A Little Cabin Fever Can’t Really Compare

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how fortunate I am to be an older working writer. Sure, I’ve suffered from a little cabin fever. Presentations and writing conferences have been put on hold, as has my singing group, volunteer work as a comprehensive sexuality educator, and trips to my favorite hangouts—the library and my neighborhood bookstore. And yes, every time I think it may be weeks, even months, before I can hug my grandkids, I get teary.

But the fact is, I live with an amazing husband, I’m not in any immediate financial crisis, and writing gives me a wonderful escape from pandemic world. I can’t remember who said it, but one of my favorite quotes is: “Fiction is the writer’s revenge on reality.”

My heart hurts, though, when I think about what so many Americans isolated at home are going through as they juggle children, money worries, and jobs (or the lack of them). In my lifetime, there has been nothing quite like this.

And yet, it’s brought back memories of challenging periods when I was raising my children. Years ago, for example, when I was a professional dancer and the about-to-be remarried single parent of a five year old, I tore my meniscus. This was shortly before orthoscopic surgery was widely adopted, and the more invasive surgical repair required a rehab and recovery period of three months. Suddenly, while my fiancé and close friends from our dance company continued to rehearse and perform, I was at home fulltime with my five year old. I was crazy about my little boy, but I felt isolated and left out and hated not being able to dance. I was so grumpy that my son finally said: “Mommy, when can you go back to work?” Suffice it to say that it was a very long three months for both of us!

And so, I’ve been thinking about all those parents who’ve been furloughed or lost their jobs and suddenly find themselves without the work that has not only provided income, but a source of meaning, pleasure, and identity. I wish I could say to all of them: “It’s okay not to be a perfect parent 24-7. You’re entitled to have your grumpy moments, and so are your kids.”

During my three months off, I was fortunate to qualify for workman’s compensation, and had no immediate financial stress. That wasn’t the case the year after my husband lost his college dance teaching job in Colorado. We moved to Ann Arbor where he took on the directorship of a small modern dance company. He made significantly less money, and my puny part-time job at a bookstore and the freelance newspaper features I wrote didn’t help much. We had two children, no health insurance, and bills that added up to much more money than we were making. I was terrified, constantly anxious, and much of the time, seriously depressed.

Things were pretty dire, but our situation improved dramatically the following year when I got a job chairing the dance department at a performing arts high school in Kentucky. We gradually climbed out of debt, and my husband returned to school and became a physical therapist. But I still shudder when I remember the weight of constant financial worry I felt during that year in Ann Arbor. And I think about all those parents around the world who are facing bills they don’t know how they are going to pay.

And so I pray. And I donate money. And I call my kids and my grandkids and tell them how much I love them.

Surely, we will move on from this terrible, awful, horrible time. But the journey is bound to be uneven. And hard.

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