Forsythia

Today the Spring semester resumed at Framingham State, just as it resumed last week at Babson College. Now that all of my classes have gone online, I’m settling into the new not-normal of a suddenly-online semester, holding virtual office hours Monday through Thursday, checking discussion board forums the other days, and still doing the same amount of grading.

On social media during the early days of self-isolation, friends relished the thought of long-procrastinated projects they hoped to do during quarantine, with so much time for reading, crafting, cooking, or writing the Great American Novel. But from where I sit in the work-from-home suburbs, I don’t see an open expanse of free time, just a rearrangement of my work and leisure hours.

I’m still working during these work-from-home days; I’m just working differently. I still teach five classes; I just don’t see my students in person any more. I still am employed part-time by two different colleges; I just don’t set foot on campus.

Self-isolating at home with a husband, two dogs, and eight cats, I still have to do all the household chores necessary to keep everyone alive and healthy, but the way I do those chores has changed. Gone are the days of stopping for a bag of cat litter on my way home from campus, and gone are the days of making the weekly shopping list over lunch at our favorite pub before going to the grocery store and picking up take-out pizza on Friday night.

Now we rely on delivery services (and delivery workers, whom we tip generously) to bring whatever food, pet supplies, or other essentials are in stock. In the days before COVID-19, we set a menu then shopped for the necessary ingredients; now, we set the menu based on whatever food is actually available.

In many ways, our life and rituals are largely unchanged: J has worked from home for years, and the things I used to do in a college classroom were a small part of what my job as a college instructor actually entails. In the “old-normal” days, we bought many household staples in bulk, simply for convenience. In these “new not-normal” days, buying a month’s worth of pet food, cleaning supplies, and other essentials is either smart or selfish, depending on your perspective.

I feel bad for couples who were still dating when COVID-19 divided our days into “before” and “after.” Gone are the days of going to clubs, concerts, and other crowded gatherings; gone are the days of actually “going out.” Instead, even young couples have fast-forwarded to middle-aged married life, when the best partner isn’t the flashiest dresser, smoothest talker, or most nimble dancer, but the one who can fix a toilet, quiet the kids, and cobble together a meal from whatever’s ready to expire in the pantry.

J and I are lucky to be able to work from home, as we both have pre-existing conditions that make us medically vulnerable. I say a silent prayer of gratitude whenever a car pulls up with this week’s grocery order or another shipment of pet supplies. (Forget about hoarding toilet paper: when you live in a house with eight cats, kitty litter is the most valuable household staple.)

My dad was a truck-driver, a job that is impossible to do from home; I’m humbled to remember that going to college is what made it possible for me to make a living (and choose to quarantine) in a way he never could have. As I meet virtually with the students I used to share a classroom with, I am awed to think I could be helping them make a similar transition from the old-normal of what their parents do to the new-normal of their aspirations.