In search of the unexpected benefits of quarantine

At our slab ranch in Olivette, it’s just my husband and me right now. We’re empty nesters and have gotten used to the perks it affords, namely a relatively clean house and the knowledge that all lids to plastic containers in our refrigerator are screwed on tightly. 

I’m the more social of the two of us — I like to entertain and be around friends. My husband, on the other hand, has a motto he lives by: “A little bit of Jeff goes a long way.” As you might have guessed, his name is Jeff.

Suffice it to say, he’s doing a better job faring during this at-home quarantine than me. And yet, there are some unexpected benefits to all this coziness, including time for long walks, a fierce backgammon competition between the two of us (he’s currently winning) and working together (instead of just me) to plan a trip to Canada in late July. The trip might not happen for a variety of reasons, but we’re still enjoying the ins and outs of researching places we want to go and figuring out an itinerary. 

Besides more family time (assuming that is a good thing!), I asked readers to let me know if being quarantined had some unexpected surprises. In the words of Marie Kondo, were there certain aspects of this stay at-home order that sparked joy? 

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the outpouring has been tremendous; so much so, that I want to keep the conversation going — so consider the comments below the first part of a work-in-progress. Also, because space here is limited, I’ve shortened some responses, but you can read them in their entirety and others I wasn’t able to include online at stljewishlight.com/schmooze.

 

Chana Novack, 39, co-director of Chabad on Campus at Washington University: “This is the first time in 18 years, since my eldest child was born, that we will be having a family seder, just the six of us. Usually I’m preparing a seder for 200-plus students on campus, so my four kids have to share us (she’s married to Rabbi Hershey Novack) with all the students. This year they have us all to themselves. Hopefully though, this will be the first and last time this happens.” 

Rachael Green-Smith, 47, a psychotherapist who belongs to Congregation B’nai Amoona: “My 12-year-old daughter is high risk, so we have been isolating since March 12. There is less homework and less (really no) time in the car, which has been great. We’ve also had more time for projects (I’ve refinished two chairs and an end table and am knitting a baby blanket), reading, games and movies. The biggest perk, which I’m truly blown away by, is how much better my daughter is feeling now. She has myotonic dystrophy (a type of muscular dystrophy) and before quarantine she had to get up at 6:15 a.m., get to school by 7:30, and stay until I could pick her up at 4:30. It was a long day — physically and emotionally exhausting. Now she can sleep in until 8 a.m., do her three virtual classes, have lunch and rest for a bit, then start her homework. She misses her friends and the teachers and staff at (Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community) school, but she feels really good physically. I’m super grateful for that.”

From Carly Krainen, 26, of University City: “My boyfriend (Elliott Kleiman) and I have been eager to adopt a dog for a while and realized while we are quarantined this is the best time to adopt a dog. We adopted our dog, Bou, from Home 2 Home Canine Orphanage in Pacific. One of our reasons for adopting Bou now was because we didn’t want him to stay in the shelter for a long period of time (some families are choosing not to go to shelters during this time). We can now spend unlimited time with Bou and take him on walks during our work calls, in addition to all of his before and after work walks. We can’t wait for our friends and family to meet Bou virtually!”

Amy Spetner Doughty, 47, a registered nurse living in Olivette: “I have LOVED less rushing and full family dinners every night with my parents included. I also learned that no matter how much my kids (ages 12, 10 and 8) complained about school, they really, really loved it and are trying really hard, with not too much pushing from me, to do their work and check in with their teachers every day. And now my favorite thing having three kids with no screen time limits is watching them put down their devices the minute the sun comes out to go outside and play with each other without being prompted it all.”

David Weiss, 56, a broker who lives in Ladue: “Awesome bonding time with my boy (who is 10) — we spent an entire Saturday painting the basement recreation room (which is basically his territory). I was able to teach him a craft that I’ve always enjoyed, and we spent hours listening to each other’s music choices and discussing music from many past decades and today. I think there’s more to come (walks, cooking together, throwing a frisbee), and I’m grateful for the relaxed hours we all have together.”

Laura Cibulka, 53, an administrative assistant at Parkway West High School: My (at-home) family is a husband and 17-year-old, whom I have learned to give more space to than I ever really wanted to. She is missing her friends and busy life but is really taking this all in stride. She’s recently become reacquainted with our dusty piano.  Oh, to hear that wonderful sound again makes me so happy. I finally cashed in on my piano lessons gift from her and started last week.  Yes, you can teach an old dog a few tricks, but it is definitely a learning process, but hey, there’s some time for that now.  And to see the patience that my daughter has for me as I slowly learn a beginner’s piece, brings me joy.  Having my son away at college is not a perk but I like our weekly chats where we talk about anything but the V-word.  I have had some great brainstorming sessions with my wise Dad who is seemingly content being a homebody. To see his great example of taking care of his wife (my Mom), reading and learning new computer skills just goes to show it is the little things that matter. I also love that my Dad takes care of coloring my Mom’s hair.”

Elizabeth Hersh, senior rabbi at Temple Emanuel: “Loving the additional communication with my TE members. Filling my soul with joy and strength.” 

Jacqueline Ulin Levey, 44, director of Hillel at Washington University: “It’s bringing us back to simpler times where we are able to slow down and really appreciate our blessings all around us. Beyond family time, it’s enjoying the trees and flowers in bloom, acts of kindness among neighbors, snail-mail correspondence with friends and loved ones, conversations over the fence or across the street, time to accomplish things at home that previously we had put off or weren’t able to focus on due to the ‘busyness’ of life.”

Haley Beth Organ, 35, a senior data analyst who lives in St. Louis: “I’ve actually reconnected with long lost friends. A friend I’ve known since preschool/growing up at the same synagogue and I are now reconnected. She had posted on her Facebook that she wanted someone to bake with over FaceTime. Being a big baker myself, I jumped at the opportunity. I made cinnamon rolls while she made protein balls. I got to meet all of her children and catch up on the last 15 years or so, since we last chatted.”

Jennifer Bernstein, 48, advocacy manager at National Council of Jewish Women-St. Louis living in Chesterfield: “I have been taking our dog for a walk three times a day for 30 minutes. Not only is she happy (and probably a bit confused) that we are home all day, she and I are both in the best shape we have ever been (LOL!). And my son Ari (who is in fifth grade at Mirowitz) is having a great time when he comes with us.”

Karen Fishman, 73, a retired registered nurse living in Chesterfield: “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts. Not all of us have family available to depend on. I have become amazed at how independent and resourceful and careful I can be.

I have renewed and restored self confidence in myself and have become fiercely independent while maintaining intense concern and care for others.

The importance of friends has never been so obvious until now. With too much spare time on my hands, I have successfully reconnected even with classmates from college over 50 years ago. They are as grateful to hear for me as I am to hear that they are doing OK in spite of this crisis.

   Certainly my priorities in life have changed; and things that used to be “important” to me are no longer as essential. Phone calls and welfare checks from friends, neighbors, and even organizations like NORC have taken on a new meaning. Never would I have anticipated how appreciative I am even to have the ability to connect with others through the St. Louis Jewish Light.

   For whatever reason, I find myself eating healthier and thinking carefully about eating the proper nutritional foods and walking daily in fresh air when possible to maintain my health and sanity. Social distancing while walking outside has also provided an opportunity to see and casually meet new neighbors, and even to share a smile and a pleasant caring thought. I don’t recall ever before in my life taking the extra few seconds to thank those stocking shelves in our essential stores, but I make a point of doing it now. Even thanking our refuse workers who continue to show up to empty our trash. Actually, I am thanking everybody and the responsive glow in their eyes makes my day. Not sure if it’s a glow or tears or joy, but I need them to know how much we appreciate them.

   I also am certainly reflecting and thinking about every healthcare worker who is out there on the front line. I’m a retired RN and until COVID-19 raised its ugly head, I was a volunteer in an ER. I think about every doctor, nurse, tech, housekeeper, dietary worker, supply person every day and send them my prayers.

   I have also learned that I can stay at home and eat at home, and I’m grateful to be able to do that.

   Cannot explain the joy I feel when I see a cardinal on my birdfeeder or hear the birds chirping in the backyard of my apartment. My cat continues as an essential part of my life. And yes, it’s true, when it’s sunny outside we all feel better.

    I urge everyone to continue to connect and reconnect with everyone who was kind to you in the past and who cares about you now. And. don’t forget those who are out there continuing to provide us essential services. They are our new heroes.”

Emily Barth: I’m super close to being caught up on laundry. And my kids are getting along better than ever. I think extra time together has given them more opportunity to understand one another. 

Carly Scaduto: My kids get me outside and around our neighborhood each day and wow, I never got to appreciate spring as much as now. So many beautiful trees and flowers in bloom!

Leigh Horowitz: Sleeping! Taking control back of our time and how we choose to use it. Going on walks at the drop of a hat. Talking to friends or actually corresponding to family that we don’t often have/make time for. Laughing together.

Rachel Weiss Kalina:  I have enjoyed spending time with my loved ones, going on family walks with our newborn and doing some projects around the house. I have also learned that it is important to slow down and turn off the TV to talk to people and not be so consumed with the news and social media. It provides an opportunity for self-reflection and space to address it.

 Suzanne Epstein-Lang, 43, an attorney from Olivette: Hammock school! Everyone is 6 + feet apart

Gail Perry: Families staying connected. We are usually too busy to call siblings, cousins and other relatives but by staying at home we are reaching out. My granddaughters are 7, 5 and 3 are talking to their cousins.

Marianne Chervitz: Slowing life down means more time to exercise, be in nature and cook healthy meals! 

Stephanie Gross:  I second the other posts about family time, slowing down, enjoying nature. Another benefit for my family is spending time with our senior dog who’s nearing the end of his journey.

Erin Schreiber: This time has been wonderful for learning and teaching life skills. Because we’re not in a rush to get places, it has given me the opportunity to explain to my kids how to do certain things or why we do certain things…and the patience to let them experiment. My kids can now make pancakes for themselves and know when and how to flip them. This time has also helped me become a better cook — before I could just run to the store to pick up an ingredient on a whim. Now I’m working only from what I have on hand and that has pressed me to be more creative.

Natalie Shatzman: All the above- delicious homemade meals, dog walks, family game night (every night!) plus I gain about 1.5 hours back in my life as I no longer commute to my office, in traffic, and home to some practice/ meeting/ event. That’s 1.5 more hours I need now more than ever.

Mindy Resnick: We do lunch and dinner together every day, and we’ve already potty trained our 2-year-old and started her on her big girl bed. We had been heading off the big girl bed until the summer, so now that we have so much time and has been able to work with her, we went ahead with it. And we are all getting more sleep! 

Suzi Heller: My youngest is a senior in college and will be moving and starting a job out of town in the summer. So this time with her home is really the last time we will have to spend this much time together. We’ve been cooking, baking and taking long walks every day. 

Becky Gerson: My 9-year-old keeps talking about how the biggest perk is more time to eat outside this time of year. She is SO happy we are home with time to sit outside and eat while it’s nice out.

Lynnsie Balk Kantor, 58, a realtor: Staying with my father now since my son. Is quarantining in my condo, I’m looking at his house like I never had before. My mother, who passed away just before Rosh Hashanah, was a dress designer. She loved color and home décor as well. I’ve been amazed at the beautiful fabrics I’ve found in the house, fabrics that she used in various ways – wrapped on a headboard, laying atop a dresser, covering the piano bench, made into custom pillows. So then I thought I’d put pictures of the fabrics on our family Whats App group and have everyone remember where she used each of them. It was a fun game that we all enjoyed as we strolled down Memory Lane. The prize? Some of the fabric, of course. Next up: “Where is this Picture?” with many of the pieces of art in the house.

As I said, I received many other meaningful contributions from readers. Let’s keep the positivity going. Email me the bright sides of this quarantine at [email protected] and we will continue to share.