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There is a Part of Me That Secretly Loves Being Quarantined With My Kid

I woke up at 5 a.m. today and read a book. I’ve been doing this for a few days now, and it feels…luxurious? I tend to be working, in some form, until 11 or midnight — but by 5 a.m. the emails and Slack messages have paused, however painfully briefly, and my son isn’t awake yet. I can do this thing I used to do, back when I was still me, before I was reduced to just a worker-plus-parent trying to stay afloat mid-pandemic: read a book. So I read until my 4-year-old son wakes up, climbs on top of me, and stage-whispers “AMELIA, LET’S GO” into my face. (The first-name thing is a new trend I find hilarious.)

I make coffee and breakfast and we listen to old Disney records from the 1940s that were my dad’s growing up: Peter Pan, Pete’s Dragon, Mickey and the Beanstalk. We do some coloring, some yoga, some building with blocks, some playing with Play-Doh. From 5 a.m. to 8 a.m., we do whatever the hell we want. Of course, at 8 a.m. the insanity will begin: nine or more hours of me typing furiously, video conferences, shouting through my office door, helping the babysitter find the [insert toy/snack/outfit here] that my son “needs,” hurrying back to work, running back out again to wipe my son’s butt (he does not, understandably, enjoy when hired strangers try to do this), running back into my office, trying to remember to take breaks to eat and drink and pee.

Note, though, the privileges of this insanity: I have a babysitter. I have a job — one that allows me to work remotely while in isolation and still have an income. I have an “office” in my house. I have a house. I have food in my pantry and kale in my garden. And I have (so far) my health, which makes me far more privileged than so many people who are dealing with the current coronavirus pandemic, both on the front lines as first responders and while suffering in sickness in weeks-long quarantines behind closed doors, unable to get the tests that are so easily afforded to the rich. I am lucky.

What I do not have, however, is any savings. In regular pre-pandemic life, mortgage payments, house maintenance, and preschool tuition put me largely in a paycheck-to-paycheck place, and adding a daily sitter on top of the (now closed) preschool that I’m still paying for is putting me in the red for sure. The child support I receive(d) from my son’s father was cut when he welcomed his second child elsewhere. I also don’t have any family nearby — in this state, for that matter — to help with childcare; I moved to Tennessee from my native NYC when my son was born simply because I could no longer afford to live there.

Again: I am very lucky. And I feel gratitude every day for my sweet little boy and my chosen family here in Nashville and my daily FaceTimes with my sister and countless other things. But we humans can feel many things at once, no? And every time I look on Instagram and see a kid enjoying their cozy isolation “boredom” together with their two loving parents amid the luxuries of their dual-income household, do I feel jealousy? Absolutely. Resentment? For sure. Rage? Sometimes.

But still, as crazy as my work day is, these early mornings in isolation with my kid have been perfect, peaceful. Since schools closed last week, 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. has been my favorite time. There’s no rush to pack lunch and get dressed and get out the door to drive to school. There’s no fighting over which pair of shoes my son wants to wear and his “need” to wear shorts in the snow.

Plus, there’s an odd sense of togetherness that I get from the mass social distancing going on across the world right now. I’m a single mom who has worked from home full-time for four years, so feeling tired and cooped-up and lonely and isolated is pretty par for the course, for me. And now, suddenly, everyone else around the world is doing these things, feeling these things, too. It’s oddly comforting.

I normally have so much mom guilt about not being “enough” for my son: not doing enough, not scheduling enough. Feeling like I’m prioritizing my job over my kid. Feeling like I’m prioritizing my job and my kid over volunteering enough to help rebuild my tornado-ravaged community here in Nashville. But these days, amid self-isolation and social distancing, with all the schools, libraries, restaurants, and museums closed and the neighborhood cleanups petering off, I’m suddenly off the hook.

I no longer feel pressure to show up outside of my home. In fact, I’m encouraged not to. I don’t have to fill my kid’s schedule with activities around town or make it to every one of my friends’ shows/readings/gatherings. There are no more playdates, no more kiddo dance classes, no more weekend rounds of classmate birthday parties to schlep to. Yes, working from home full-time with my child here, even with a babysitter, is an absolute mess and a huge financial drain.

But those early mornings… I wouldn’t trade them for the world.

From 5 a.m. to 8 a.m., there’s nobody I have to see, nowhere I have to go, no Slack messages I have to respond to, no pandemic news I have to research and write about and in doing so dig my own panic deeper. It’s just me and my kid, coloring and reading books and “planting” orange slices in the yard (he doesn’t quite understand the concept of fruit vs seed yet).

In other words: I’m terrified, I’m perpetually hand-washing, I STILL feel guilty (after all, my son and I so far have our health, and our health insurance, and my remote-work income), I’m perpetually overworked and sleep-deprived and running out of money, but for now — or at least from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. I have us. I have me and him, and that will get us through it.

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