Update from Italy: Florentine Quarantine (Day 28)

Venus shines bright. Photo by Leo LeBlanc on Unsplash

I promised some of my readers that today I would write about Marriage and Parenting in Quarantine. If you want to hear about my wild yeast starter Isadora, it’ll go up tomorrow.

A month ago this evening, Italy broke the news: everyone was locking down. Tutti! came the decree. The entire country, all nonni, genitori, bambini, e famiglie. Tutta l’Italia! At the time we were feeling the vertigo from the velocity of that slide down the slippery slope, chased by contagion, traumatized by news, entering house arrest for humanity.

We’ve moved through the stages of grief for a life left behind (for now? forever?): denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Four weeks on, we are finding some equilibrium. Over lunch this past Saturday, Jason looked out up and out the window, laughing helplessly but good-naturedly. “I’m getting used to this,” he exclaimed. “I mean, where am I going to go? Where do I want to go? Where could we even go right now?”

Before the coronavirus, I thought my life was destined to be lived at a barely-manageable, breakneck pace, no matter my city or country, job or passport, parental status. Even my attempts to adjust and dial down proved inconsequential. Maybe just a little less striving. Maybe an hour less of work a day. Just try to care a little less. I never even wanted to lean in. My version of getting by was still pretty honors roll. But it was almost impossible to care incrementally less. I could not cast off the heavy yoke of guilt. For each item I took out of my basket of expectations, for each item I deleted from my calendar, even changing jobs last fall and finding something more local, more flexible – I always seemed to find Her Honor waiting on the bench in her robes, ready to judge the defendant for failing to measure up. I feared being labelled unsuccessful. Oh, there are so many reasons for this – all of them dissected in years of therapy, none of them good, but the fears always seem to swarm under stress. 

I’ll tell you what’s amazing, nestled in and holed up in our apartment now for more than four weeks with my husband and our two small children, what is truly amazing is that I love this time. Farm Wife and Miss Anxiety are working well together. My family has found a better rhythm, a more authentic way of being together; we are all more patient, more aware of others’ worry, hunger, fatigue, joy. 

In February, when the storm clouds were just gathering on the horizon (I still cannot believe that Italy went down #2 in this terrible viral shooting gallery), I would have half-joked but genuinely feared that being in lockdown with my family would result in frustration, anger, meltdown. But the opposite has in fact happened. Even as we move together through these global events, the pandemic unfolding, life ground to a halt, our hearts opened wide even as we bid goodbye, possibly forever, to life as we knew it. 

Yet now I know how well Vic and El play together, how sweet he is to her, making treasure hunts even as she cannot yet read or write, how well they make up when they get in the odd argument, trembling lips and each of their little hearts full of honesty and tears. How they always notice Venus as it sets from our western window. How grateful they are for pasta al pesto and grilled cheese. What a change it is for my husband to check in with me emotionally each day instead of just gritting his teeth through work and expat life, to have him with us more in mind and body. How the worry mouse seems to gnaw less in the corner of my mind. How events beyond my control have forced my hand, and look ma, no hands. I’m relinquishing control. It took a pandemic to teach me, but I’m pretty sure I’m closer on this Square One, here, today.