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Mario’s Quarantine Diary, Day 6: The new normal is taking some adjustment by the whole family

Mario Bartel writes that his family struggles to carve out time for tasks and for one another while isolated due to COVID-19
sunny balcony
At least it's been sunny this week, which makes our balcony a warm, inviting place to spend a few moments escaping the darkness.

Tri-City News journalist Mario Bartel is voluntarily self-isolating and working from home for the rest of the month after his wife and son returned March 13 from a brief getaway in Arizona. He is writing a daily diary during that time.

It’s the 15 minutes just before the alarm goes off in the morning that are the worst.

That’s when the peace of sleep lifts and the enormity of what’s going on begins crushing down on my chest.

The first reminder of our new normal is the time that alarm goes off.

On a typical weekday, its insistent digital buzz rouses us at 5:30 a.m. so we can get ready for the day ahead, have breakfast with our son, then deliver him to his before-school care and my wife to SkyTrain for her commute to St. Paul’s Hospital, where she’s doing her dietetics practicum.

It’s a finely-tuned routine that’s a key cog in the machinery of the rest of the day. Throw a kink into the works, like one of us coming down with a cold or the daycare calling because there’s been a flood and it can’t open for the day, and gears start flying off in every direction.

The adjustments to get those gears meshing again are usually pretty small; get to work 20 minutes later than usual, burn a sick day or two.

But it’s hard to imagine a bigger wrench in the works than a pandemic.

Every day isn’t just an adjustment, it’s a massive, seismic shift.

The alarm now goes off at 6:30 a.m. — neither one of us has to commute. But after that, the rest of the day is fluid, uncertain. 

We carve time to get our work done, loosely plan to steal an hour outside, spell each other off to make some time for our son, building Lego, brainstorming ideas for his next comic book. Our only guideposts are to be responsible to our work and school commitments, not resort too much on screen time to occupy our son, get some fresh air, and eat lunch at a time reasonably close to lunchtime. We try to check in with each other often to see how that loose agenda is going, how we’re coping.

It’s not easy. 

Our condo is an open loft, so there’s not much private space. Headphones are our escape if one of us is on a conference call or our son has earned an hour of Wild Kratz.

It’s a work in progress. 

Sometimes our outdoor time doesn’t happen when we planned because I’m chasing a story or my wife is concentrating on her dietetics projects. Sometimes lunch doesn’t happen until 1 p.m. Sometimes my son gets a bonus 30 minutes on a device because we got too absorbed in our tasks to notice the time.

It’s exhausting — and mostly because we don’t know how long this new normal will last.


Miss a day? Catch up here:

Day 5: She's fit, she's strong, but she has diabetes which make her vulnerable

Day 4: Trying to contain the fear

Day 3: How much do you tell your kids about COVID-19

Day 2: Doing the right thing at the 25th hour

Day 1: A brief trip means a COVID-19 condo quarantine

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