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Editor’s Note: Joe Bardi — writer, editor, musician, husband, father — has always been a busy man. But until recently it had been up to his wife, freelance writer/photographer and frequent dRTB contributor Heidi Kurpiela, to handle the bulk of weekday parenting chores, because she could work from home and he had an office job. Then the pandemic hit. The following post is the sixth installment in “The Quarantine Diaries,” a series about the double whammy of suddenly being both unemployed and a 24-hour stay-at-home dad. Read the first five installments starting here.

Quarantine Diaries, Part 6: Breaking Quarantine, or How to Visit Grandma’s House in the Time of Coronavirus

Quarantine confession time: I took my kids to my parents’ house to swim in the pool. Depending on your point of view, this was either a) no big deal, or b) a crime against humanity for which I should be sent to a reeducation camp. 

Before you judge me, a little backstory.

We have maintained a strict quarantine since March 19. In that time my kids have gone almost nowhere. I have taken them on drives around St. Pete (“Look kids, no people!”), and we delivered gifts to their teachers’ doorsteps while avoiding any interaction beyond distant waves and shouted pleasantries. Their boredom is palpable, and we have run out of ideas. 

That boredom, it messes with your head. I can sit here and tell you intellectually that staying at home is the best course of action, recommended by almost everyone with a medical degree and access to a microphone. Dr. Fauci needs you … to sit down! But after weeks of separating bored kids who are fighting over absolutely nothing — I had to confiscate a tube of yogurt today — cracks have been forming in the wall separating us from the rest of the world.

The first was allowing Henry to ride bikes with his friend Emma, who lives a block away. The kids initially maintained 6 feet of distance, but they have gone on to share lunches and shoot movies together — all from a proximity that would have been normal in February but now raises alarm bells. But should it? Emma has been just as isolated as my kids. Is there real danger here?

A few weeks ago my mother made me an offer: “Feel free to come over and use the pool, Dad and I will keep our distance.” At first I said no. For one, I wasn’t comfortable with the idea (I in no way want to be responsible for my parents becoming infected). But then my sister took my niece over for a swim and no one got sick. What was I holding out for? It was decided we’d go for a swim — but with ground rules. 

How to Visit Grandma’s House in the Time of Coronavirus:

  1. Stay on the back porch at all times! No going in the house. At all. If you gotta pee, find a bush. 
  2. No going near Grandma and Papa, who would sit outside but keep their distance.
  3. Bring a cooler with drinks and food. 
  4. Bring your own towels.
Following the new pool rules.

The rules worked. The kids mostly kept their distance. It took a global pandemic and a visible cooler overflowing with goodies, but my Italian mother managed to temper her need to feed the grandchildren. And truth be told I hate their towels anyway. (Same ones since I was a kid!) Beyond that, we had a wonderful visit! It was great to see my parents, and interact in a quasi-normal way. We missed them, and them us. 

As I write this the country is engaged in a debate over reopening. When should we do it? How do we do it? What’s appropriate? What’s not? Sides are forming, though they remain media caricatures. One one side, you have crusaders pushing full lockdown even if it means a devastating economic calamity because it will save lives. On the other are the folks screaming about freedom at AstroTurf protests paid for by gun nuts and anti-vaxxers. These are the noisy cans that rattle the most.

I tend to discount the extremists. While I don’t have any answers — I’m just as confused as everyone else about what happens next — I can tell you what my gut is telling me. Ol’ Gutty is screaming that the lockdown is smart but unsustainable, and if I’m breaking quarantine (even a little bit), I have to believe there are thousands of other people rolling around in a pile while spitting in each other’s mouths.

So I for one think the beaches should be reopened, because it’s not worth the fight. That said, I also hope the bathers are aware that they are guinea pigs in a grand experiment to see if one month of social isolation was enough to stop the spread of the virus. I sincerely doubt it was, and as such will be exercising my rights as an American to not attend the great waterside germ swap that’s about to occur.

If you need me, I’ll be swimming in my parents’ pool, eating cooler food while yelling at Chip to stay away from Grandma. 

Read Quarantine Diaries, Part 7: Treading Water

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