Had you told me one year ago that my every single day would be spent like this, I would have protested.
And yet: Each morning, slightly before 9 a.m., I carry my coffee into the dining room and take a seat. I reach beneath the table to grab an orange Nike shoebox. I place the box under my laptop, open the computer and listen for its familiar chime to signal the start of my workday.
At 9:45 a.m. a bearded runner in a grey hoodie and black track pants jogs down my street, regardless of the weather. He may be a neighbor, but between the mask and the sunglasses I cannot identify him. I can, however, set my watch by him.
At 11:22 a.m., my youngest child comes downstairs and makes himself an omelet with whatever ingredients he can scrounge up. Each day, he delivers a section of the omelet to me on a small blue plate, then heads back upstairs.
At 12:35 p.m., his older brothers come down and rifle through the fridge in search of leftovers for the makings of a quesadilla. They poke their heads in the dining room and update me on their mornings.
Around 3 p.m. my husband appears. He asks if I want to take the dogs for a walk with him. My answer is usually weather-dependent.
At 5:45 p.m. or so, I close my laptop. I remove my morning coffee mug, my afternoon tea mug and the tea-stained coaster onto which I have dropped the teabag. I slide the Nike shoebox back under the table and push in my chair.
A year ago, I would have balked at this life – a life spent seated at the right hand corner of my dining room table, working and monitoring the comings and goings of my children, husband, dogs and neighborhood runners. I would have told you this life of mild routine, quiet observation and seated productivity belongs to a much older version of myself.
Before the pandemic, the life I knew was one of stores and classrooms and client offices and basketball games and theaters and cabs and restaurants. I believed this variety to be the stuff of a fulfilled life. I was wrong.
Like everyone, I have chafed against the monotony of these days, but I would be lying if I said I haven’t come to love their quiet rhythm, their very sameness. So often in this past year the world appeared to be spinning out of control. In these harrowing moments, the routines and repetitions of our household grounded me and kept me both safe and sane.
When I think about coming out of pandemic, I am reminded of a friend who had recently returned from the Peace Corps in rural Mongolia and had run into a store to buy garbage bags. She hadn’t been in an American store for more than a year. Finding herself in front of shelves full of garbage bag options, she froze. Overwhelmed, she burst into tears and walked out empty-handed.
As society begins to reopen, and my family’s life refills with activity and choice, I feel like my Peace Corps friend. I think a slow re-emergence may be called for. The pandemic has grown my capacity for sameness to the point where I no longer simply accommodate routine – I crave it. Long after it is necessary, I suspect you may find me in front of my laptop in the dining room, sipping my coffee and hoping for an omelet to arrive.
About the author: Susannah Pratt has waited out the pandemic in Evanston with her husband, three boys and two dogs.