasn’t meant to dive into those aspects. This is just my rant and recap on the chaos that Covid has rained down on my life these last two years. So, my friends, where do you find yourself in this whole mess? How are you feeling? What’s your pro/con list look like? Feel free to wave that white flag and I’ll be over with a pitcher of margaritas. Well, as soon as I’m symptom-free, that is.