The silver lining of self-isolation

Five ways pandemic prevention is making us better humans

Yes, it’s a dark, unpredictable, overwhelming storm cloud … but there are some glimmers of light for those of us self-isolating during the COVID-19 / coronavirus pandemic:

Increased kid + parent time

In 2016, when my son was 2.75 years old, we were concerned about his speech. I made a list of the words he could say: there were only about 20. Then we went on a 62-day road-trip across Canada. Just me, my husband and our son in a 1986 Ford Frontier motorhome.

By the end of that trip, Isaac’s vocabulary was too large to write down. It wasn’t as if we ignored our kid before then, but that intensive, 24/7/61 time together helped him blossom.

Four years later, my son and I spend all day, every day, together at home: his cough and fever on March 16 meant lockdown for our little family, just as “self-isolation” and “social distancing” became important terms in Canada.

This is my six-year-old’s happiest dream come true: daily playtime and constant snuggles with his mom. His manners have improved. He gets angry less often. I’ve never heard him laugh this much.

It won’t surprise me if “pandemic 2020” becomes one of my son’s happiest memories.

To nurture this, I try to keep my screen time low. It’s hard to resist checking for news, to take the pulse via social media of how our society is handling this plague.

I try to not worry about money, and the inevitable recession. When he asks why he can’t visit his grandparents or aunt, I explain that we’ve both been sick with a cough, and so we’re staying home to avoid spreading germs. There’s no need to use big words like “pandemic” and “quarantine.”

Community building

It’s beautiful to see how people are connecting and helping one another through this. We live in a small Canadian town of 3,600 people. Families are putting cut-out paper hearts in their windows, volunteering to deliver groceries, buying gift certificates to support our local businesses, and posting grateful messages to the frontline, essential-services workers.

Speaking of those front-line workers: we’re all realizing how critical our grocery store clerks, food producers, truck drivers, garbage collectors, tradespeople, daycare providers, pharmacists and other service providers are.

In communities around the world, people are going outside to make noise, bang pots, and play music to show their appreciation for these employees who are risking their own health to keep our society running. My son and I go on our deck at 7 p.m. to do this every day. It feels good to say “thank-you,” and it’s cathartic, to cause a ruckus in our silent neighbourhood after a day spent mostly indoors.

Facebook groups have sprung up, connecting parents with kids at home, volunteer grocery deliverers with those self-isolating, and people in general. Our local co-working business has closed their office space, but now hosts a “work from home” Zoom channel.

Innovation

Farmers’ markets and other direct-market sales models have become risky or have been cancelled, so my friends in the agriculture world are brainstorming how to get their food to customers in this new world. Some solutions include partnering with other businesses to reduce direct contact, offering online sales, and delivering.

Organizers of large events are coming up with new ways to continue: the Social Distancing Festival celebrates and broadcasts art and talent from all over the world. WORDFest moved online. There’s even an online marathon, for the runners.

Reduced spending

They say that over half of Canadians live paycheque to paycheque. While I expect a recession is inevitable, that we’ll survive this “with levels of debt equalling those at the end of the Second World War” (as Vaughn Palmer predicts), this pandemic is also teaching us how little money we need to survive. It’s an aggressive, forced lesson in family budgeting.

When we aren’t able to shop daily, when we’re limited to online purchases and courier delivery, when we can’t go out for dinner or travel and aren’t even buying gas, our spending will decline. With so many people unable to work, we’ll become more aware of which bills have to be paid. We’re about to find out which expenses are “essentials” (e.g. food, internet), and which are luxuries (e.g. new shoes, Hallmark cards).

Maybe, like those who lived through the great wars, we’ll carry these new, thrifty values into our post-pandemic lives.

Refined values

Speaking of values, being at home with my son is reminding me of what’s important. We check in frequently with my parents, grandma and sister’s family. I’ve visited (via Facetime) with friends I haven’t seen in a year. Our life is less frantic and I’m seeking out novel distractions to liven up our days, so I’m reaching out to people I am usually “too busy” to connect with.

I turn 40 in April and had dozens of adventures planned to celebrate in 2020: a trip to Legoland California, a two-week family camping trip, a half-marathon, a women’s retreat, a music festival, and much more. Now, these adventures will likely not happen. Instead of a year of adventures, I face a year (months? weeks?) of confinement or social-distancing, along with my son. But maybe this refocus from outward to inward is the perfect 40th birthday gift to myself. Maybe this is a different kind of adventure.

Our world is in the midst of a mandatory staycation. We are being forced to spend time alone or with our loved ones. If we can manage to put our phones down, we might re-discover why we chose these loved ones in the first place. We might re-discover ourselves.

***

This pandemic is a terrible thing, especially for those infected, those on the frontlines, and those who have lost a loved one.

Every morning I wake up and groggily realize I’ll be spending another day at home, mostly indoors, with my son. This is our normal, now. Compared to others, my son and I have been asked to do an easy thing: to self-isolate, and spend time together. This is our silver lining.

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