Eva Hilberg By: Eva Hilberg
Post-Doctoral Fellow
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19 Feb 2021 : Quarantine Diaries

Tuesday / I am a week and a half into a 14-day period of quarantine, and it really is a repeat of the early days of last year – no time for anything, as a small child and two jobs do not work alongside easily. It feels as though everything has once again been put on hold, at least for me, as I spend the days cooking and entertaining, and the nights trying to do some semblance of work. It feels completely impossible to even get the bare minimum done. But at least it’s only for 14 days in total, and then everything will be back to the way it had been – childcare will reopen and my sanity may eventually return. 

Wednesday / Every day is groundhog day – right from the alarm to the incessant cooking and tidying. The whole experience also got an element of time travel, moving back to the 50s in one quick step. I no longer wonder why my mother quit her job, now I know. One of the most insidious misconceptions surely is that women just did not want things enough, or that they were too complacently settling into the role as a wife and mother, fully taken care of. This sounds all very comfy and slightly claustrophobic – but it totally fails to address the actual lived reality of a housewife and mother without any childcare. There are so many things in life that are so fundamental, but are rarely ever represented accurately, in all their visceral, overwhelming effect. The tiredness, the repetitiveness, the draining forced cheerfulness that is essential for getting through each day in which we are actually not allowed to leave the house – I know I am coming a bit late to all of this. These things have been well established for decades, but there is a real difference between reading about something and knowing something intimately, immediately. In a way, you just naively believe that we have come a long way, and that things like work and a family surely are compatible now – pretty much until the very moment that you actually hold the baby for the first time. All the off-hand remarks and worn clichés suddenly make horrific sense. Overall, women are by far not angry enough – or just too tired or isolated to express any of this. Quarantine is probably not the best time to suspect a vast societal conspiracy confining women to shiny suburban houses, in which they operate all sorts of helpful gadgetry to fulfil their duties, far away from other adults, but it certainly has been a revelation of sorts.

Thursday / The last day of quarantine has arrived, and the regimen is already easing up, what a relief. (Relative) Freedom is just around the corner! The old normal is so far away by now, the new normal seems to be all that one can wish and hope for. Is this how big changes happen, sort of by stealth, in the time spent waiting for things to return to a pre-existing equilibrium? Rather than a one-off moment that turns everything on its head, it may be this stretched period of in-betweens that steadily takes us further away from what we used to know. I miss all the things we used to do – even if most of them look incredibly risky and wild in hindsight. I hope that we can eventually get back to a world of travel, parties, theatre, and chance encounters. I actually miss conferences. Well, tomorrow I will venture out into the world once again, bravely going to the supermarket. This seems to be the wildest place imaginable at the moment. 

Friday / Back to work, which feels a bit wrong for a Friday. The most stressful aspects of this time seem to be both the relentless daily patterns, and the sudden, unpredictable changes between one situation and the other. You’ve got to be flexible all of the time, and accommodate all sorts of things that would have previously been considered to be pretty much off the scale. Then, from one day to the next, you jump back to a delicate sense of routine that had only been established very recently, but now seems a real challenge once again. After a year of rolling with the punches, it’s not always working anymore – and it feels as though a number of people have reached this point. I truly hope that the vaccines will break this cycle soon, and am heartened to hear that some of my friends think that this will happen soon, but right now I am just tired. Bring on the weekend – finally some quiet time at home…

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