My Life in Quarantine and How it's Different than Being a Stay-at-Home Dad
My So-Called Quarantine Life
My watch buzzes on my wrist, silently waking me up without waking my wife at 5:15am. It’s 5:22 by the time I pull on my pajama pants and stumble to the kitchen for my coffee and heartburn medication. By the time I put my contacts in and sit down at my desk, aka my couch, it’s 5:35. To wake my mind up, I check my email, Facebook, Twitter and sometimes Instagram on my phone to see what my “friends” are up to. Then I open my iPad to check all the news notifications — CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, HuffPost, WIRED. Then if I’m really frisky, or just in a time-wasting mood, I’ll check Words With Friends. It’s after 6am when I put my headphones on and hit shuffle on my Spotify playlist. And then, finally, I open my laptop, pull up the Pages app, which has multiple tabs of documents, and choose which writing project I want to work on for the remainder of my morning. When 7:30am hits, all hell breaks loose. As in, I have to wake up my 3 1/2 year-old daughter for the day. Game over.
For the next six hours, I prepare healthy toddler meals, help with at least four wardrobe changes, raise my voice more times than I can count — “No”, “Don’t touch that”, “Don’t jump off that”, “No”, “No”, “No” and so on — play play-dough with her, clean up said play-dough, paint, clean up said paint, and more clean-clean-cleaning. Always cleaning. Then it’s nap time. Thank god. Except she doesn’t want to take a nap. So that’s another half hour of convincing her to get into her bed. Trying not to yell at her. Compromising. Another wardrobe change. “I need water”, “I need to potty”, and oh my god just get in your bed. When she finally lies down, I collapse onto my own bed. When she naps, I nap.
The next hour and a half comes and goes and I’m waking up, waking her up. Then I fix dinner. Which takes forever because I’m incredibly slow at cooking, and I have to deal with more toddler madness.
By the time I’m finished cooking, my wife is finished with work, and we sit down to eat. Approximately twenty minutes later, it’s our “night-time routine” with our daughter — bath, brush our teeth, pajamas, shake the wiggles out, storytime, sing a song time, try to leave, but no — “five more minutes. Just five more minutes, daddy.” “Okay — FIVE minutes, that’s it.” An hour later, I limp out of her bedroom and to the bathroom, take my contacts out and collapse once again onto my bed. If I’m in the mood, I’ll open my iPad and check my email, Facebook, Twitter and sometimes Instagram. If I’m not falling asleep by then, I try to read a chapter or two in my current read. Then it’s “I’m going to sleep now. Love you, goodnight” to my wife.
This is not my quarantine life. This is a typical Tuesday (Plot Twist!). But quarantine isn’t too far off. The only real difference between my pre-quarantine and quarantine life is that my wife is working from home. Which is a godsend.
Sure, she’s busy for most of the day, but she can take breaks and lend a hand here and there. And here and there makes all the difference. She can help with some of those wardrobe changes. She can say “No”, and our daughter will actually listen. Sometimes she fixes her lunch.
But that’s not all. Not everything is a task.
I’ve left out a fairly important detail. I live with a mental illness. I have BiPolar II and a Panic Disorder.
So sometimes my typical day doesn’t include play dough or painting. Sometimes it’s turning on Frozen and lying on the couch and trying hard not to let my daughter see me cry. Sometimes it’s my daughter tugging at my shirt while I can’t breath, can’t focus on anything but the tightness in my chest or the tingling in my fingers or the nausea or the or the or the.
But quarantine life is different. Because I have someone with me. It’s not a panacea. No. But when I experience intense feelings of loneliness, I can tell my wife who can give me a running tackle-hug. Just what I need. Or when I have an attack, she can take my daughter away until the panic subsides. She can’t always take away my sadness, my loneliness, my anxiety. But at least she’s here. At least it’s not just me dealing with my suicidal ideations or thoughts of destruction — things that would destroy my life without taking it.
I see your posts. I hear your struggles. Teachers struggling with a new online mode of instruction. Parents becoming teachers. Everyone meticulously planning, strategizing the best time to go to the grocery store and what you’ll actually be able to get (milk, but probably not eggs). And then there’s my family and friends in the South who no longer have a home to quarantine in because of tornadoes, nature’s sick joke. I’m so sorry.
I also see you making the most of it. Talking to each other. Talking to me. Baking bread. Writing more. Getting creative. My favorite author has been reading aloud and offering his own annotations to his books on Instagram Live. And even I have been breaking free from the daily routine of just getting by. I spent four hours the other day building an indoor obstacle course for my daughter. My wife and I drew treasure maps, and we played pirates and ran around the house for an hour searching for the booty. We ventured out of the house for a drive to the ocean so our daughter could say hi. “Hi ocean…Bye ocean.”
Really for me, quarantine life has been a better life. It hasn’t been too difficult. I didn’t lose a paycheck. I don’t have to show up to work, worrying every day if I’m going to be infected. I hate to be that guy, though. I do. So I’m not going to sit here and lecture and tell you to look on the bright side, to stop only seeing the negative. I’m just telling you how it is for me.
About the author:
Chase Manning is a mostly full-time stay-at-home dad, part-time writer and a part-time Adjunct Professor of English at Saint Mary’s College of California in the San Francisco Bay Area. He holds a BA degree in English, a Master’s of Education degree and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing: Fiction. He has been married for 15 years and has a 3 1/2 year-old daughter.