Diary of An American Housewife in the Time of Corona
Stories About Making Lemonade Out of the Horrible Lemons Life Doled Out
It’s day, oh I don’t know, at least day 14 of Corona confinement. It’s been two Fridays since I’ve been out of the house for anything other than outdoor exercise because my husband and/or a teen have been doing the grocery and pharmacy runs for us. Officially, Houston is on day four of sheltering at home, so I have no idea how to number this Corona diary. But then numbering isn’t the point. Storytelling is.
I’ve got the whole family writing or recording diaries on Saturdays (on a schedule, of course, it is me) because my great-grand kids are going to be asking their grandparents (my kids) about the The Great COVID Pandemic of 2020* well to the end of this century, and their grandkids will still want the stories after we are all gone. Just think, one day Insta and TicTok are going to look as 1920s news reels look to us.
Anyway, I decided to do a diary a few days ago, but couldn't decide on a focus. I considered a video diary on Insta because that is the thing now, but honestly I prefer typing. Everything clicked when I got a favorite Friday newsletter, GirlsNightIn, which is a bit like the women's magazines I used to pick up at the grocery store and read over a quiet Friday back in my 20s, but with much better content. Yesterday's edition linked to an article calling for old school blog posts.
Give me the internet of 2012 but give it to me in 2020. Give me shower thoughts and off-the-cuff revelations. Give me comment sections. Give me headlines that don’t give a hoot about SEO. Give me the Wild West of the digital world, when throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what stuck was pretty much the prevailing modus operandi. I’m greedy for thousands of words that cater to this initiative, but I would settle for just a paragraph, as long as it attempted to comply with the standard of no-standards—heart unbuttoned, an exposition of the seemingly mundane.
Thousands of words for off the cuff observations without a care for SEO and titles?! That's my niche. Her description also pretty much sums up my old An American Housewife in London blog as well as my later freelance frustrations. (I hated writing titled only slightly less than I hated most of the titles my publishers used.) I can do the SEO things now and in fact spent a chuck of yesterday designing Insta and Pinterest templates for my Life Administration stuff, but I would love to be able to just write without a care for all that jazz. (Yeah, I'm using some of my common cliches, and in a sec, I'll explain why.)
I know I said I would use this blog space for rewrites of my published stuff. I will, but later. That stuff simply isn't on my mind right now. Right now, I feel the need to write a diary. I will send this first entry to the author of the blog call, but more as a thanks and courtesy. I'm not writing this for her, though she might like it, or to get plugs. I'm writing for, and to, my descendants. I simply want to thank her for reminding me that I don't have to care about getting an audience now and giving me a focus, which is a challenge because after blogging, freelancing, and now teaching I can easily lose sight of which voice I need to use.
All that wind up to say, this Corona diary is for my grandkids. But anyone can read it if they want.
Dear descendants (I think I know some of your names already as your parents already have preferred names picked out, but as they are still teens and tweens, your names could change between now and when you arrive to this mortal coil.),
For today, I'll bring you up to speed on where we are and then call it an entry. The stories will start tomorrow.
It is day four since the Harris County Judge, the relevant authority around here,** issued her stay home order, but most everyone had been doing that, except for, generally speaking, the young and mobile, say the 16-23 set, and the elderly. Now, I kinda get the young. They are, well, young, inexperienced, and unwise, as the young have been throughout time. I'm still vexed with them, but their behavior is well within expected norms. The elderly, the ever-so-stubborn elderly, however, are another story.
The economy is on life support in large part to protect the elderly's vulnerable lungs and those of us in the sandwich time, the years when our kids are still at home and our parents are in declining health and in need of parent-type support, are battling our moms and dads to stay in their homes. My brother has been grocery shopping more than necessary to keep our 70something mother from going to the store every day, which is her normal habit. When a emergency alert text arrived on Thursday from the county telling everyone to stay home "we really mean it" (that's not an actual quote, but the gist of the PSA text) we tried to check in with our mother but couldn't find her. She had taken a friend to the bank.
That's just one example and I gather your Great-uncle Trey and I are hardly alone. From emails, social media chatter, and the occasional Zoom video meeting, I'd bet at least half of us in the sandwich are having a hard time getting our parents to stay home. And if you wonder why so many of them are living on their own out of our general sphere of influence, I assure you it is not because we are callous and selfish children unwilling to trouble ourselves with looking after them. Many of us have tried but generally can't get them to move closer to us much less move in or even listen to our counsel. They insist on keeping their own, often large, homes, car keys, and independence, but then imply that we don't love them enough when we can't get to them instantly when they fall or need some maintenance or tech help around their house.
No, I'm not at all frustrated with this. Why? Do I sound like I am? (Yes, this is heavy sarcasm, phrased exactly like my mother phrases it, actually. The frustration is evidence of love.)
Anyway, your history books probably tell you that the US public learned sometime in mid-January 2020 that the Corona virus that had originated in Wuhan, China had not remained in Wuhan. At that time, I was already watchful but not yet concerned. Mine was a pretty standard sentiment, outside of social media like Twitter, which I hope is not the history books' main source for information about public mood, on anything really.***
The news of the virus continued, and sometime in early February, your grandpa and I decided to pre-prep for hurricane season. Living on the Gulf Coast, hurricane prep is standard home management in May and June. Families slowly check their stores of batteries, shelf stable goods, and flood gear. This prep was earlier, but we wouldn't need to worry about our fridges and freezers going out. That is, we needed to do disaster prep but we could have fresh foods.
For a native Houstonian married to a man who had been here well before Tropical Storm Allison (he wasn't here for the direct hit of Alicia or the hurry up and miss that was Gilbert), this prep was almost easy. Over the next week, I went to the store far more often than normal. I'm an Instacart delivery fan and have been a delivery fan since my Ocado days in London when I had a fridge the size of a large bathroom cabinet to store food for my family of 6 plus live-ins and regular guests from home. I don't go to HEB every week. But that week, I took about three runs and had stocked up on some basics like flour, butter, and eggs, plus the shelf stable standards. I did not get extra toilet paper until the run on the stuff started a few weeks later. That one really was kinda odd. A friend theorized that full families are home together so seldom now that many didn't know how much toilet paper they would need, hence they panic bought. That makes a ton of sense to me and is a decent illustration of why I started teaching life administration. Too few people know much about basic household management these days.
Still, real concern about the virus didn't hit our home until early March. Jim and I cancelled the family and friends Spring Break ski trip a few days before the schools started closing in the US. At the time we felt — and the kids certainly thought — we were being overly cautious. Frankly, I was still reacting more to the public reaction I saw coming rather than to the threat of the virus itself. And I can do that because none of us are in the more vulnerable category for the virus and Jim's job and income is not highly sensitive to the economic effects of the preventative measures. In fact, it is only in the past few days that I know anyone personally impacted by the virus. I have a friend in the hospital and am getting photos from nurse friends suited up in protective gear.
Even now that we are taking Corona seriously, it is still a bit abstract for us. What is concrete is our new house life. The six of us are together with nowhere to rush off to and no need to, either. Sure, we usually have an outburst of bickering in the late afternoon, (2:30 pm now and the first yelling from downstairs (Peyton and Alex, if you were wondering) just echoed up into my writing area) but still it isn't at all as bad as I anticipated. In the first week of online school, we relearned what all homeshoolers learn in their first weeks of schooling, that an 8 hour school day can easily be compressed into two or three hours of home study. The same holds for work, although the ratio is a little bigger. An eight hour day's work can get done in fiveish hours at home.****
The kitchen is full — not in a horder sense, but in a we can be fed for weeks on what we have on hand sense. JP is cooking most nights, expanding his basic skills for Korean bar-b-que, hamburgers and patty melts, and a curry we all scarpetta-ed up. He's made a cooking diary on social media. He takes before, during, and after-plating pauses to take a snap "for the 'gram." And then he teases me for being a blogger. He and Peyton think this isn't an official blogging diary unless I'm typing in my pajamas. They will have to settle for me typing in athleisure. (I'm very late to that trend but it is the perfect wardrobe for sheltering in place.)
We are planting a garden again. Usually we do it for fun, but now we might actually need the beans, tomatoes, and cucumbers. The COVID 19 (as in pounds gained) looks like it might be a problem if only because we are drinking more. Not too much, mind, but more. Before all of this I was probably averaging two drinks a month when I now average probably two a day. It isn't the makings of a lush, but it isn't conducive to slimming down either.
Life is almost...no, it is...nice. I say that with full awareness that this isn't everyone's experience. For those in the vulnerable categories or who are anxious or alone, nice is not what any of this is. But for those of us who aren't particularly vulnerable and who were regularly rushing around with too many to dos in a day, this forced pause, well it is easy to make lemonade out of these lemons.
(Normally, a grandmother wouldn't know her grandmother name until her eldest grandchild named her. My brother Trey, however, is eight years younger than me, and when he couldn't pronounce Leslie, he called me Ee-Ee. Soon thereafter at a swim meet, one of the dads, a guy named Mike Richwine, yelled "Go, Ee-Ee!" when I got up on the starting block for the IM. Since then, my childhood friends and then my nieces and nephews and godchildren have called me Ee-Ee. I'm sure y'all will too.)
*I'm not sure if history will pick COVID or Corona for the name that sticks, but I’m betting on the boring one.
** Since the outbreak in the US there has been a steep learning curve about state vs. federal authority. The imperial presidency has been in practice for almost a hundred years so the populace has largely forgotten that states, governors or mayors or county commissioners depending on individual state laws, have presumed authority to act while the federal executive has only enumerated authority to act. That is, state executives can act unless a law tells them they can't. The federal executive cannot act unless a law tells them they can. Other Corona learning curves include how purchasing a firearm is not as simple as ordering off Amazon and having the item dropped on your doorstep and how supply chains are more secure when they are domestic and we can't simply snap our fingers and bring the supply chain home.
***Twitter is not an accurate reflection of public mood or opinion. It may be an accurate reflection of extreme positions, but that is about all.
****These truths will come into play later, when we are all getting back to work, because this time, everybody knows them. I'm sure I'll have more to write about that later.
Photo byFlorencia Potter on Unsplash. Skull imagery has been popular for years. It is usually not my thing, and I think the photo on this post is morbid. But it fits. We are making lemonade out of horrible lemons. I'd best remember that.