This is so weird.
When I look around my home and focus on what is going on inside of it everything feels so normal. Eliza is in her Elsa dress, the kids are playing board games, there are couch pillows on the floor and snack wrappers all around the garbage can, my counters are somehow sparkling AND sticky, there are Oreos in my cupboard and berries in my fridge and pictures on my walls, Alexa plays music all day, the heater keeps us warm and the spring breeze keeps us cool, our closets are full of clothes, the laundry keeps on heaping, our dining room fills with food and family every evening, and our beds are warm and cozy at night.
I'm trying to keep my head here in this normal because normal is comfortable but once I leave my house the facade of normality cracks. Driving through town feels eerily quiet, parking lots are empty, roads are clear. This morning I passed three signs in less than three minutes: GOLF COURSE CLOSED, SCHOOL CLOSED, LIBRARY CLOSED... the governor of Nevada has ordered it so, along with governors all across the country. All 'non-essential' businesses are to close, in fact, for at least 30 days. All rec centers, all gyms, all pools, all arenas, all theaters, all malls... everything. All extra-curricular activities and sports events are canceled, breaking hearts everywhere (including in this home as McKenzie's high school musical was canceled just two weeks before opening night (so many tears)). Restaurants are closed unless they can provide take-out or drive through options, grocery stores remain open but for reduced hours and they have posted signs reminding you in the lines to PRACTICE SOCIAL DISTANCING with lines of tape on the floor to help you stay at least 6 feet away from the person in front of you. I had never even heard the term 'social distancing' before last week. The NBA was shut down 20 minutes before tip-off when a Jazz player tested positive for the coronavirus, followed closely by the closures of college basketball and with it (tears from Miles) March madness. The Dow Jones has fallen 10,000 points (35%) in less than a month. Brian's practice has closed 3 of 5 clinics and has had to reduce its staff by 85% in an attempt to stay afloat. All the casinos on the strip are closed, churches and temples are closed, general conference will be held virtually with all the music pre-recorded, missionaries are being flown home to quarantine themselves by the thousands. The list of countries that have currently closed their borders either fully or partially is much too long for me to list here but includes Canada, Kenya, South Africa, Mexico, Costa Rica, Chile, Peru, United States, Japan, Malaysia, Philippians, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and 26 countries in the European Union including Italy, France, Spain, Sweden, Greece, Germany, Denmark, etc. People are hoarding groceries so there is not a bag of rice or flour or a piece of chicken to be found. And don't get me started on the toilet paper shortage. And we are being asked, begged even, to please, please, please stay in our homes unless absolutely necessary.
A new disease, COVID-19, is freaking people out. And maybe rightly so. According to the latest data, there are 81,946 cases in the USA and the number is growing exponentially (worldwide there are 525,300 cases). It is highly contagious and the mortality rate, which is hard to pin down, is causing much alarm.
And it all happened so fast.
Here are some of my own experiences and insights about what has been going on within my own walls and in my own mind:
Week 1: (March 8-14) - The Whiplash Week
On March 8th I was laughing at all the crazies out there who were overreacting to this flu-like disease. By March 14th I was bringing my children in, closing my doors, and crying with my kids over some of their favorite things being canceled.
I'll never forget going grocery shopping on March 10th and feeling the fear and quiet panic in the air of Smiths. Through news articles and social media posts I knew people had been reacting to the first cases of the virus hitting the United States but I still wasn't expecting what I saw, and it caught me off guard. I took the last remaining shopping cart from the corral, the handle literally black with sticky grime, and pushed it to the nearest garbage can with a look of disgust on my face to throw away the disposable plastic gloves that had been discarded into the basket. I then pushed it through the aisles of the store (it wasn't that crowded, where were all the carts?) and gathered my items. I passed people who were wearing masks and gloves, listened to hushed voices, watched people pile their baskets with toilet paper and canned goods, and for the first time I started to wonder if maybe I was missing something. I noted the absolutely ragged look of the grocery stockers and the cashiers and hypothesized that all the carts must be strewn around the parking lot, waiting for one of these exhausted employees to retrieve them.
At one point a young couple passed me, each wearing a black mask, gloves, and scrubs, and though they never made eye contact with me, I could still see the fear and panic in their faces as they walked by, and it struck me as so entirely odd that I found myself slowing my walk to a complete stop with my eyebrows drawn down and my eyes squinted in pure confusion. When I realized what I must look like standing there, I quickly relaxed my face and suddenly wished I'd had a camera following me around to capture my facial expressions through the whole shopping trip because I was all the sudden sure I'd been putting on quite the show. To be fair, I didn't like the sense of panic that was so thick around me and in the media (and I think it was that that I had been resistant to for the preceding days) but for the first time I started to wonder if there was possibly a measure of truth or sound reasoning that I had missed behind the panic.
I wanted to grab a thing of travel-sized hand sanitizer because of the black, grimy cart and because the masked faces were getting into my head, but the shelf stocker literally laughed when I asked him where I could find some as he pointed to their home aisle and said, "I doubt you'll find any, but you can check." He was right. Not only was there no hand sanitizer, there was no hand soap. No Lysol wipes, no Lysol spray, no bleach, and hanging from their empty shelves were printed pieces of paper explaining that all of their sanatizing supplies were out of stock and they did not know when more would be coming in.
Ruffled, I called my parents when I got back to the car to ask if people were just as crazy in Utah as they were here. I think I was hoping for some reassurance that it wasn't me, it was all of them. And we did laugh, but, something shifted in me that night. Something had been disturbed.
The very next morning I got the first email (of 67 to date!) regarding changes to our normal life schedules. It came from the church to inform us that because of concerns regarding COVID-19, general conference would be held without a congregation, and that new missionaries would not be reporting to the MTC, but would start their missionary training online in their homes.
This seemed excessive with the little amount of knowledge that I had, so I dove into research. And the more I read the more I started to understand. Over the next couple of days as more and more emails rolled in and big things were canceled, I started to understand that the experts were not so much concerned about this virus spreading through our nation, but they were concerned about it spreading through our nation all at once, overwhelming our healthcare facilities and leading to thousands of preventable deaths. I learned about what it means to 'flatten the curve' and about the crucial importance of social distancing. By the time the end of the week rolled around and every single thing on our calendar had been crossed out, I understood. And I was ready to pull my family in and shut my doors to help do my part to flatten the curve.
Week 2: (March 15-21) - The fear and anxiety week.
I was excited at first, actually. School was canceled by Sunday afternoon and I love being with my children, I love the idea of homeschooling, I love the idea of burning the home fires and taking care of my own and swimming in all the folds of extra time.
What a gift, right?! I laughed at funny memes (the meme game is STRONG!) and played with my kids, but at the end of each day I found myself feeling more and more frustrated, stressed, anxious, than the day before.
I went to the grocery store and came away feeling anxiety over the scarcity.
Our pool was in the middle of plumbing and rock work, had been empty for a week, and each day the hours and the sun were bringing us closer to the dried-out plaster cracking (a $16,000 repair). We were already frustrated that they hadn't been working as efficiently as we felt they should have and then, when the chaos hit, things understandably started moving even slower. People weren't showing up to work, those in charge had mountains of personal situations to deal with, and so we tried to be understanding and compassionate - but that hefty price tag loomed stressfully over our heads. We pressed our project manager a little each day to move things at least to the point where we could put water back in the pool. Monday, he said, Monday.
But Monday passed... empty.
Tuesday passed... empty.
Brian's medical practice started imploding. He was put on a small committee to make hard decisions, and for hours and hours and hours he and I talked in circles about ethics and about what his stance should be. We debated the different risks between social health and social economics. Of course, it's easy for me to advise him to shut down the practice in an effort to protect the lives of those at higher risk (the elderly and those with some pre-existing medical conditions), but it's so much harder for him to then turn around and tell his healthy, low-risk employees to go home, without a paycheck, to put themselves at risk of losing their homes or of watching their own families go hungry.
He was on the phone for hours and hours with work after he got home from work, talking numbers, talking ethics, trying desperately to draw a line in the middle of a thick grey, throwing phrases to the financial guys like, "The American Board of Ophthalmology suggests we shut it down," "Are we really that cash-poor?" "Are you sure we can't survive like this longer than that?" "I'm just trying to figure out how to help our employees," "Well, how much could we give them?" And just hours after they'd finally drawn a bleak line, conditions would change and they'd have to draw it all over again, bleaker. One day Brian went into work and someone told him that the bags underneath his eyes had bags. When he told me that, I looked him deeply in the eyes and I saw that they weren't wrong. He looked so heartbreakingly haggard and I just wanted to scoop him up and take him away from all of it.
Wednesday... pool still empty.
St. Patricks Day came along in there somewhere with no preparation or forethought, Brian's birthday felt almost pretend.
Thursday mid-morning I found myself glancing out at the empty pool while I was cutting McKenzie's hair and I felt a deep, tight pain in my chest. It was unlike anything I'd felt before and before long I found myself feeling light-headed and nauseous as well. I finished cutting Kenzie's hair and wondered if, maybe, this was the beginning of an anxiety attack. So I sat down and breathed for a few minutes. When it didn't go away, I slowly and calmly walked to the piano and played the softest songs I knew and slowly started to feel better. I ate some food, cleared my mind of all the things that I wanted to get done that day and asked Kenzie if she wanted to sit on the couch with me to watch America's Got Talent. I soon felt better, but it was a wake-up call to me that I needed to take care of myself. We are dealing with some very real stress around here.
By Friday the governor of Nevada came down strong and said that every non-essential business must be closed, which narrowed the gray area for Brian and his team and the final line was drawn. Now 3 of their 5 clinics have locked their doors and they have sent 85% of their employees home. He is only working 1 or 2 days a week for 'essential' patients, and we are not sure when we'll see the next paycheck. Things feel better now that the decision has been made, still uncomfortable to be sure, but better, and he says his practice can maintain this for three to four months before they're in trouble.
I'm really not very savvy about economics, but this has really opened my eyes to how incredibly fast things can change. This week we'll start dipping into our emergency savings, whereas three weeks ago we felt stable enough to dig a giant pit in our backyard to start extending our pool. Bad timing. We're stressed, of course, but I feel grateful because I do see how much worse this would be if we didn't have that savings and truly felt the crushing weight of what it's like to be 'in trouble'. There are so many people in that place right now, so many of the employees in Brian's clinic that are now out of work, it makes my stomach feel So. Tight.
By the end of the week, I realized that another large piece of my stress was coming from my desire to do something helpful and productive through all this time I'd been gifted. There are so many wonderful things going up on social media. So many inspiring messages of hope. So many people sharing their talents, so much humor in videos and memes. So much good. So many stories of friends helping friends and neighbors helping neighbors, and I was doing none of that. People were relishing in all the extra time they had on their hands, and they were using it to spread good.
Where was I? Where was my platter of good to offer?
I had had such high hopes at the beginning of the week that this was going to be so much fun and that we were going to do all the home things, make movies and record songs and play every board game in our entire house, put together puzzles while having enlightening and stimulating conversations, but here at the end of the first week I felt I'd not only failed in my attempts to spread goodness... I'd been a little dark rain cloud of stress instead.
And I was so disappointed in myself.
Saturday night after we'd all watched a family movie, the rest of my family went upstairs to bed and I stayed downstairs. It wasn't long before the tears started, and they didn't stop for more than two hours. I cried and prayed and cried and prayed, for comfort, for peace, for clarity, and finally fell asleep.
Week 3: (March 22 - now) - The acceptance and understanding week.
Monday... pool finally being filled.
Since that night on my knees I've done a lot of thinking and a lot of trying to listen for the Spirit. I want to understand on a more conscious level why this has felt especially hard for me, and the most helpful realization came while I was moving around in circles from one child to the next to the next, helping with schoolwork and sibling fights and toddler potty times, making lunch for 7, answering texts, moving laundry, asking kids to please stop yelling...
And it hit. So much of what people are talking about right now focuses on this 'gift of time' that we've been given, and so much of what is going on, un-managed, in my own mind is this search for the extra time I feel I've been promised, this search for the 'slowing down' of life that everyone else is posting about. How lovely that sounds!
But what I realized early this week is that, for me (and I imagine for most moms in my situation), the opposite is actually what's true. Simply having a full range of children from toddlers to teens in my home at all times is bound to feel much more fast paced than our normal routines.
I thrive better as a one-on-one mom, and before now I never realized how much I have structured my life around that self-awareness. I drive kids to their lessons and practices alone, I take one kid to the grocery store at a time, my kids come home from school in phases, allowing me to take care of the ones needs before the others get home, etc, but now they're all around me all the time and my brain feels much more chaotic.
It felt amazing to actually see the paradox in my brain and to give myself permission to experience a different reality than what the rest of the world is posting online. I love to do puzzles, to learn a new song on the piano, to read that book I've always meant to read, to spend extra time with my kids, but honestly those things fit way better into my normal life than they do into this one. It was powerful for me to see that it's my 'normal' life that feels full of time, slower-paced, and full of meaningful interactions with my kids. And that's so beautiful to me!
This week so far has been wonderful. I dropped all of my expectations of lifting the world and am focusing on my family. I am strengthening my trust in Heavenly Father that all will work out. I am happy to realize that this is a time of work for me, not rest, and I feel so grateful to have a house full of people to work for. And interlaced with the tantrums and eye-rolls and fights about screen time and school work, we are playing games, doing karaoke, having dance parties, and watching funny movies.
My family is my favorite.