When the COVID-19 pandemic began spreading across the U.S. in March, my family and I went on lockdown. Like many other families, we assumed that after a few months, things would more or less go back to normal.
Nearly six months in, however, we know that “going back to normal” could take several more years. My conversations with my husband, a physician, have progressed from “how will we survive the pandemic?” to “how will we continue to live fulfilling lives while the pandemic passes?”
Like many families, we’ve begun to ease restrictions on seeing other people and leaving our home. We continue to avoid nonessential errands, wear masks outside our home and practice social distancing. But to accommodate our professional lives and our personal happiness levels, these are calculated risks we’ve begun to take this summer.
School: Educating a Toddler and Running a Business from Home
Nyla’s preschool reopened in mid-summer. The school is taking as many precautions as it can, including mandatory mask-wearing, constantly wiping down surfaces, temperature checks, requiring kids to wear separate shoes indoors and outdoors, and more.
However, we chose not to send Nyla back to school. Although we worried about her missing out on the academic elements of school, along with social interaction with other kids, we decided we didn’t want to take the risk of her being around others. We spoke to a family member who teaches preschool and she assured us that children are resilient, and all Nyla really needs right now is lots of play time and love. That was a relief to hear!
In order to give Nyla the attention she needs, we decided to invite our nanny back into our home in early June. I was struggling to work early mornings, late evenings and during Nyla’s naps despite knowing I am most productive during the day, and it was beginning to take a toll on me (which I think every parent can relate to this year).
Now, our nanny comes to our home for four hours in the morning Monday through Friday. She wears a mask throughout. She uses our guest bathroom with a separate towel, and I sanitize it daily in case Udai, Nyla or I use it (although we typically don’t). Nyla also wears a mask while the nanny is here. We decided to provide paid sick leave if she or one of her family members start to exhibit symptoms. So far, this is working out well.
Socializing: Seeing Friends Outdoors
Udai and Nyla are fairly introverted, and they don’t seem to mind hanging out at home most of the time. But I’m an extrovert, so after five months, staying home all the time has really started to get to me.
About a month ago, we decided to start seeing friends again. We only meet outdoors, typically in our backyard, and set up chairs in advance so they’re at least six feet apart. When we order food for delivery, each family orders their own dishes so we do not have to share. There are no shared snacks. When guests use our bathroom (the guest bathroom only), we insist that they wear masks in the house. We put out paper towels rather than a cloth towel and I wipe everything down when they leave.
Initially, we focused on seeing our friends without kids, because we were nervous about whether Nyla would be able to stay physically distant from other kids and vice versa. But in July, we began seeing friends with kids. In addition to the precautions above, Nyla and her friends wear masks. It was really nice for Nyla to finally interact with kids again, I didn’t realize how much she missed it until I saw her with her friends.
We know that socializing is a risk. We continue to set limits: for example, we don’t eat in restaurants, not even outdoors. But we believe social interaction is important, and we’ll need our friends and family to get through the next one to three years — so we’re trying to re-incorporate it into our lives as responsibly as possible.
Travel: Planning Road Trips
Udai and I love to travel. Cancelling four vacations was among the hardest things for us to do when the pandemic began. (Fortunately we got full refunds for everything!)
We do not feel safe flying until there is a vaccine or a cure for COVID-19 that has been proven to be widely effective. As a result, we’re starting to talk about road trips.
Friends and family members have rented RVs for camping trips to avoid staying in hotels. If we decide to stay in a hotel on our next trip, we plan to sanitize everything when we arrive, bring our own sheets, decline housekeeping service during our stay, and order room service instead of eating in restaurants.
We may forgo hotels entirely, though, and pick destinations where we can stay with family members. We’d feel much safer talking about precautions with our family beforehand than staying in a hotel with a large staff. But ask me again in another few months as I may decide to take the calculated risk of staying in a hotel since it would feel more like a real vacation!
Getting Better at Staying Home
Although it’s been an extraordinarily difficult year, we’re beginning to appreciate aspects of this “new normal.” The three of us are all home much more than we used to be — even Udai, who continues to work at a hospital — and we’ve gotten much more quality time together than we’re used to.
Udai and I feel fortunate to still be working. And since we aren’t traveling, eating at restaurants, or paying for local activities, we’re spending significantly less money than we normally do. This has allowed us to save more money, which has in turn allowed us to donate to causes we support and develop more security for the uncertain future.
Finally, like everyone else, we’re doing whatever we can to stay rooted. Meditation and mindfulness practices have been essential to navigating the panic and frustration this year has often prompted. Even Nyla meditates — and I think it’s helping her too!
COVID-19 is looking more and more like a marathon rather than a sprint. These carefully calculated risks, we hope, will help us continue living fulfilling lives until scientists develop a vaccine or find an effective cure. Also, please wear a mask!