Complying with the stay-at-home order has been hard.
The lonely are feeling lonelier. Social butterflies can’t wait to spread their wings. After being cooped up together, 24/7, for more than a month, just breathing too loud can get you on somebody’s nerves.
Yet some of the people who’ve been fortunate enough to avoid grief or hardship due to COVID-19 are discovering the upside to sheltering in place. Whether it’s a retiree with a meticulously organized pantry, or a newlywed gushing about a cute new office mate (her hubby), or busy folks simply relishing the chance to get off the hamster wheel.
Stephanie Wilbur Ash, the director of editorial services at Gustavus Adolphus College, appreciates how her life has slowed down. The St. Peter-based mom’s world has taken on a simpler shape — of family, work and a few home-based hobbies involving a substantial garden and a new Bosu ball.
“When you’re always running to something — when your life is really rich and immersive and you have kids and a husband and a job and an artistic life and friends — and suddenly 85% of that is no longer available, it kind of feels good,” she said.
“I’m not missing out on anything because no one is doing anything, and there’s a tremendous peace in that,” she added. “I don’t have to work really hard to keep up. Instead I’m taking better care of the things that are right in front of me, which are probably the most important things anyway.”
The family puzzle
Like many parents of teenagers, Lisa and Jim Buck of Independence have experienced a dramatic shift in their family dynamics now that they are both working at home with their four children around.
At the start of confinement, the kids (one in college, three others in high school) grumbled about wanting to see friends, or missing spring break and sports. But the downtime has created space for family-focused activities.
Thousands of puzzle pieces have been joined. The older siblings are teaching the youngest to drive. There have been father-son workouts. The family has eaten more meals together in the past few weeks than in the past few years. Jim frequently traveled internationally for work, but now that he’s home, he’s been cooking more, and dinners are often accompanied by in-depth conversations.
While there is still plenty of Xbox, TikTok and sibling banter, Lisa noted, “I am seeing a glimpse of the family we once were, before the busyness of life crept in.”
Lisa and Jim said spending time together in relative isolation reminded them of when their children were very young, when family was the focus.
“There’s a connectedness and togetherness that I like,” Jim said, pointing out how even on school breaks or family vacations, the family members were often all going their separate ways.
After this is over, Jim said, he hopes the family will spend one week a year holing up together, unplugging from the rest of the world.
“Being in the Biosphere has reset us a little bit,” Jim said.
“It feels like we’re all in the same orbit, in a way we haven’t been the past few years,” Lisa added.
Already dialing back
Some people living a downshifted lifestyle, such as recent retiree Randy Lee, are finding they have more time for activities they had already been pursuing.
Since Lee’s companion, Gloria Bengtson, has not been able to work her part-time job as a school librarian, the Minneapolis couple have started taking daily walks as well as baking more, “competing with everybody else for flour and yeast,” Lee joked.
Many of the things Lee and Bengtson were doing before the pandemic — such as seeing movies or meeting with social or professional groups — have now transitioned online.
Lee, who tends to be on the introverted side, said he’s been video chatting with relatives more frequently. “We’re now more deliberate about checking in,” he said.
Lee also said that he and Bengtson have had more time to talk about their relationship and plans for the future. Recently, they were wondering if they might even miss this time when it’s over.
“In our circumstances, I think we will,” he said. “Once we all start rebooting our lives and getting out, I think we will find that some good things occurred during this time.”
Before they started working from home, Erin Maye Quade, and her wife, Alyse, often spent their evenings at fundraisers, panel discussions or happy hours. The couple’s jobs in the nonprofit and political worlds had them making separate commutes to St. Paul from Apple Valley. Their schedules were so full that they went to the gym before work to have couple time.
When they stared working from home, Erin admitted that their evenings defaulted into “panic-scrolling Twitter and half-watching TV.” But as time went on, they started being more intentional about their downtime: building fires in the fireplace, making calzones from scratch, playing Yahtzee together or Zoom-enabled trivia with friends.
“Finding new, fun or weird things to do together has been great for our relationship,” Erin said.
In the past, they often sent each other links to news articles during the workday. Now they’re finding time to discuss what they’ve read as they take long walks with their dogs.
“It feels healthy, in a way, as we didn’t have that sort of balance before,” Alyse said.
“If we’re going to be stuck with people during a pandemic, there’s nobody I’d rather be stuck with than my wife,” Erin said. “Among all of the bad things that are happening in the world, in the Maye Quade household we’re finding our pockets of joy.”
Life’s not that different
Social distancing hasn’t really impacted the routine of Hayes Scriven, the site manager of Split Rock Lighthouse, who lives with his family on the grounds of the longtime Lake Superior landmark, just north of Two Harbors, Minn.
After starting his new position in November, Scriven spent the site’s quiet winter months (its historic buildings are closed) connecting with his small staff and getting up to speed. When the lighthouse closed in mid-March, it hardly altered the rhythm of his days.
He still makes his 3-minute walking commute to his office on the site’s visitor center, but he only encounters one or two other people during his day. The rest of the staff works remotely. Planning for the eventual reopening of the lighthouse has made Scriven’s job challenging, but as the kind of party guest who prefers a spot in the corner, Scriven said he doesn’t mind how the low season’s quiet has been extended.
“My wife and I were talking about how we’re getting really spoiled that there are not a ton of people around,” he said. “Next year, if we’re back to seeing 1,000 people a day at this time, we’re going to be like, ‘Why is this so different?’ ”