Family Life in Quarantine

April 9, 2020 • #

March 12th was the last time I was at the office. We went full remote starting the next day.

The 13th was Elyse’s last day in person at her school. Spring break was slated for the following week anyway, but she started up “Zoom school” a couple weeks ago. She’s only 4 and in pre-K, so they’re just doing their “circle time” remotely. At least a chance to see her friends on cameras once in a while.

Other than the typical cabin fever of having to be at the house so much, I’m surprised how well the kids are handling it. They’re video calling cousins and friends occasionally, which they enjoy, and haven’t asked too many questions about why we don’t go anywhere anymore. We’ve told Elyse that there’s a sickness going around and we don’t want to get ourselves or others sick, so now when she talks about it she refers to “the sickness” — ”maybe we can go to so-and-so’s house when The Sickness is over.” A biblical way of putting it.

We’ve now been separated for a full month from everyone. It’s surprising how quickly this 4-week period has blazed past, with days smearing together, the same routine more-or-less with kids and work. When every day is almost identical, they’re hard to tell apart. Eugene Wei had a great take on this phenomenon and its possible causes in a recent post:

The reason it feels like driving somewhere takes longer than driving home from that destination, even if both trips take the same amount of time, is that our “attention gate” is wider open on the way there because the directions are unfamiliar to us. We’re looking more carefully at road signs and landmarks to make sure we don’t get lost. On the way back, as we near home, we can flip to autopilot since we’ve done that trip so many times. Our attention gate narrows and our senses absorb less information. The memory of the return trip ends up as a smaller file in our memory banks.

The reason you might look back on a long and monotonous stretch of repetitive workdays and feel like it was just a blur is that our brain can run an efficient version of some compression algorithm on what is a very consistent daily routine of going to the office and sitting at your desk, the way a JPEG algorithm can do wonders with an image that consists of large blocks of the same color.

The similarity between days, even ones on the weekend, provides no clear boundaries or breakpoints. We’ve had a few days where we went on longer walks or bike rides, but other than that it’s the same on repeat.

One thing we have that many don’t have the luxury of is one another, so the 4 of us spend time together. I feel for people that have to be alone during this period (certainly a trade-off, since “incessant” would be a gracious way to describe kids in quarantine).

At this point it doesn’t seem like things will change anytime soon. I think everyone’s still waiting for the curve-bending to show real downward trends so we can loosen this situation a bit over the next month or so.