For weeks, journalists at the Tampa Bay Times have been covering the story of a global pandemic. But like everyone else, we are parents and children, we have spouses and siblings. We are struggling to do our jobs and take care of those we love.
Here are some of our personal stories:
“They’re worried I’ll give it to you,” I told him. “So that’s why I can’t come.”
He pondered that for a few seconds. Then he said: “Should I leave this place?"
I tried to drop off an overdue library book, but the book drop was closed. A sign read: “An imminent weather, facility or civil emergency is in progress.”
Co-workers told me they noticed fewer bridge jams and ghostly parking lots. People mowed lawns at 10 a.m. on weekdays. They heard rustling leaves.
It’s hard for me to watch my dad worry. He delayed his retirement to pay for my wedding. He’s the hardest-working man I know, and he instilled those values in me.
I told my super-smart and super-uninterested little dude that the first rule of mommy school was “don’t be an a-hole while mommy is on a conference call.” I then told him that “a” is for aardvark, but I’m not sure he bought it.
For the month we’ve been in quarantine, our corner lot has been our canvas, a dozen squares of sidewalk chalked up for our neighbors and ourselves. We’re hardly alone. Sidewalk chalk drawings have helped spread cheer and, let’s face it, pass time for families socially distancing across Tampa Bay.
There are times I’m completely overwhelmed by this house. We are Luke, Leia and Han in the trash compactor, waiting for a droid to shut down the crushing walls.
There are times I’m so grateful for this house. So many do not have so much.
Social distancing is alive and well in this corner of the kingdom. Better yet, there’s a balance between precaution and panic that’s sensible and encouraging. Neighbors are offering to run errands for one another. They’re trading work schedules, bringing in the garbage cans and listening to each other’s anxieties.
There are days I eat everything in sight, and others where I have absolutely no appetite. Some weeks, I cook dinner every night. Other weeks, I rely on snacks and the ultimate comfort meal: noodles and butter.
There is no binge-watching. It is exhausting. Still, it went smoothly for the first few weeks.
Everyone seemed to be handling self-isolation. Then came my 8-year-old’s meltdown.
We left an anxious world obsessed with death counts and went back in time to Beirut in the ′60s. We were in the living room from her childhood, where beehive-haired ladies smoked from designer cigarette holders at dinner parties. My grandparents were so excited about the moon landing that they decorated with a framed portrait of the astronauts.
In the grand scheme of a planet in crisis, somehow the little things seem like they shouldn’t feel big. But childhood interrupted to an 8-year-old is all-consuming. Loneliness, confusion, isolation, worry and boredom dropped on Isadora like a hammer.
We turn off the television and put away phones at mealtime. We definitely count our blessings. We talk about things we hope to do when this is all over, and what we used to do when we could venture out of the house.
It’s my first Friday off and there’s no school. We take a walk at Sawgrass Lake Park, find a gopher turtle and a huge frog. We’re giddy to be outside. But when we drive by his beloved after-school care facility, he cries quietly and asks about it. I promise he can go back as soon as it’s safe.
If I’m working, then I feel guilty for not being a better father. If I’m taking care of my son, then I feel guilty for not being a better employee. I have no idea how this experience will shape his childhood or whether we’ve been doing the right things.
By the end of March, I had developed a strange symptom. The bottoms of my feet felt like someone had beaten them with a 2x4. It was uncomfortable to walk. I hadn’t fallen or kicked something or run a marathon.