Thursday evening before Thanksgiving week, I got a call from the Department of Public Health.
“... I’m calling because (your child) was exposed to a positive case of COVID-19. We have that he was exposed on Nov. 18, which means you need to quarantine until Dec. 2.”
I was standing in our kitchen reading the transcription of the voicemail on my phone. My boys immediately started asking questions. In retrospect, I should have kept it all to myself for a little while, but I was reacting in real time.
I quickly called the number back and learned a bit more about the exposure. We were told to monitor symptoms and that we didn’t need to test unless he showed symptoms. No one else in the house was required to quarantine.
All things considered, the timing wasn’t awful. I had already planned to take the week of Thanksgiving off. There was just one problem — the next day. The Friday before a weeklong vacation. The Friday the vice president was coming to Gainesville.
I decided to keep both boys home with me since it was just one day before the break.
The day did not go well.
By the time my husband got home from work, I was screaming in the face of my quarantined child that no, he could not play on his iPad, that he had not been listening and listening now was not going to change anything — he had not been listening all day and I had had it.
Let’s back up an hour or two.
I’m sitting on the front porch with my laptop working, and the weather is beautiful. The boys could be playing in the yard. Instead, my quarantined child is standing right next to me asking to play with a toy I told him he couldn’t play with right now.
“Can I play with it? Can I play with it? Pretty, please? Pretty, pretty please?”
I had said no. I had said no again. I’m pretty good at standing my ground with no, but for some reason he thought if he asked the question 1,854 more times, my answer would change. I tried ignoring him. He kept asking.
Meanwhile, I’m messaging with the reporter covering the campaign rally where the vice president was appearing. I’m trying to put together some coherent sentences and post some photos.
On top of this, we have ongoing work happening in our basement. The work had set off the carbon monoxide detectors.
So, I’m messaging with a reporter, trying to string thoughts together while a child is pestering me constantly with questions I’ve already answered and the carbon monoxide detectors are beeping incessantly.
If you hadn’t already forgiven me for screaming in my child’s face, perhaps you can now. I’m not saying it was the right thing to do, but it is what happened.
He eventually got over that bad news I had screamed at him, and the day ended with me wondering if it was safe to sleep inside the house as the carbon monoxide detectors were still going off. After briefly considering taking my quarantining family to my parents’ garage apartment, we finally got things under control. Day 1 of quarantine complete.
The next week was easier. Watching these boys is a full-time job, and I wasn’t doing this other full-time job, so it was at least manageable. The boys played, had lunch, had quiet time and played some more until my husband got home from work.
The Department of Public Health had begun texting each day asking if my child was showing any symptoms. He was not. We were not. And then I realized that after 14 days of quarantine with no symptoms, the boys likely would pose very little risk to my parents, who they have not spent time with without a mask since June.
We skipped the big family gathering on Thanksgiving but pulled together a pretty good feast for the four of us, with some FaceTime help from my sister on the macaroni and cheese I’ve only tried to cook once or twice before.
When the new work week rolled around, I made plans to work the best I could for three days then send the boys to my parents. It puts one or two unexcused absences on my kid’s record, but he could continue his school work on his computer in any case.
In those three days of working and watching them, COVID-19 forced my priorities in order. I simply could not work if they needed me. If they started whining, screaming or asking me questions, I just had to step away from my computer. That meant the work day started whenever I had them settled and working on schoolwork. It meant that I played a board game with my little one after a morning meeting. It meant that I worked on my laptop in the basement while they zoomed across the concrete on scooters. It meant that I got a heck of a lot done during the two hours of “quiet time” in the middle of the day — or at least more than I got done during any other part of the day. There were some outbursts each day, and they were mostly handled with restraint — except the one outburst where a toy came flying directly at my laptop and hit it hard enough to shut it right in front of my face as I worked.
Our last day of quarantine ended about as our first, though — only he was the one screaming. In fact, he was sitting on the front porch screaming for all the neighbors to hear when my husband got home. I had asked him to pick up a shovel he had been playing with. He did not do it. I asked him again. He did not do it. I suppose I was now the one pestering him, and he was telling me no and ignoring me. So, again, he did not get to play with his iPad.
I fled to pick up some groceries, and when I returned he was still asking to play with his iPad. Finally, I sat down beside him and told him he could not play on his iPad but we could do something else together. We built a town with blocks, and he decided that was great fun.
Some parenting failures, some parenting wins — in any case, quarantine was hard and now it is over, at least until next time.
Quarantine disrupts routines, which exacerbates bad behaviors in my kids. It piles stress on top of stress. It also keeps the community safe, and we survived and never showed symptoms.
The day after quarantine ended, my parents left with the boys for a long weekend. The house was quiet. I’d forgotten the sound of quiet.
Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a North Hall resident.