Fievel Goes Absolutely Nowhere
COVID quarantine in ten stages
Stage One, Now this is happening: You successfully avoided COVID during an international trip, but now it has caught up to you in the exotic locale of Boston, Massachusetts. You knew one day, Dunkin’ would kill you. You have made it home to California, with a horrible migraine, but now your husband has tested positive. He takes some underwear and scurries off to the studio apartment upstairs. You vomit from your migraine and tell the kids to watch all the TV they want. Everyone else is negative, which you take to be good news, but which later you will understand is a sort of backhanded COVID compliment that makes your life far more difficult. You schedule 4,000 PCR tests for the coming days and hunker down and prepare yourself for a week at home with your two young children, who you’ve already had A LOT of quality time with over the last two weeks of vacation.
Stage Two, Consumerism: You quickly gather your offspring in to your bed for a headachy huddle, clutching them to your bosom, and open your laptop. You begin wildly purchasing highly disposable and environmentally unfriendly, short-lived entertainments. At first, you click the “Under $25” box. Then you expand to “$25-50," then you say, out loud to your spawn, “fuck it” and expose your children to all of the endless options that might excite them. You go way over your original budget, but stop at the $800 Limited Edition Lego AT-AT Walker. You are pretty sure that is what the parenting experts would call “love with limits.”
Stage Three, Putting on a Happy Face: Day One. More stuff is not the only thing that will bring your family happiness. Joy and creativity are at your fingertips. Moms are superheroes! You sit at the art table and make cards for your husband. You help the younglings produce those tiny little iron bead things, even though it makes your enormous hands hurt. There is so much pleasure to be found in generation. The world is constantly being born and reborn. To everything, turn, turn, turn. You got this.
Stage Four, Listening to the Rent Soundtrack: Things are getting weird. You have now been in your small home, afraid to venture out, for two days. You are making random music decisions and pumping them loudly through the apartment, which you just read should be kept at a certain percent humidity to stop the spread of illness, but which is old and without any non-toxic heat system and is always just the same temperature as whatever it is outside. Your humidifier is full of mold.
The dominant game among your children at the moment is a kind of violent wrestling that inevitably ends in shouting or actual injury, but you are powerless to stop it. All you can think about is how slowly time is passing. It has been at least 525,600 minutes since you last experienced hope or sanity.
Stage Five, Airbnb Searching: Day Three. You will get out of this. You will. And when you do, you want to go straight to one of those really, really nice yurts with a hot tub and a Nespresso machine anywhere within a five hour drive. You may or may not bring your family with you.
Stage Six, Furtively Going Outside and Playing a Game Where You Hunt and Capture Rare Animals: You have decided it is safe to visit some outdoor spaces with low weekday traffic, such as the local rose garden. You are a scientist. You are in the jungle. A tiger, not the least bit shy, has approached you and is eating all of your “bunny jerky” and shouting demands about what you should say to it next. Another creature, who will not show its face but also shouts, more like in a screechy way, needs you to attempt to coax it out of the jungle in increasingly elaborate ways that make the tiger feel neglected. It is nice to be in the fresh air. You must remind the animals many times to keep their masks on, and only to publicly urinate some distance from humans. You go home and collapse. The jungle animals join you in your human bed.
Stage Seven, Equanimity: Day Four. You have decided to stop texting everyone you know to tell them how exhausted you are. You do not need to invite more guests to your pity party. This too shall pass. We are all just clouds, floating by on life’s weather patterns or whatever. Anxiety is just a collection of thoughts about danger, not real danger. It’s so obvious.
Stage Eight, Anxiety: Today’s test results have just come in, but you cannot bring yourself to open them. Are you having a heart attack? Is that a covid-related symptom? What if your sweet daughter, who really can’t help but be in an especially drawn-out “yelly phase” of development, but is really a good child who has not had time to do harm in the world, spends her upcoming birthday in the ER? What is this tickle in your throat? You text everyone you know and describe it to them in detail.
Stage Nine, Doing Half of a Virtual Dance Class: You did not test positive! Today’s close call has made it clear that you are not taking care of your self. How did you forget about SELF CARE? Watching an episode of Bridgerton each night is very, very caring, especially for your lady feeling parts, but still insufficient. You sign up for an online dance class, and manage to feed your kids and get your husband on Facetime and log on just 20 minutes late. You dance! You move! You celebrate you! You step on many, many pieces of plastic train tracks. Your instructor dims the lights in the studio, where people who are fully alive in the world of adults are in a room with other adult people, and tells everyone it is time to “feel sexy.” You burst into tears. That night, you stay up until midnight so you can get your Bridgerton on. The next morning, you are very tired, and your back hurts from all that dancing. It appears that no one has picked up the train tracks.
Stage Ten, Despair is Criminal: Day Five. Your kids are being so good. They are only screaming and shoving one another like, 20% of the time, which is really and truly a record for them. Even though every mommy blog you read has made it clear that if you reward your kids for good behavior, they will become the next Bernie Madoff, and that if you reward them with food, they will develop an eating disorder, you tell them that you are so pleased with their behavior that they can pick anything they’d like for dinner. They choose Chinese, because you are raising them incredibly well. Your son’s fortune cookie says “Age can never hope to win you while your heart is young.” Your daughter’s says “Customer service is like taking a bath; you have to keep doing it.” Yours says just three words: “Despair is criminal.”
You cobble together a makeshift birthday celebration for your daughter. A friend sits in the backyard while you have 45 minutes of solo time picking up gifts at a local bookstore. Your daughter is very happy, because she has a very very good life even with a dad who can only wave from an upstairs balcony. She doesn’t seem to be taking the note about customer service, though, and you are left to clean up the birthday detritus. Her brother is jealous that it is not his birthday. These feel like sweet, normal, things for kids to experience, not the dark demons you’d imagined harming your babies during earlier stages of quarantine.
You show your kids American Tail and Fievel Goes West, forgetting about the terribly racist B-plot in the latter involving native people thinking a cat is their god. You try your best to critique these rampant stereotypes, while your kids stare at you blankly. You aren’t 100% paying attention, as you are also watching playoffs basketball, and also your brain has turned to mush.
You have a family dance party to “Somewhere Out There,” with your husband on Zoom, and when you sing the words to the song, you laugh at yourselves. Aren’t you “sleeping underneath the same big sky,” after all? This is so ridiculous. Your life is full of blessings. Your despair does not even make it onto the map of human despair, for all time or even for this exact moment. Your despair is a molecule, no, a single insignificant atom of sadness and discomfort, something you know a lot about because you’ve been watching a ton of Story Bots and TedED videos. You will be reunited soon.
Stage Eleven: Ad Nauseam: You thought there would just be ten stages. You were wrong. COVID never ends. You wake up on the morning of day eight, a Monday, ready to sent your brood off to school, slowly thaw yourself out from the week, change out your chipped manicure. and prepare for the return of your mended husband. Instead, you get the results from yesterday’s PCR tests, which you stopped having anxiety about a few days ago, because you thought the only thing to fear was fear itself. Your daughter’s is positive.
You pack your bags, high-five your husband in the hallway, and retreat to the upstairs apartment. You set up the bluetooth speaker, and let the smooth sounds of Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram flood your earholes and heartcorners with a lonesome lullaby. You return to Stage One.
Love will see us through, people.
Basketball will also see us through. These playoffs are already, as some Warriors fans might say, “hella” fun. My various virtual messaging systems are ablaze with talk of Ime Udoka’s inspiring coaching, Ben Simmons’ ridonculousness, and Doris Burke’s smokin’ hot sheer blue blouse. I am enjoying my annual sports-allegiance-indoctrination-blast of my children, as I hope others are of theirs, and offer as proof of my propaganda this sign, made this week by my six-year-old: