Reflections on 12 Months After Shutdown

Twelve months ago, our lives changed. Schools, colleges, offices, and businesses shutdown. People got sick. People died. I started writing about it on March 3, 2020.

A week later, in the second week of March, my house was suddenly occupied by four adults all day, every day. I became a full time manager of this chaos. Just feeding this house of men three meals per day required weekly menus and careful planning. Steve and I helped Ian adjust to the change in routines, extreme isolation, and the lack of education, while he was struggling with serious health issues. Jonah missed his friends, and had to celebrate turning 21 with his parents. Steve moved from a glass office overlooking New York harbor to a corner of my office/guest room. With everyone in the house, things broke and needed repair. We restructured our homes to deal with the new lifestyle. We found ways to remain sane during this isolation with outdoor dining, daily walks, weekend adventures, and a couple of driving trips. For the first few months, the television was always on in the background, so we could understand what was going on outside our front door.

In August, I wrote, “We are in the midst of a massive change in society. This may be the biggest change in human society since the industrial revolution. Please keep diaries. This is important.”

There’s no question that our lives changed a lot this year. In March, just a few weeks into this change, I wondered if some of those changes were positive. The negatives, back then, were obvious — people were losing the jobs and lives, people were lonely, nobody seemed to be in charge. But there were also some silver linings, especially in our own home. At the time, I was grateful for a slowed down life and for some quantity time with the people who I love most in the world.

While we are still not quite out of this mess, things are definitely looking up. A few of our friends and family have gotten a shot. My parents will celebrate their “two weeks, after their second shot” anniversary this week, which will put them at peak immunity. We might actually eat Easter dinner indoors at my dining room table, though we will still make some adjustments. We’re talking about flying to Florida for spring break.

At the same time, a lot hasn’t changed. Ian’s school, Jonah’s college, and Steve’s office are still closed, or mostly closed. We have not gotten any official word that those situations will change in the short term. I have a basket of masks by the front door. I don’t have vaccination dates for any of us.

Looking back on this past year, I am most grateful for the time that I’ve spent with my family. We haven’t spent this much time together since that year when Steve and I finished our dissertations and minded the new baby, which was over two decades ago. After that, Steve was at his investment job for 12 hours per day. The kids were in school. I taught at a college for a while, and then worked from home, mostly by myself. We were doing our own things for a very long time with brief together-time during dinner.

We suddenly reverted back to the old days of 50/50 parenting. Steve could help Ian with his homework and drive him to whatever in-person activities I could scrounge up for him. He took Ian for walks and doctors’ appointments. He participated in IEP Zoom meetings. On Tuesdays, he drives 30 minutes to a private tutoring center for Ian, waits in the office for two hours, and drives home — three hours of work that was previously on my column of chores. Not only did this shift some responsibilities at home, but it also meant that those two forged a tighter bond.

Cooking more at home and taking daily walks to relieve the boredom has meant that we’re healthier than we were before.

Steve doesn’t have a commute anymore, saving him 15 hours per week. That’s an entire waking day that he gained. Sure, a little of that time is spent working; I think he is putting in more hours into work. But mostly that time is his. So, he’s gardening the basement, getting exercise, helping out with parenting chores, and getting more sleep. His stress level is way down. But he is reading less, since that’s what he used do on the train into the city.

We all got along. Four adults, or nearly adults, locked under one roof for a year can either be awesome or hell. We did damn well, considering the very stressful situation. Without this pandemic, we would never have had this time with Jonah, our 21-year old. It was a little gift. I’m certain this time together has made us more connected — our family relationships were permanently altered for the better.

Sure, it’s been exhausting keeping this situation more positive than negative. Someone has to keep this family on a schedule. Someone has to make plans. Someone has to knock heads together, when the mood gets dark. But we did it. We did it.

What positive changes have happened in your life this year?

30 thoughts on “Reflections on 12 Months After Shutdown

  1. What a nice reflection.

    We’ve been weirdly privileged in that my spouse’s job has been secure and we were at a good place financially, so even though I was off work from April-September, and currently am not sure where my business will end up, that plus government supports ($2k/month up here) eased the stress. I put feelers out in the summer that resulted in a short side gig too.

    We’ve grown closer as a family as well, and some days I really wonder how we ever managed our former frenetic schedule of events, even as I know we want to get back to most of them when we can. I’m thinking of keeping Sundays free, but I know that even then we’ll want to do concerts and galleries and things. At home we kept a vegetable garden alive for the first time in living memory, and also did a basement refresh, which gave us a much nicer space although my husband still hasn’t re-installed the baseboards. 😛

    For me personally, the pandemic has re-clarified a few things. I went through a cancer scare in early 2019 and spent the summer of 2019 putting my kids in the car to show them parts of upstate NY where I was born and spent time growing up, and DC, and we discovered Philadelphia together, and I think that year had already positioned me to enjoy the TIME. It’s been a struggle because I have lost a child to medical error and so when something like this pandemic (or my turns-out-benign growth) comes along, my adrenal system wigs out, but in a way I had already started coping early.

    But my focus in 2019 was on my kids, and when I was laid off a few weeks from this date last year, and virtual learning didn’t require the attention it does now ’cause it was half-assed, I had TIME. I went back to school in design, of all things – user experience design for now (I’m in my last class now but I completed the basic requirements already!) but I think I’m going to continue with digital media design. And I rediscovered how much I want to be around people who are Making Stuff, as well as where I work where we Do Stuff. I’m still taking that in and planning to keep taking one course a term as long as they’re offered online. I don’t have the time to drive downtown and sit for a 3 hour block, but online I’ve gotten into a good rhythm with it.

    I’d also focused on my fiction writing towards the end of 2019 and although I can’t say I finished my book in 2020, I will be finishing it in 2021 – I’m very close, and my writers group is holding me accountable.

    But really – I think this experience has made me feel very strongly how important it is to build a society that works. I think that’s a good thing but it is giving me a headache right now, because other than the work I do with youth in my job, I’m not sure where to throw it.

    As usual, I’m pretty scattered all over. Some things not even a pandemic can change. 🙂


  2. Some positive changes:

    –I kind of love Zoom school parent meetings, because it’s so darn easy and doesn’t involve going anywhere in the evening.
    –We eventually brought our cleaning help back, but during the spring, we discovered that the teens are capable of doing most of the heavy cleaning at home. (We paid them and there was whining, but they finally learned how to do it.)
    –It’s never been easier to avoid having to do something you don’t want to do.
    –Related: It’s been a vacation from college application padding. Not that our family does a lot of it, but I don’t even feel the urge to make the 10th grader rack up outside volunteer hours this year. He does a little bit of help at the school library, but that’s it. He’ll do more next year (and I’ll have to keep track of it–blech!), but this year we get a break.
    –Husband and 10th grader have tried almost every racket sport there is, and the 10th grader is now on our school tennis team. It’s not just us–nationally, tennis has had a surge in popularity.
    –School started an esports team, which the 10th grader has joined.
    –All the kids were in school in person this fall, but we didn’t do any in-person weekly activities for the kids during the fall. The 10th grader suddenly has a very busy schedule this spring, though: tennis, esports, yearbook, online church youth group, (streamlined) confirmation prep, plus a competition or two for Junior Classical League (online) and rock climbing. We have zero (0.0) in-person after-school activities for the 2nd grader. It’s nice.
    –After our spring 2020 remote schooling, I decided to do at least a little bit of school work and reading for the 2nd grader on Saturdays and during breaks, partly because the 2nd grader needed it, partly because we had nothing else to do and nowhere to go and we needed a little bit more structure to our days. She has had a very academically solid year in 2nd grade, and her standardized scores for math were really, really good. (1st grade was such a disaster for our youngest that when school shut down in March, it was a relief.)
    –School has streamlined their uniform. There’s no weekly chapel and no big group events, so no (expensive) chapel dress, and the 2nd grader gets to wear sweat pants to school twice a week because they’re not changing clothes for gym. Miraculously, Friday is now a free dress day for 7th-12th graders.
    –The college freshman is doing great academically. She’s on a slightly trimmed down schedule, but she’s gotten into the rhythm of college work and is doing very well in her 4 courses (as well as finding plenty of time to play with her online gaming guild and do art inspired by the game).

    Quite unexpectedly, I have a Moderna shot shot scheduled for Saturday. I’m not quite in the general population for COVID shots (Texas is starting to do 50+ but I’m “only” 45), but one of the health categories is 30+ BMI, which I definitely qualify for. Not all states do this, but everybody, check your BMI and your state guidelines, you may already be a winner! I don’t really believe it yet, but if all goes well, I’m going to be able to go see my West Coast family this summer, for the first time since Thanksgiving 2019.


    1. The 10th grader’s explosion of spring activities kind of blow my mind, but fortunately we only have weekly driving commitments for the tennis. The other stuff either happens at school, happens via Zoom, or is more sporadic.

      I’m in talks with my siblings and parents about doing a ski trip to Crystal Mountain, WA for January 2022. The location is very convenient for my Washington/Idaho relatives, it’s in reasonable range of the airport for us, and our youngest has never been skiing before.

      I’m also in talks with an old friend in Russia to do a US trip after the pandemic. She has a husband and a kid that I’ve never seen and who have never been to the US.


  3. You can now get wine mailed to your house, and not just Pennsylvania wine like before. You can now get liquor mailed to your house. You can now get beer delivered to your house even if you don’t order a pizza with it. You can now get takeout cocktails.


  4. Definitely not getting a cold for *all* of last winter (well, this summer, too – but winter somehow feels more significant). I have a bad history with lung infections – and every cold goes to my chest and I end up on heavy duty antibiotics. So a big winner for me.

    Working from home.
    In theory, this was always available – but over the last few years – the days in the office have crept up, and up – and I was pretty much full-time ‘in’ at work – and had to negotiate days at home as an exception.
    For the last 6 months, I’ve regularly worked 1 day in the office and 4 days at home.
    This is starting to creep up again – and I can see the end of this golden period in sight (so am enjoying it now, while I have it).

    Re-vitalizing of our local shops (easy walking distance for me). With the hollowing out of the CBD (and I do feel the pain of the businesses there), our local cafés, butchers, greengrocer, etc., are all booming. We have a new organic whole-food store (I’m a bit ‘meh’ about the organics, but appreciate being able to buy dried harricot beans – and they also get bread from one of my favourite bakeries – so that’s one less car trip). We even have a cat café (much to Mr 13’s joy)!

    Feeling more connected to friends and work colleagues overseas (or in another city, here). The penetration of zoom (and all the other apps) as a ‘commonplace’ has really upped the level of engagement. From a work perspective, this is been a major game changer, but I’ve been enjoying it personally as well.

    Really, *really* appreciating the extra activities that Mr 13 can again fill his time with. It means that I have to drive (or otherwise organize his transport) – but he is so much easier to live with when he has extra activities filling his afternoons/evenings/weekends (and not computer gaming).

    Thanks, Laura – it’s so easy to fixate on the negatives (and there were/are a slew of them), that it’s easy to overlook the positives.


      1. That’s ‘on trend’ here as well (especially after the failure of our Cannabis referendum)
        The price of prescription cbd (the only legal way to source it here) is a matter of significant concern here in NZ.

        But the initials generally refer to the Central Business District – or more colloquially as ‘The City’…..

        What do you call it, there?


  5. Love that everyone has taken this directive seriously.

    I have a personal blog, and so have been following the advice to keep a diary. I appreciate being able to know what i thought then.

    Having the HS kid at home has been delightful. He’s is a very interesting person and when the world is limited I am one of his favorite audiences. I’ve been learning about linguistics, politics, and more from him.

    Having the college kid and other kid spend time together over the spring and summer was wonderful. I think they learned to appreciate each other as adults. They discovered their own TV shows and had discussions about being millennials and anti-racism, among other topics.

    College kid and spouse have been doing the NY Times crossword puzzle every day since May. I have a graph that tracks their times and records. It’s been a great way to keep in touch with the college kid.

    Spouse has been swimming every weekday at our local outdoor pool. He swam even when it snowed. I had to convince him to try it (he was a HS swimmer, but stopped because his shoulders hurt too much). Having returned he’s discovered he can swim as a middle aged adult (and not hurt his shoulders).

    College kiddo found a summer rental (all by herself) and lived independently for two months or so in the cutest little studio (which she paid for with a summer internship) that will be a comparison apartment for her for the rest of her life. It opened directly onto a courtyard that was planted with a perennial garden. She shopped and cooked for herself and loved it.

    We are all well; my parents are now vaccinated (though we still haven’t eaten together at home, I think we will, soon). The kids are doing well at school and are physically and mentally healthy. No one has had a cold (including the rest of my family, who would get them with some regularity).

    My parents were here for the winter and we saw them outside and got food deliveries regularly from them. They would normally be traveling (and returned just in time for the pandemic quarantines).

    I indulged myself with cut flowers frequently over the past year. First, I wanted to help when the flower vendors were shut out of our landmark farmer’s market and searched for ways to buy their flowers. Now, I think some of them have found alternate locations, some of which are much easier for me. I’ve gotten early tulips but now am eagerly looking forward to the lupine, iris, poppies, peonies, dahlias, zinnias, . . . to come. I enjoy taking photos of the flowers and am toying with the idea of getting a business license just for fun.


    1. “He swam even when it snowed. ”

      Dear God! …. I can’t even contemplate!

      Please tell me this is a heated pool……


  6. Positives:
    – I haven’t been late to class once. I used to be the queen of “dash in 5 minutes late complaining about traffic”
    – I have been more relaxed in general
    – My husband hasn’t had to commute, so he is less grumpy in the evenings
    – We walk together more
    – We didn’t have to go to NY for Christmas (this is a sore spot for me)
    – We couldn’t go to LaSalette on Christmas Eve because it was closed (only a sore spot because of the previous entry)
    – We discovered that my son’s sleep issues were worse than we thought, and he is seeing a sleep therapist now. We never would have had the opportunity without the lockdown
    – I have finally grown my hair longer than it’s been in years and mostly have grown out my bangs
    – I got a houseplant and didn’t kill it


      1. I bought fake plants. They make quite nice faux stuff now. Real succulents look exactly like fake succulents. No watering, no dying, you can stick them in a drawer if you want to take a break.


      2. Cranberry said, “I bought fake plants. They make quite nice faux stuff now. Real succulents look exactly like fake succulents.”


        You’re not wrong.


      3. Confession time: It’s my husband who nurtured the plant. But, it was in my vicinity and it didn’t die, so I will call that a win.

        PS: I got dose #1 of Moderna today!


      4. We did a lot of plants after the gloomy end of winter last year. We got an indoor tree mailed to us and it’s still growing. Also, a ficus, a snake plant, something with red flowers, something from the sale table at Whole Foods, and a money tree (which is the only one that died).


      5. Wendy said, “PS: I got dose #1 of Moderna today!”

        Oh my gosh–it’s raining vaccines this week!


      6. MH said, “We did a lot of plants after the gloomy end of winter last year. We got an indoor tree mailed to us and it’s still growing. Also, a ficus, a snake plant, something with red flowers, something from the sale table at Whole Foods, and a money tree (which is the only one that died).”

        Our family is in talks about getting a pomegranate and a fig tree, as we’ve seen them growing around town, so we know it’s doable. I don’t know where to get the plants or where we ought to put them in our yard. But it’s an idea!


      7. I lived in a house with pomegranates growing in Arizona once. I’m not an expert but what I remember is that they are really picky about the amount of water they get – too much and they split open! It did feel like an adventure having pomegranates growing in the yard though.


  7. I’ve learned how to cook some new things, in part because I got a cast iron skillet (crispy chicken thighs now a favorite)

    The garden was better last year, because I was here almost all the time to do tending and weeding.

    I have a much better sense of what I own. Did some sorting and tossing, but not a huge amount.

    Less time worrying about my partner while he travelled on icy roads for work, because he did no travelling on icy roads this winter. (We spent a lot of enjoyable time together, but we would have anyway, except more often in vacation-y places, so I don’t see it as a net benefit.)

    Dog was very happy.

    Saved a lot of money, some of which I contributed to voting rights organizations, local food support, and other causes.

    I got the J&J over the weekend so I am looking more forward than backward – but this is still a good exercise.


    1. “The garden was better last year, because I was here almost all the time to do tending and weeding.”

      I have had *magnificent* tomatoes this year – though the self-seeded ones did much better than the ‘official’ ones in the vege garden.

      Have made my own passata – and was feeling very smug about the bounty.
      Until it has become apparent that the whole of NZ has a tomato glut (not sure if it’s exports failing, or just everyone having a bumper season).
      The fire sale prices (this one was a loss leader – but plenty of shops have them under $.50 per kg) – have inspired lots of people to make their own sauce…..


      1. My gardening 10th grade son is turning 16 this week, and one of his gifts was a spring gardening supply shopping spree. We got compost, some wire plant supports, a new watering can, some seeds and some plants. We almost got a little blueberry bush for the big pot on our front step, but were afraid that the squirrels would ravage it. He has a raised bed that he and my husband built a netted cover for to keep the squirrels out, but we don’t have protection for the front step pot.

        I am hoping for a good herb crop to fancy up our home cooking. My belief is that you can put cilantro and dill on almost anything.

        I belatedly realized that the 10th grader would really enjoy the book The $64 Tomato, so I’ve ordered a copy for him. Ann, if you haven’t heard of it–it’s a treat. It’s a very funny gardening memoir.


      2. If any of you gardeners are not keeping a year-to-year gardening journal, I highly recommend getting one (for you or your gardening-inclined kids). I got one as a gift and used it for 5 years when I moved into this house, then had a hard time tracking another down but finally found one the New York Botanical Garden publishes. It is so great to be able to go back and see when the tulips came up, how crowded the tomatoes got, cycles of rain and heat, etc.

        AmyP, I am jealous of your consistent dill success. The ones I get to work easily are thyme and oregano, which I barely use (the originals were a gift).


      3. af184793 wrote,

        “AmyP, I am jealous of your consistent dill success. The ones I get to work easily are thyme and oregano, which I barely use (the originals were a gift).”

        We got dill plants this year, so it should be pretty fool-proof, although we have grown dill from seed before. Rosemary grows spectacularly well in our climate (people locally use it a lot as a decorative shrub). People also love growing peppers here.

        A peculiarity of local gardening is that we get a spring gardening season, a summer death zone, and then a fall gardening season.

        I like your gardening diary idea.


      4. I’d really, really love to have a dwarf lemon tree, or maybe a dwarf lime, but we’d have to drag it inside for the winter.


  8. My 10th grade boy has a chum at school (doctor’s kid) who has had two COVID shots.

    The mom and I are setting up a get-together for our sons and it suddenly occurred to me–the kid is vaccinated! We could have him over at our house and it would be fine! We don’t actually have to make elaborate outdoor plans.

    We haven’t had any social visitors to our home in almost a year, so this is a whole new world for us.


  9. Today is a pretty banner day at our house. I got my first shot of Moderna at the county health dept.’s big stadium drive-thru clinic after spending a surprisingly short amount of time on the local waitlist. The day before, I got reminders from them in three formats: robocall, texts and an email. Nearly everybody I could see driving up seemed to be roughly my age (40ish/50ish).

    We’re having a (vaccinated) visitor later today, our first social visitor in nearly 12 months.

    I should be able to get a haircut in about 6 weeks, my first since spring 2020.

    I plan to go to the West Coast in June to see family, which will be the first time since Thanksgiving 2019. There are still a lot of question marks. Minimally, we need to get my husband (slightly older than me but not 50, which is currently the magic number in TX for people without health issues) vaccinated if any unvaccinated kids are going with me, and ideally whichever teen is travelling with me. There’s no vaccine even theoretically available for our 2nd grader right now, but on the other hand, she’s very low risk and would enjoy the trip the most. She really pined last summer when we didn’t go to Washington as usual.

    Life is going to be a bit like the old problem with the fox and the chicken and the grain for a while.


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