people sing from their balconies in italy while isolated for covid-19
Photo by Stefano Montesi - Corbis/ Getty Images

Advice From Italy: I Am You, Three Weeks From Now

In my region of northern Italy, schools and activities have been closed since Feb. 23 and we have been an official quarantined red zone since March 9. Quarantine here means we are not allowed to leave our house. My partner still goes to work because he has to, but other than that, we can only leave for groceries and medical emergencies. If quarantine is violated, people face hefty fines and even arrests. These measures are supposed to last until April 3, but will go longer if needed.

While every day there is a moment when I genuinely wonder if I’ve lost my mind, I am in the thick of it and would like to humbly offer a few pieces of advice.

Remember Who You’re Doing It For

My family is healthy and not at high risk if we contract COVID-19. If you are in a similar situation, the thought process that you are staying inside to protect yourself will not carry you through weeks of this.

You must think about the others you are protecting and remind yourself and your kids about those people daily. We are protecting our beloved elderly neighbor with respiratory problems who has been a nonna to my kids while we have been living abroad. We are protecting the older man two doors down who leaned out his window with his trombone the other night to mournfully play Italy’s national anthem.

Make A Plan For Child Care

This one is really hard. There is no “in case of a worldwide pandemic” paragraph in the employee handbook. I can’t speak to everyone’s situation, and some are truly harder than others — I see you single working parents; you are warriors. Try to come up with some semblance of a plan before you feel desperate and panicky. If you don’t have a partner with whom to tag-team child care, reach out to a friend in a similar situation and either bunk down together, so you can take turns with the kids, or live in your separate spots but make a pact that you are only seeing each other so as to keep doing your part to #flattenthecurve.

Give Yourself Grace

For the first time in my life, I’m jealous of the homeschooling, stay-at-home parents who figured out how to do all of this years ago. As for me, I’m maniacally flailing between roles of cruise boat director armed with well-intentioned activities I found off the internet and Petunia Dursley, shrieking at my kids to get in the cupboard and never touch me again.

Homeschooling SAHMs, I hope you’re having a good laugh at my expense. This stuff is hard. I bow down to you.

I’m not going to tell all my fellow newly minted stay-at-home parents how to keep your kids busy. Honestly, I find the crowd-sourcing of ideas overwhelming and they often make me feel bad about myself. Why don’t I think baking with my kids is fun? Why can’t we play with magnetic sand for hours like those other families instead of four minutes before it all is up my 3-year-old’s nose?

It took me three full weeks of school closures and a week of quarantine to even begin to find spots of brightness.

Do what works for you and your kids, and then take breaks. Allow for more screen time. This is a scary, anxiety-inducing time. No one expects a parent to intellectually and creatively stimulate their kids all day while homeschooling, cooking, cleaning, and oh, working. If you have a boss, be clear with that person what you think you can achieve and then reassess each day. Some days will be better than others.

The same goes for how you feel about yourself. Most days, I feel like this smelly Gollum-meets-Lady-Macbeth villain who is roaming around her house wringing her hands in smelly Old Navy puppy pajamas. But lately, I’ve been trying to tell myself that really I’m just one of those evolved ladies who is training her hair not to become greasy from lack of washing and who can wear natural deodorant without smelling terrible. (Neither is working, but the mat talk is.)

You’re Going to Do Some Weird Stuff To Pass The Time

For a full day, I kept coming back to the opening jingle in this YouTube video of Bob and Brad, the two most famous physical therapists on the internet. Every time I watched, I laughed out loud because I loved them so. I even bookmarked the video to watch whenever I have feelings of impostor syndrome.

But was the video actually funny? Had I lost my sense of reality? I sent it to friends but because of the time difference I would have to wait six hours to get their response of: No, you are crazy, or, Yes, it’s funny; you’re OK. Meanwhile, I watched Coco with my kids and thought of how life would be better if I wore a Frida Kahlo flower crown all day every day. Later, when listening to the Frozen 2 soundtrack for the 7,000th time, I cried real tears over Anna singing “Home,” which is an outtake song and not even in the movie. Then I bought a long-sleeve swimsuit off the internet for a vacation we had already canceled.

Stay Connected So You Don’t Lose Your Humor

There is nothing funny about the coronavirus. People are dying; others are facing financial ruin. This is truly an awful time. However, in these dark days, as we work to protect each other by staying inside and slowing the spread of this virus, we must also fight to keep a sense of humor because with that comes our humanity.

When my husband is home, we have many of those Pam-and-Jim moments where we look at each other and just have to laugh at the dumpster fire we are living in rather than stick our heads in the oven. After all, the naked toddler on the porch gyrating to Hamilton while shouting “butts and caca” is a kid we created.

But when my husband isn’t home, I work hard to stay connected to my friends. Because when my kids are fighting over who has the most yellow pee, it’s only really funny if I can share it with someone. Again, with the time difference, an app like Marco Polo works well for me. My kids and I can send videos to friends, and they can watch when they’re able and vice versa. I can whisper to my friends as I’m hiding from my kids during hide-and-go-seek that I really don’t think I can do this for another day, let alone four weeks. And then my daughter can send her own video to them where she unabashedly lies about how many books she read to her little brother that day when really all she did was torment him.

Don’t Push The Silver Linings; They Will Come, Eventually

At first, I tried to reframe this narrative by telling myself that this could be like the summer vacation I missed out on when I was working long hours at a newspaper. Or it could be like the extra six weeks' maternity leave I couldn’t afford to take back when I was still an hourly employee at a magazine.

But that thinking actually made me super angry. No, these weeks are not lazy days at the pool with my two little kids, or those extra weeks on the couch six years ago where I got to snuggle my newborn while I binge-watched Scandal.

This current life is bonkers, and it’s like nothing our generation and even our parents’ generation has seen before.

It took me three full weeks of school closures and a week of quarantine to even begin to find spots of brightness. Yesterday, my daughter was vacuuming, a new skill she has learned while on quarantine, and we were blaring Big Freedia. The windows were open and the sun was out. The day was moving slow but not in that existential dread type of way that I have often felt during quarantine. Don’t get me wrong, the moment was fleeting. But it was a moment.

Don’t be hard on yourself if it takes a while.

We are working for the common good and that is something we will never forget or regret. I wish you the best, from Italy, with love.

If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here, and Bustle’s constantly updated, general “what to know about coronavirus” here.