Like Alice in Wonderland who found herself in a topsy-turvy world when she followed the rabbit down a hole, my family was turned upside down a few weeks ago when first one, and then another came down with COVID.
In educational circles there’s a concept called windows and mirrors. Loosely defined it refers to how it is important for children to see themselves (mirror) in the books they read as well as being exposed to others whose lives are different from theirs (windows).
How windows and mirrors can help us gain a greater understanding and sensitivity to diverse situations came home to me as we were navigating COVID. By watching Pettigrew, and how COVID had upended his life, I was able to recognize and process the impact COVID, albeit temporarily, had on mine.
Yes, I knew that instead of sharing a bed with my husband I was now bunking down in a sleeping bag on a camping pad on the floor of another room. Our house was a bit chilly because we were keeping the windows open a few inches to improve air circulation. Those who were sick were confined to their rooms while those of us who were healthy, for how long it was unclear, were wearing masks and eating in separate rooms so we wouldn’t expose each other. Only outside or when we were in a room by ourselves did we remove our masks.
And Pettigrew, what did this all mean to him?
He scratched on the sickrooms’ doors, wanting to visit those quarantined inside.
His nighttime dog bed was not tucked on the floor at the bottom of my bed. It was ignominiously shoved into a corner of the upstairs hall. The first night he ignored it and tried to get into the bedroom. The second night he eyed it suspiciously. Walked across it and settled down in the hall eyeing his misplaced bed with suspicion. Until ultimately, grudgingly, he settled down on it for the night.
Adding to his disorienting experience, I had set up battery-operated votive lights around the dog bed so that no one would trip over him and tumble down the stairs during a late-night bathroom foray.
My kids thought it looked like a shrine.
Then, as the ones who were sick began to feel better, it was harder to keep everyone in their rooms. Plus, there was New Years and a birthday to celebrate. We wanted to be together.
My still healthy son rearranged the porch furniture: two-person sofa at one end, two arm chairs six feet apart from each other at the other end. We put the sick ones together on the sofa and healthy son and I took the arm chairs, trusting in the diminution of contagion with the passage of time and the cooling breezes to keep us safe as we enjoyed a meal together.
Unfortunately, this solution to our problem almost pushed Pettigrew over the edge. The next morning, watching him saunter out to the porch to bask in the sun while snuggled into the sofa cushions, I understood how even small changes can be profoundly unsettling.
First, he noted the change in furniture location. He tried the sofa. It wasn’t in the sun. He tried the arm chairs. They were in shade too. He settled on the carpet where the sofa should’ve been and the sun was doing its part to warm everything up. But it wasn’t cushioned enough. He cycled through his options again, hoping against hope that things would fall back into place. Alas, the disruption was here to stay for a while longer yet.
We were lucky. Only two of the four of us caught COVID in that round and those who were sick have recovered. With this light-hearted recounting of our experiences, I do not mean to diminish in any way the awful impact COVID has had on many people. By watching Pettigrew be challenged by the changes in our home, I was able to acknowledge and process how disruptive it was for all of us.