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This Week Almost Broke Me. And It's OK To Say So03:14
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Carys Williams, 7, center, plays on the family porch swing as her brother Owain, 8, left, plays with metal rods, and Gavin Tropeano, 9 months, is swung up in the air by his father Andrew Tropeano, as neighbors spend extra time on their porches since schools and offices closed due to the coronavirus, Sunday April 5, 2020, in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
Carys Williams, 7, center, plays on the family porch swing as her brother Owain, 8, left, plays with metal rods, and Gavin Tropeano, 9 months, is swung up in the air by his father Andrew Tropeano, as neighbors spend extra time on their porches since schools and offices closed due to the coronavirus, Sunday April 5, 2020, in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

What is it about week seven? This week, at least in my household, everybody and everything started to fall apart.

Farhad Manjoo put it best on the parenting front:

“Attempting to work full time while rooming with, feeding and educating one or more children during the pandemic is not going well — not for me, and not for most people I know.”

He’s right. Try as I might, it’s not going well.

Yes, there are bright spots: two-ingredient bagels, nature walks, introducing my three daughters to the movies I grew up on (next up, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”). But on the whole, seven weeks in, quarantine is wearing me down.

I’m trying to be patient. I’ve (sort of) taken up meditation. I remind myself constantly to be grateful for my considerable blessings — my health, my home, my job — but I’m sorry to report that I don’t have much grace left to give.

To quote Manjoo again, “If even fancy me is faring so poorly, I can’t imagine how others — the single parents, the front-line-worker parents, the newly unemployed parents — are coping.” Shorter: I have it easy, and this is still really hard.

I’m trying to be patient ... but I’m sorry to report that I don’t have much grace left to give.

This week, official word came that schools will be closed until the end of the year. That means I have at least two more months of online learning to look forward to. I was expecting this, but still. Camps are undoubtedly next. Will parks be open this summer? What about the beach? Probably not. Also, my dishwasher broke.

Friends, who early on in this forever quarantine, were setting up Zoom lunch dates and posting pictures of colorful "kid" schedules are slowing down. I’m tiring of endless text chains. I feel fatigued from reading the news. Even the self-identified introverts are losing it.

I seem to be constantly toggling between hope and hopelessness: hope is what keeps us going; hopelessness, because the world does seem awfully bleak. I've been trying to pinpoint what’s eating me alive, and I think it’s three things.

The author's daughters frolic in the woods while out for a pandemic nature walk. (Cloe Axelson)
The author's daughters frolic in the woods while out for a pandemic nature walk. (Cloe Axelson)

First, I’m doing what a lot of people are doing (and what most mental health professionals suggest we stop doing) which is projecting our current situation out into the future. If I’ve learned anything in the last seven weeks it’s that we for sure should not be thinking too much about a month from now, or even one week from now. Stay in the moment. Embrace the uncertainty. Be gentle with yourself and the ones you love. Let it go.

It’s hard to do this, however, when you’ve given yourself anxiety-induced vertigo and there are piles of laundry everywhere and you have a strong desire to maim the next person who posts a picture of their sourdough bread and your 2-and-a half-year-old won’t stop yelling about having the yellow bowl and the yellow spoon. And you are now, officially, down to your last six rolls of toilet paper.

The second thing is the guilt. I feel guilty for feeling any whiff of overwhelm when my immediate family and friends are safe. I feel guilty for living in a place where the elected officials seem to be taking the virus seriously (unlike other ghastly scenarios in places like Florida, Tennessee, South Dakota and Nevada, where you may be able to get a haircut next week but it very well may come with a side of COVID-19).

Sure, I am stuck at home — but so is everybody else. I’m not a first responder. I can escape the confines of my four walls. I have the internet. In truth, I’m not doing much of anything, except trying to stay afloat and follow the rules, and that, for an action-oriented, helper sort of person, can sometimes feel debilitating.

The third thing, and perhaps the hardest to overcome: the realization that help is not on the way. The cavalry is not coming. Yes, there are pockets of hope (like the innovative contact-tracing program in Massachusetts), but we have no national plan. We don’t have the tests. The president changes his approach by the hour. Nobody, even the experts, seem to know anything for certain, because all of this is new, and we just have to find a way to be patient. Somebody recently reminded me that at the beginning of World War I most people assumed it would be over by Christmas, in less than six months. We just don’t know how long this will go on.

Maybe we all need to fall apart before we can be put back together.

Leaders in the aforementioned states are proceeding with plans that public health experts say will kill people, give the virus new life and require everybody to start social distancing all over again. This is all on top of the fact that at least 43,000 Americans have died so far. There’s also a Great Depression looming: 26 million people have filed for unemployment benefits. Many, many businesses are never coming back. So much human suffering here and abroad has yet to even begin. According to David Beasley of the UN World Food Program, “We could be looking at famine in about three dozen countries.”

I honestly don’t know what to do about any of this.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: It's exhausting trying to be positive and grateful all the time. Sometimes you just need to say, "this is awful" before it's possible to gather yourself up and march on ... because really, what choice do we have? Maybe we all need to fall apart before we can be put back together.

I’m just going to do what I can do, which is to keep staying home. Keep working hard. Keep my kids happy. Keep blowing off steam when it all feels like it’s too much.

And keep hoping that next week will be better.

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This segment aired on April 28, 2020.

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Cloe Axelson Twitter Editor, Cognoscenti
Cloe Axelson is an editor of WBUR’s opinion page, Cognoscenti.

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