Blog: Finding a New Normal, Part 2

RHP’s Wendi Egan writes a follow up blog about adjusting family routines during COVID-19 & obstacles on the road to finding a new, quarantine-friendly hobby.

In the beginning of March, soon after a shelter-in-place directive was issued for my home state of  Illinois, I took some time to seriously consider all the ways, both good and bad, that the new and challenging circumstances created by COVID 19 had an immediate impact on my life and the lives of those I love. Now June, it honestly seems like an eternity since I put pen to paper on this subject, and I’m happy to report my family has slowly but surely adjusted to our new circumstances and routine.

In the midst of all of the uncertainty and apprehension surrounding COVID, the seasons changed as they always do, the weather warmed and winter finally relented. In many midwestern states including Illinois, “spring” is a hard-earned season, with the months of March and April generally including 5 or 6 “gotcha” moments wherein we excitedly don our shorts and sunglasses one day, then the next day it snows. Finally in May, we can to start spend most of our free time outside again. The idea of spending time outside sounds so simple, but for a family of 6 cooped up together in the house for 8 weeks, it was something to which we were desperately looking forward. The kids started riding their bikes around the neighborhood and playing in the yard again. Soon after this I realized keeping children who are playing outside 6’ away from friends they have not seen for months requires a level of effort I would equate to keeping the ocean 6’ from the shore. When the restrictions were loosened, my husband (Tom) started golfing again. He quickly took up his comfortable routine of golfing 9 holes, then spending the rest of the day telling me how terrible he is at golf. On queue I took up my comfortable routine of politely suggesting he find a new hobby. Things have certainly started making a slow return to normalcy.

When Tom was able to take up his usual outdoor hobby, it occurred to me I should start participating in my own outdoor activities. I love to run but was not confident that running in public spaces at this point in time, even outdoors, was a good idea. I love to find new places to explore with the kids, but most places are closed and even if they weren’t, I don’t think I’d risk taking them anywhere. After careful consideration of my options, I decided to attempt some gardening. In this new post COVID world of limited activity and mobility, gardening checked all the boxes for me: It’s outdoors. It’s exercise. It’s social distance friendly. It’s free. It gets me alone time under the guise that I am doing something productive. The only obstacles were the unfortunate facts that 1) I don’t have much experience with it and therefore am not particularly knowledgeable about it and 2) up until COVID restrictions and considerations required me to be more creative about how I spend my free time, I have never been very interested in becoming knowledgeable about it. My mother, on the other hand, has a beautifully maintained yard that’s almost equal parts flower garden and grass. She has the greenest thumb around and a passion for horticulture unmatched by anyone I know. When we first built our house a few years ago my mom and I went to several local nurseries to select just the right plants for the front landscape. She would point a flower or shrub out to me and to my amazement, without consulting any type of smart device, would rattle off the scientific name of the plant, its dimensions at maturity, whether it thrived in light or shade, and then predict exactly what week of the year it would bloom. I, on the other hand, mostly walked around with what must have been an obvious “what’s going on here?” look all over my face while saying unhelpful things like, “I just want it to not die and be this big” (holding out hands to indicate my ambiguous height and width requirements). I imagine that was a hard day for her, but like any good mom she masked the sting of disappointment with a polite smiling nod and a pat on my shoulder that seemed to whisper, “Please don’t hurt yourself.”

On a particularly nice day in May, I emerged squinty-eyed from the dark of the indoors out into the sunshine, determined to right all the wrongs winter had done to my front garden. After a few minutes of looking around in the garage followed by an interview with each of my children, I accepted that I’d be doing everything without gloves, because my kids lost them doing something completely unrelated to gardening. Perhaps someday I’ll come across them unexpectedly, along with our 8 missing phone chargers and the other beater for my hand mixer, but this was not the day. When I returned outside, I started out by removing all the things revealed by the melted snow that even a novice like myself knew did not belong in the garden (mittens, costume jewelry, hairbrush, etc). After this I began the arduous task of pulling out the weeds, along with the rogue grass that seems to thrive in my mulch beds but not in the actual lawn. After a couple hours of clearing thorny, stubborn weeds, removing dead branches and leaves and trimming bushes, all while successfully evading all the stinging creatures in the area, I deemed my efforts a success and was confident I could give the mulch a good rake and start planning out where I’d like to put some new plants. With the first attempt with my rake, I unearthed something very squirmy, unpleasant, and almost alien, so much so that I felt compelled to carefully move it from the garden to the driveway for further examination. I used the rake to move it, because again I had no gloves. The creature was an inch long, white with red eyes and had many brown legs. I had no idea what it was and had to text a picture to my mom for identification. “You have grubs”, she replied almost instantly. In this particular case, as if the grub itself was not gross enough, it was a grub in the midst of writhing around in an attempt to emerge from its clear slimy egg-prison. I have no idea how long I stood there watching this crime of nature unfold before I heard Tom calling to me from the porch. “What are you doing?” he asked while struggling against our 1-year old son’s attempts to wriggle free from his grasp. “I’m watching the circle of life”, I explained. “Would you care to take a look?”. I can’t be sure what turned him off in the end, but he and the baby opted to go inside and watch “Cheers” instead. (He’s trying to get through all 11 seasons before it is no longer available on Netflix. It’s a big commitment and I fully support his efforts.) I stood there in disgust for a few more minutes, watching the ghastly creature’s attempts to slither to freedom before my neighbor, who was also outside gardening, walked over to chat. He took one look at the driveway and simply said, “Yeah…Wendi that thing has to die.” After musing that concept for a brief moment, I realized that while I knew having grubs in your lawn was not good, I did not know exactly what they did that made them “bad”. Regrettably, I asked him, “What happens if it doesn’t die?”. His reply was immediate and very serious. “It absolutely wasn’t alone in there and it’s really big for this time of year. He and all his friends will eat the roots of your plants, kill your garden and eventually your lawn and whatever they don’t kill will be killed by the skunks that flock to your yard and dig holes in it trying to find the grubs and eat them.”

Well…gosh. I was not prepared to receive that information. His words mentally whisked me away to a grim post- apocalyptic scene of 6-months-from- now-me, my “Quarantine 15” having escalated to a “Quarantine 25”, standing in the burned out remnants of my yard against the backdrop of stormy skies and smoke while surrounded by a mob of angry skunks. After a few seconds I snapped back into reality, expressed my gratitude for his insight, reminded myself that he has the nicest yard on the block, and decided to immediately heed his warnings. Defeated in the realization that knowing what lies beneath my mulch had extinguished my interest in digging under it again soon, I returned inside to contact a lawn care service. Whilst inside searching my phone for a solution to my grub problem, I happily ran across a message from a co-worker, complimenting my efforts on a non-gardening related matter. The exchange that followed provided me with a fresh perspective that while adjusting to our post-COVID lifestyle, we are all trying to reinvent ourselves on some level to accommodate our new circumstances, and some of the experiences we have along the way, even the ones that seem frustrating in the moment, will most certainly make for some entertaining memories down the road.