Barbara Boehm Miller
Fiction writer and creator of the character, Lola Rolls

The Corona Diaries

Posted By on Thursday, April 30th, 2020

 

Nowhere to go and nothing to do: every day like the one before.

And yet, I can’t complain, although I do so anyway with persistent, bitter pleasure, because we are healthy and employed, able to find most of what we want and need with only minor inconvenience. The pandemic, at its heart, is about sickness and dying and the fear of those things. My world is isolated enough that I can forget those facts for substantial stretches of time. Instead, I moan about my boredom or my frustrations with homeschooling.

My family is by no means a worst-case scenario, but this novel coronavirus has had a profound impact on us nonetheless. Despite my impression that one day is identical to the next, blurring into an indecipherable series of weeks, circumstances have actually evolved at a dizzying clip. What I found commonplace three or four months ago now seems fantastical. I shudder to think of some point in the future when I might wish back this day because life now appears so relatively good and normal.

This is what living during the novel coronavirus pandemic has been like (so far, at least) for me–

February 2020

A good friend is scheduled to get married on Long Island over the long President’s Day weekend. She worries that a snowstorm could keep guests from attending, particularly those from out of town. The novel coronavirus isn’t on any of our minds yet, except as one news item among so many others. Her wedding day is cold and clear, the anemic winter sun does the best it can.

I fly to the wedding with another friend, not knowing that this is the last time that I will be on an airplane for… who knows how long? The wedding is beautiful, the bride resplendent. A group of us, good friends of long standing, are there together. We slip in and out of each other’s hotel rooms for preparties and after parties and, in general, just to see what other people are doing. I take a sip from someone’s glass to see if I want to order the same thing. At the reception, we all dance close together and press our faces against each other for group photos.

Those interactions seem extraordinary now, making me wonder how and when we will ever be able to slow dance again.

March 2020

By the beginning of the month, I have finalized the lineup of summer camps for the girls. Compared to the half-day camp offered by the fish and game club of my own childhood, I can’t help but marvel, as I do each year, at the array of offerings, everything from robotics to flamenco or watercolors to gymnastics.

I am also thinking a lot about summer swim team and nailing down the particulars of the schedule. One day at Saturday swim clinic, the novel coronavirus is a topic of conversation with another parent. He is more concerned than I am, more in tune with how future events could and do unfold. Later on, I will wonder if he is overreacting or I am underreacting. I have vague memories of the H1N1 flu ten years before, mostly recollections of signs calling for increased handwashing and sneezing into one’s elbow. That pandemic seemed a cause for caution, but not alarm.

On March 4, the Grand Princess cruise ship is placed in quarantine off the coast of San Francisco. I take particular notice because, at the beginning of June, I am scheduled to sail aboard this very same vessel to Alaska with two friends. We tell ourselves that that the situation will be resolved before then. I find myself wondering if this new virus will mimic the seasonal flu and essentially disappear with warmer weather.

To be on the safe side, I talk about bringing my laptop on the cruise with me, even though it’s another thing to carry. My reasoning, explained (almost entirely) in jest, is that if I am going to be trapped on a cruise ship, I will use that time to start a novel about being trapped in quarantine aboard a cruise ship. Brilliant, right? My query letter to pitch the finished product would be sure to garner lots of attention because of my unique first-hand knowledge.

On March 12, I unknowingly go to my office for the last time. As I am about to leave for the day, a coworker makes a point to stop by and say goodbye because, she says, of the high likelihood that we will not see each other for a while. She is right, although neither of us anticipates how long it will actually be.

On March 13, an announcement is issued, closing schools until April 21. Given the amount of books and papers the girls have been lugging home each day, this is not a surprise. The length of the closure is shocking though. Working from home and home schooling are, to my surprise, quite enjoyable at first. There is no more rushing around in the morning, looking for coats and shoes. The guidance from the school is a bit thin, so I divide each day into simple blocks: reading, writing, math, and a special learning project. The girls are good-natured students, and the weather is fine. We take a walk in the morning. I think about how I need more fresh air and exercise.

Then on March 23, we receive the devastating news that schools will be closed for the rest of the year. When postponement of the summer Olympics is announced the very next day, I realize that my delayed hopes of summer school, camps, and swimming may also be destroyed.

April 2020

By April, the coronavirus is all I or anyone else talks, thinks, or reads about in the news. A type of fatigue sets in. We want life to go back to normal, but have no idea how that would possibly look. As death tolls rise, I remind myself, with increasing frequency, how lucky I am to be in good health and have a healthy family, doing so because it is true, but also, I suspect, as a type of talisman to ward off misfortune.

On April 14, we receive the official notification that our Alaska cruise has been cancelled. This is no surprise, of course, but, somehow, it still manages to be a shock.

Easter comes and goes without the large backyard brunch and egg hunt we had planned. I wonder if I will be able to host our usual fall party with firepit smores and a bounce house. The prospects look dim. Still we have a nice family celebration and even make papier-mâché crafts, something I haven’t done since fourth grade. I have forgotten the messy gloopiness of the liquid paste or never even registered it in my brain in the first place. We are decidedly not Pinterest ready.

During this month, the girls discover the joys of the Harry Potter series—a true gift during a stay-at-home pandemic. Overnight, they appear to have become avid readers, staying up late, ignoring everything, except for the books in front of them. This makes my heart sing with absolute joy.

While their bedtime remains the same, they are allowed to stay up as late as they wish reading in their beds. They sleep late in the mornings and then wake up to read some more. When they finally emerge, I have had a 2-3 hour block to complete my work.

Homeschooling is a source of frustration more than anything else, making me long for the more unstructured beginning of the process when I essentially made up my own lessons plans about stuff I thought the girls should know – like state capitals. Now the endeavor is more streamlined, albeit spread out across different platforms with varying accessibility. We have been told that nothing will be graded and no new material will be taught. I wonder if this is short sighted given my rising doubts that we will be able to return to class in September.

Going Forward

There will probably be a new normal going forward, even as I wish for a last-minute, unexpected reversal that makes human interactions and unrestricted movement as unremarkable as they once were. No matter what shape the future assumes, there are some lessons and ideas that I want to carry with me into that imagined, and perhaps imaginary, time when this is all over.

Despite a sometimes desperate wish to be alone, I’ve loved spending so much time with my family. Being together all the time now has made me realize that I used to miss them during the day when we would take our separate paths to school and our respective places of employment. My goal is to savor this physical closeness while I can.

Our lives also used to be stuffed with comings and goings—a degree of running around, which seemed quite tolerable at the time. Now though, absent those activities and appointments, there is a certain inescapable peace. Regardless of what the future holds, I want to retain as much of that unhurried calm as possible.

It seems like, all the time now, we ask each other how we’re doing where before we discussed our activities and plans. I want to keep having these essential conversations about our emotions and coping mechanisms, this focus on our inner lives, even after we regain richer fuller outer lives.

   
Barbara Boehm Miller
Fiction Writer and Creator of the Character, Lola Rolls

3 responses to “The Corona Diaries”

  1. KGrube says:

    Very thought provoking. Wedding interactions seemed so normal. Looking forward to being that carefree about sharing space (and cocktails) again.

  2. Martha Kelley says:

    Barbara
    Just came across this. So terrific. I laugh and cry. It is deeep (that be a good thing).
    The creativity of your own lessons is a gift the girls will never forget. How I love that they are readers. Your grandmother Martha would be so proud. I am excited that the girls areREADERS. I always loved reading and still do. So very many people :relatives, friends, neighbors, some teachers encourage d and motivated me. Such a blessing.

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