In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, I feel like the unwitting subject of a social experiment gone awry. Like, really awry.
Within just a few weeks, my home has become a multitude of unfathomable things: a bunker, a school, an international banking operations hub, an around-the-clock restaurant (unworthy of any favorable Yelp reviews), a fitness center for shut-ins, a dust bunny sanctuary, and a gaming hotspot. It’s a wonderland of confusion and chaos.
But at least we have each other, right kids? Hello?
Though we don’t live in a sprawling home, each family member has his or her own personal encampment where work gets done. I tend to self-isolate from everyone but the dog, in order to process what is going on and to fully ascertain which new survivalist curveball has been thrown my way. Are we hoarding toilet paper today, or is it just bread and milk?
One must follow the fickle tide of irrational panic-fueled shopping, so you don’t get left in the dust. Since I missed out on the TP and paper towel stockpile frenzy, I decided to do things my way and corner the market on mayonnaise. You heard it here first, people: I donned my sterile gloves and took them on a maiden voyage to Walter Stewart’s Market, where I felt inexplicably compelled to buy the biggest jar of Hellman’s that I have ever seen (or needed). Perhaps an unconventional power play, but should the barter system take a stranglehold on the economy, my massive drum of mayonnaise will surely come in handy.
Having some time to think, and mull over the mayo, I realize this crazy “social experiment” is getting wildly out of hand and my family’s arteries are going to pay for it. But, as fate would have it, the COVID crisis has sparked an at-home fitness craze and it’s seemingly every New Canaanite’s new obsession.
Thanks to social media, there is no shortage of workout options to help burn off the mayo and counteract the pandemic-induced binge-eating. Agoraphobes everywhere are even rejoicing that fitness gurus, Instagram influencers, and anyone who’s ever lifted a dumbbell have tailored workouts for the homebound and ill-equipped. Apparently, these e-workouts are more effective when you actually commit to performing the exercises, versus scrolling through, bookmarking the most promising ones and reserving them for never. Oops.
So, with nothing but time on my dumbbell-free hands for personal reflection and ogling Instagram, I have come to realize that social distancing can feel stifling and oppressive—especially when the weather is uncooperative, there are no events on the calendar and every day is on repeat.
It has also dawned on me that I may have unintentionally prepared my children for this shelter-in-place, end-of-the-world scenario that has rocked my world.
Last June, we Gelvinwalds toured Winston Churchill’s underground bunker and World War II command center in London, known as the Churchill War Rooms. We were mesmerized by the cramped offices, tiny bedchambers and unfortunate chemical toilets. Perhaps my kids are taking their current isolation in stride because they have this historical reference point. They can envision how uncomfortable things could get being stuck underground alongside wartime Winston with chainsmokers, sardines and buzzing typewriters, instead of chilling in our comfy home with circulating air, Playstation, WiFi (albeit spotty) and mayonnaise.
See, it’s not that bad.
One true upside of sheltering “in residence” is our newfound appreciation for family dinner time. Yes, my meal planning is modeled after the TV show “Chopped,” where frazzled contestants (me) are provided a random assortment of items and charged with creating something appetizing. Yet, regardless of what I serve up, it has been refreshing to enjoy dinner as a family without having to run off to practices or rehearsals.
During our nightly family dinner, we have grown oddly accustomed to the 7 p.m. incoming call from Emergency Management Director Mike Handler, New Canaan’s stern voice of reason. As we gather around the phone to hear Mike’s timely coronavirus updates, I harken back and imagine families in wartime London hovering around their radios listening to Churchill’s patriotic addresses from his war rooms. One stark and jarring difference between the two scenarios is that once Mike’s call is announced on the caller ID, I pray that the rate of infection has decreased, and to keep things upbeat in front of my kids, I do my best MC Hammer impression and shout “Stop! Handler Time,” while shuffling across the floor. It’s a crowd-turned-small-gathering pleaser that helps soften the blow of our new reality.
Clearly, being a socially distant shut-in is taking a psychological toll, but if we all follow protocol, the sooner I can re-enter society and remove myself from this awful social experiment…preferably before I get through my end-of-the-world jar of Hellman’s, headline an MC Hammer review, or begin to look like Winston Churchill.