I was worried about the wrong things

April 9, 2020

It’s becoming clear to a lot of us that isolation isn’t what we thought it would be.

Many introverts thought it would relieve pressure on them to socialize with groups, but after a short adjustment period, it turned out that many can’t avoid constant connection mediated by modern technology, and it’s just as draining as physical socialization, if not more so. Parents are realizing how much goes into education, with some deciding they have to focus on work and eschew homeschooling their children rather than take on a second full-time job.

Did I just write “parents”? In many households, it’s women who have to deal with childcare, education, and the additional housework that stems from preparing and eating more meals at home and simply having people around all the time.

Even after my child’s school closed, I thought I might be able to record more music. I thought I might plow through more books. I thought I might devote more time to drafts of a screenplay and a novel I’ve got in my files and that are just waiting for sustained attention.

Instead, it turns out having an extroverted five-year-old at home means that was all a fantasy. Thankfully, my job is in a slow period in our calendar, so I can run point on assisting the child with her schooling and keeping her from distracting her other parent while she works (a much more connected job). But I actually have less time to devote to solo pursuits than I did in the before times because on top of the work I still have on my plate and performing as teaching assistant, the time I used to spend commuting is now reallocated to preparing lunches, cleaning up, responding to requests for Lincoln Log time, and otherwise guiding the child’s energy into more positive directions.

All that’s to say that the school and daily childcare routine do not translate directly to isolation life, and I haven’t been able to find any new free time, which I suspect is a common experience among my younger-parent cohort.

I was a little worried about how bored and stir-crazy I might get if I had to stay home for weeks on end, and not worried at all about handling my daughter’s schooling and dealing with her demands for attention. Of course, now, I realize I had it all backward. Instead, all the educational and social interactions we’d previously offloaded to school — teachers, other students, afterschool supervisors — is on our shoulders now, along with the logistical burdens that come with rarely leaving the same confined space for days at a time.

(P.S.: Everyone should read Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson. While not directly applicable to the kind of social isolation we’re undergoing now, it frames interstellar travel as a series of problems, foreseen and unforeseen, that require constant solving by an isolated group. Emphasis on "unforeseen”.)

(Photo: "Little girl takes kinder toys from plastic box." by Nenad Stojkovic. Used under CC BY 2.0 license.)