You've probably heard that there's a global pandemic, and if you're responsible and engage in even the least bit of critical thinking, you're at home right now. Saying that these are strange times doesn't quite capture it.
This last week was going to be Simon's spring break anyway, but it was originally to start with a 3-night cruise, followed by a possible audible to Washington DC or New York. Isn't it funny how absurd that sounds now when it didn't two weeks ago. We made a pretty late call on cancelling the cruise, because there was no useful guidance from the federal government, and even the theme park closures and general shut down didn't come to be until after the boat left. We started to look at alternatives, but even a quiet night or two in a Florida hotel quickly became an obviously bad idea. What's remarkable about that shift in thinking is that it happened in four days, not weeks. I suspect our story is not unique.
We were struggling a bit even before this COVID-19 stuff got real. Last week I described our challenges with Simon and his meds, plus the reduction of video game time. We started the break Friday with an bedtime meltdown, and went 2 for 3 on the weekend. Since then, there's been some anger issues, but not nightly meltdowns. We even had two relatively good nights. As soon as it was clear that school would be delayed, Diana immediately came up with a schedule, which hasn't been strictly enforced because there's formal learning coming from the district, and honestly he hasn't been receptive to it. She found some great alternatives to the officially prescribed online stuff, so she's working that angle. Overall, we're still seeing the anger, but family bike rides and frisbee and no games in two days might be having a positive effect. We just don't know how to find his baseline. I think he's "better," but it's hard to quantify, especially when he still insists he "can't" do the simplest of tasks and gets angry.
Diana is naturally out of work because the theaters are out of commission indefinitely. The tours are all grounded. She's assumed the role of teacher and while I admire her patience, I know she has limits. I haven't helped as much as I should for a number of reasons (I'll get to that). As is her personality, she's taken to cleaning, deeply, all over the house. We bought her a bike, her first new bike in her entire life, so we can ride around a bit once it cools off. It's therapeutic for all of us, and it's striking how many of the people in our neighborhood are out (social distancing, of course).
As for me, I've been struggling on and off. I mostly completed the things I hoped to do as "sabbatical projects" by the end of February, and so I've been getting stir crazy. Pile on the Simon challenges. I was waiting for a very long time for a lucrative contract gig to start, but then had a permanent thing come up and another more casual career conversation in play. That all landed and became clear and I'll go back to work on April 1. In the mean time, with the pandemic stress factored in, my IBS has been like torture, and allergies woke up this week too. It's hard to evaluate your physical health in those circumstances.
But I'm learning to be present. I did that today. I spent a few hours with Simon building Lego, I caught up on some technology news, looked at my operational stats for the forums and sites, and gave Diana a few extra squeezes throughout the day. And yeah, that bike ride.
I've spent probably too much time reading the news, but I've been sticking mostly to the New York Times and Ars Technica. I'm frustrated that I had to really come to the conclusion about the severity of the outbreak, and the correct actions, on my own. Those four days over last weekend involved as much reading and learning (and bullshit avoidance) as I could muster. I'll never be an epidemiologist, but I know more than I did a week ago. And what I know scares the shit out of me, in part because so many people haven't got the message I have.
Financially, we're not in a scary place, but the reality is that short of being independently wealthy and loaded with liquid assets, no one can really be sure that they're "stable." I made that mistake after 9/11. I suspect the long-term result of this for me will be a desire to hoard money, which isn't good for the economy.
If one of us does get sick, then what? Are we able to get tested? Is there any point in trying to isolate from each other within the house (if it's Simon, that's obviously not possible).
The disease itself doesn't scare me too much, though the odds of death are way too high to be comfortable. Diana's allergies and last year's bronchitis, Simon's pneumonia some years back, I don't know how vulnerable they are. And even then, it's the overwhelming of the healthcare system, and its dependencies on insurance and employment, that I worry will wreck our society. We live in a place where a huge percentage of the population relies on a thriving service and hospitality industry, and we're going to lose a significant portion of the 75 million people who visit annually. Our tax base is what it is because of the tourists. I realize it's too early to see how that shakes out, but it's not fun to think about.
My most immediate concern is the continuation of stocking the pantry. There are no indicators that the overall supply chain is at risk, but grocery shopping will not be the single riskiest thing that we do. There's no protocol for making that work in a safe manner. I don't even think anyone is thinking about it. Every cashier is now a likely infection vector, putting them at the level of healthcare workers, in terms of importance to our survival. Forget delivery services, because many of them are already overwhelmed.
We went out Wednesday morning, primarily to buy Diana that bike. It was wholly necessary, but that resets are contagious clocks. People in downtown Winter Garden, where the bike shop is, seemed to not be taking it all very seriously. We also picked up some Thai takeout, because I want to support the local restaurants.
So we're potentially "hot" until April 1, and that's only assuming we don't go out for groceries, which one of us will likely will have to do. I don't know what the protocol for that is either, but I assume if one of us goes out, we've essentially all gone out. I worry even about our neighborhood. One neighbor is well over 70, the other has an immunocompromised child, there are pregnant women in the neighborhood and so many parents are letting their kids mingle with others. I don't want them getting sick because of me, even if we're doing our best to stay away from each other.
With all of the focus on the chaos and lack of control, I suppose there are some things we can do. Cleaning around the house certainly isn't the worst idea. We're breaking out Lego we haven't seen in awhile. We're strangely more active. We can celebrate the death of standardized testing in Florida, for this year at least.
It's hard to volunteer for stuff when you can't go anywhere, but we're looking at things to do online that benefit others. Heck, I've got people making pull requests to my open source projects! We're also putting money in places we might not have thought about in "normal" times, ranging from organizations to individuals we know and can see how we help.
The optimist in me believes that there's an unprecedented opportunity for us take a hard look at our society and culture, with humility and honesty. With that look, perhaps we can improve ourselves.