I sent a text to an old college friend in April, inquiring how she was faring under the covid-19 stay-at-home order then in place, and I confided in her that I’d be sad to see it end. I liked that everything had slowed down, that for a brief time, I’d stepped off the conveyor belt I’d been on that made my life feel less meaningful.
My friend, a 57-year-old writer in New York, wrote back immediately: “Wow. Will not be sad when it’s over. It’s a dark cloud hanging over life, and I feel panicked and dread for people in the restaurant industry, tourism, etc., and the domino effect that will have on us all.
“It’s nice to have dinner with my kids every night,” she said, but she lamented how very different their lives will be from ours if this persists, affecting everything from going to college, working in an office or even just going to the movies. “All the stuff we took for granted.”
Of course I understand.
In five months, more than 140,000 Americans have died because of covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Millions have lost their jobs and some have lost their homes; unlike me, many had to work in unsafe circumstances, putting themselves and their families at risk.
I feel guilty saying that while I was worried about what was happening I enjoyed this time, but, I have enjoyed this time. And as it comes to an end, I’m nostalgic. I’m a freelance writer and I liked having my husband around, not only to help with child care, but also to just be with. It’s given me a taste of what his impending retirement will be like — and it was good. With Zoom classes, I got a sense of how my 9-year-old son operates in school and what I need to tweak to make his educational and social experiences better.
I came to see that the hamster wheel my son — and I — were on, where I overscheduled him with playdates and activities because I thought as an only child he should never be alone or idle, was not the best approach.
While my son missed his friends, he was fine without activities every single day. He found things to do, like making bridges and three-story structures with Popsicle sticks and a glue gun, making a birdhouse out of Magna-Tiles, and reading on his own, after he discovered the “Harry Potter” series. He survived — and I felt more relaxed not having to drive him to and from suburban New Jersey every day after school.
As we all emerge, I will miss that. But it’s not just me.
Kelly Moore, a clinical psychologist and program manager at the Children’s Center for Resilience and Trauma Recovery at Rutgers University, said people with social anxieties also have found this time to be oddly comfortable. They didn’t have to go out, she said. Some of her regular patients were so unstressed with stay-at-home orders that they didn’t feel the need to have remote therapy sessions.
“I had quite a few clients who said, ‘Actually, we’re doing a little better right now,’ ” she said. “I don’t know that it’s a good thing. At some point, they’re going to have to go out into the world again.”
Alex Elbogen, a 26-year-old computer programmer in New Jersey, is well aware of that. He was so uncomfortable in social situations, he finished high school remotely through a school in California. “I feel really good by myself. I feel more relaxed and peaceful,” he said. “If I spend a lot of time with people, I start getting tired, in the way you might get tired when you’re overwhelmed with something.”
During our quasi-lockdown, he got to be by himself, and he didn’t have to deal with friends and family telling him he had to go out more. “I was doing the same thing I did before. There was just no one commenting on it,” he said.
For some, it’s not so much getting away from people: It’s being pushed toward them, such as family. Dawn Shurmaitis, a writer who lives in Stockton, N.J., said she spent significant time with her older sister for the first time in decades, and it was memorable.
“We did silly stuff, like facials, and she complained mightily about my veggie ‘gruel,’ but we also read each other’s stories and watched old home movies of our parents, shot at the age we are now, and we missed them all over again, together,” Shurmaitis, who is middle-aged, said. “Now that she’s back in her own home, I miss her every day.”
Shurmaitis said she’s going to miss what she now calls, “The Great Pause,” as we all begin to return to our crazy, stressful, though now often different, lives. “The rescue ship is in sight, and we’re having to leave our little islands,” she said, “and put on a bra and lipstick.”
Stephanie Schaich Bricken, a designer in Spring Lake, N.J., 54, feels similarly. She loved spending more time with her two sons and husband and knowing that, every night, they’d all be together for dinner. They played games together, watched movies together, even cleaned the house together. They were a team, Bricken said.
“I didn’t have to jockey for time with my teens, or shut down a demanding request for dinner with their friends or say, ‘No,’ if they asked for a later curfew. I never had to be the bad guy. The virus was,” Bricken said. “We definitely got closer.”
She just hopes the newfound awareness her family gained will stick, going forward.
I look around and see the vestiges of this period: the briefcase and piles of law books on the floor on each side of our dining room table, where my husband, a New Jersey state government employee, set up a home “office.” He will soon be on a schedule where he will go in some days every other week. There is still a stick with a number taped to it lying on the ground at the park across the street from my house, a marker for the miniature golf course some neighborhood men created during quarantine, so they could play every day around sunset.
At one point during the lockdown we made some funny videos: In one, I’m dancing with a raw chicken, to the song, “Happy.” In another, my son is wearing an inflatable shark costume and dancing to the song “Baby Shark.” It felt like a brief interlude floating in space, like an unexpected cease fire during war, where all the muck and fear is momentarily pushed away. You want it to stay that way, if only for a few more moments. But like trying to hold water back with your hands, when you take them away, the water flows right back in, concealing all the gains that were made.
Coronavirus: What you need to know
Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.
New covid variant: The XBB.1.5 variant is a highly transmissible descendant of omicron that is now estimated to cause about half of new infections in the country. We answered some frequently asked questions about the bivalent booster shots.
Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.
Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.
For the latest news, sign up for our free newsletter.