The New Normal
March 16th, 3am. I wake up in the middle of the night, and, instead of rolling over and going straight back to sleep, I reach for my phone, to check the news.
Since I went to bed, New York and Los Angeles have closed down all restaurants, along with some other public places, and Las Vegas resorts are starting to close. I lie awake for a while, trying to imagine the reality of this strange new normal, and am woken again at 6:30am by the sound of Max chattering happily to himself in bed.
Before I get up, I once again reach for my phone. No news updates this time, but, on Instagram, a friend who’s a nurse has posted an update on our local hospital, which, she says, is already struggling to cope. Wash your hands, she says. Stay at home if you have symptoms. Take it seriously. As I get out of bed, Terry – who was up late last night and would normally sleep for another hour or so – wakes up too. “Any news?” he asks immediately, so I fill him in in, then head down to get Max, who remains totally oblivious to the fact that the world he was born into has changed beyond all recognition.
Once we’re all downstairs, Terry makes a start on breakfast, while I take Max’s temperature and my own. In my defence, Max came down with yet another ear infection at the weekend, and has been under the weather ever since, so I’m mostly checking him because of that. In obvious-news-is-obvious, however, I’m checking my own temperature out of sheer health anxiety – and I’m doing it way more than the precisely zero times per day that someone with absolutely no coronavirus symptoms needs to: a sure sign that, YAY, my OCD has found itself a new outlet – I’m going to need SO. MUCH. THERAPY. once this is over…
Our temperatures are fine, thankfully, so we do our best to continue with our morning as normally as possible, while Terry messages his brother to find out if he managed to get out of Spain OK before the lockdown there started. (Spoiler alert: Yes. But only just…) Max, meanwhile, repeatedly asks if he can go to nursery now: which is ironic, given that this time last week he was begging to be allowed to stay home. Trust us to get to the point where he decides he loves nursery at the exact moment we decide to pull him out, right? I mean, I was feeling guilty for sending him , so I guess it’s only right that I now get to feel guilty for NOT sending him…
Not only is Max not going to nursery this week, though, he’ll also be skipping his regular playgroup and swimming lesson (Both of which actually ended up being cancelled indefinitely anyway, shortly after I wrote this. I know it’s for the greater good, but I can’t help but feel sad and worried for the people for whom these groups are a complete lifeline, and the only thing standing between them and serious mental health issues…) and, well, everything else that involves being in public spaces, basically. It’s really not the kind of childhood we had planned for him, but, with an immunocompromised person in the house, and grandparents in the high risk bracket, we really can’t see an option, so we explain again that nursery is “closed” for now (It’s not, but we figure the white lie won’t hurt, as it’s probably just a matter of time, anyway…), then I go to the door to collect a parcel from the postman, who stands a few metres back, and tells me I don’t have to sign for it if I’d rather not.
I take one look at the touch-pad that God knows how many people have already touched that morning, and gladly decline, so he signs for me, and I bring the parcel indoors and place it carefully on the area of the worktop I’ve started thinking of as the ‘Contamination Zone’, before wiping it over with a Dettol wipe, and then immediately going to wash my hands, for what must be the fifth time this morning already. We’re still at the stage where all of this seems strange and OTT even to me, but it’s slowly becoming part of this new normal, and I wonder briefly if we’ll ever go back to just accepting parcels without a second thought – or if the skin on my hands will ever heal from the constant washing?
For now, though, we have a more pressing issue on our roughed-up hands: how to get the contents of the grocery shop that’s about to be delivered (This is our regular online shop, I hasten to add, which we have delivered every week at this time. Because I’ve been worrying about this outbreak since I first heard about it, back at the start of January, we’ve had plenty of time to stock up gradually, so haven’t had to do any panic buying, thankfully. Who said worrying doesn’t help?) into the house without touching anything?
Thankfully, the supermarket are way ahead of us with this, and, when the shopping arrives, the delivery man is happy to wait outside (They normally bring the shopping into the kitchen for us in crates…) while Terry transfers the groceries into bags, and then into the kitchen. Then he washes his hands. Because, every time we do anything in the new normal, we wash our hands.
After Max’s nap, my parents arrive to take him to their place for the afternoon, as he’s not going to be going to nursery. Because they’re also isolating, we’re assuming it’s probably safe enough for us to see each other, although that could obviously change at any time. For now, though, they’ve offered to help out with childcare as much as possible, so Terry and I can attempt to save our business, which was doing badly enough before COVID-19 hit, and which I’m really worried won’t survive a prolonged period of uncertainty. For now, though, I’m just grateful that we have jobs we can do at home, and family willing to help out with Max while we do it: not everyone is fortunate enough to be in that position, obviously, so we try to make the most of it and power through some work while Max is gone, although what we’re really doing is constantly refreshing our news apps while we wait for the 2pm update with today’s coroanavirus statistics.
Finally, it comes:
171 new cases
19 new deaths deaths
As with all of the sanitising-of-shopping and paranoia-about-infection, we’re still at a stage where these numbers seem huge and shocking to us, but, if we follow the same path as countries like Italy and Spain, we know we’ll very quickly reach a point where those numbers seem relatively low: one of the hardest things about the new normal is that it doesn’t stay ‘normal’ for very long before it changes – and always to something even worse than before.
For the rest of the afternoon, we try our best to work, while waiting for the prime minister to address the nation and tell us what the government plans to do to try to put an end to this surreal nightmare: to #flattenthecurve, and make the new normal the old normal, sooner rather than later. When Boris finally emerges, though, all he has is a range of “suggestions”. He suggests we avoid restaurants, pubs and theatres, but doesn’t insists on it. He suggests we work from home if possible, but announces no measures to assist businesses in helping their workers do that. Finally, he suggest that everyone over 70, or with underlying health issues, self-quarantine for 12 weeks. We were doing it anyway, of course (Although, I have to admit, we weren’t expecting to have to do it for THREE MONTHS…), but, in some ways, I’m relieved that the advice is now “official” – even if, as with all of the other suggestions, it doesn’t appear to be enforceable, as it has been in other countries.
As a transplant recipient, Terry falls into the “at risk” group – and as we’re not particularly keen on the idea of him isolating himself from me and Max for the next three months, it looks like we’re going to have to quarantine with him. So there we have it: 12 weeks of being stuck at home with an energetic toddler, in a world that I couldn’t even have imagined just a few short weeks ago, when we were happily planning our holiday and looking forward to spring. Now, however, it feels a bit like spring has been cancelled: like life has been cancelled – and while I obviously understand that the alternative isn’t something we’d even be willing to consider, I’m pretty sure I can’t be the only one feeling unbearably sad that this is what it’s come to.