How a Fourth Case of COVID Changed My Perspective on the Pandemic

Here we go again, I thought as the telltale line rapidly materialized. It was my fourth time getting COVID, a statement that usually elicits disbelief from friends and some quick caveats on my end. Did the time when rosemary and gorgonzola suddenly became utterly tasteless (a cruel indignity—I was in Italy!) but I never officially tested positive count? (Given my husband did, my suspicions are pretty strong.) Did the time when all my kids had it, and I had a mysteriously virulent cold (but was somehow negative) count? And then there were the two actual positives, the most recent of which was staring me in the face. 

Last summer, when the whole family got COVID, I clicked into quarantine mode as soon as the first kid came down with it. Off he went to his bedroom, cloistered with the iPad, Gatorade, and a bowl of potato chips. He didn’t get out of his pajamas for days and I think he had the time of his life, especially when he was joined by his brother a few days later and they could huddle around the warm blue light of the tablet’s glow together. Their cases were mild; we were lucky. 

But when the virus began its slow roll through the house, infecting the remaining two siblings (one of whom was a three-month-old baby) and me, I felt increasingly unlucky. The kids missed their last days of school; they didn’t get to say goodbye to their friends as we were leaving the city in which we had spent the year. Packing is not a particularly recuperative activity. But perhaps the most onerous thing (and this speaks to our essential good fortune) was the sluggish pace of our infections. We had, essentially, six weeks of COVID in the house between all the overlapping cases and the tests that just would not come up negative. “It’s so weird,” my seven-year-old would say every disheartening day. “I feel totally fine.” Thank God I was on parental leave from my job. What a world in which this was how I spent it: shuttling between my more grown-up kids, breastfeeding my baby from behind a KN95, hoping she wouldn’t inhale a stray respiratory droplet. She did, of course. Eventually we split up the kids and shipped the recovered ones to my parents’ so as not to risk re-infection. 

And then, a mere six-ish months later, I got it again! Still mild, still lucky. But good lord, this time it did not feel fortunate at all when I contemplated more Florence Nightingale-ing while also trying to get better myself. Despite my blithe advice to parents that it’s best for everyone in the house to get it and get it over with, I clapped a mask over my face and fled to my bedroom as soon as the dreaded line appeared. If there was any way I could avoid the multi-case disaster of the previous summer, I was going to attempt to do it. And so I took to my bed, watched all of Abbott Elementary, and was basically fine in a few days. Then began the strange recovery period so succinctly voiced by my seven-year-old: I was fine? But I was also alone in my room while my four children rattled around the house, attended to by overlapping babysitters and my text directives issued from behind closed doors, as I looked out the window of my bedroom. Had I ever noticed that an orange tabby hangs out on the roof of my garage? That in the afternoon, the bare branches of the trees cast a pretty lattice shadow on the walls ? When was the last time I had so much time to myself? 

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