It is a beautiful day for the last day of March. The sun is bright and warm, so proud and generous in a blue and cloudless sky, to the great delight of the feline members of our household. Daylight savings time just happened in our part of the world this past weekend, closely following the Spring Equinox. It is officially spring. Walking through our neighborhood with my beloved canine companion, I can spot signs of life in every yard and every garden. The Germans do take pride in their gardening. Despite myself having never been inspired by the great green thumb, flowers are sprouting in all the right places on our property. The country is gradually transitioning from gray to green after a relatively mild winter. What a beautiful time of the year.
And what a great sense of humor this country has. One year ago, when my feet first touched German soil at this exact same time of the year, eager to explore this strange and exotic land that was to be my new home, it rained all month. And this year, how lovely and sunny March has been. What perfect weather for the entire country to go into lockdown in.
At the end of February, when my best friend, my husband, and I met up with a couple of long time friends from college of ours in Paris (when you have no children, you can do stuff like that pretty easily), the COVID-19 epidemic still seemed as far away as on the other side of the globe. Or so we thought. Then, upon our return to Germany, as if overnight, the dreaded coronavirus practically appeared at our doorstep. Public places, including schools and daycare centers, began to close; events began to cancel; large gatherings of people began to decrease. On March 14, I had my last outing to Trier with my best friend. Then on March 18, Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed the nation. On March 22nd, I visited my best friend at his place in Baumholder. The following day, pretty much nobody could go anywhere anymore unless it is essential or emergency. Restaurants, cafes, parks, playgrounds, churches, shopping centers are all off-limits, with no more than 2 people not from the same household allowed in close proximity at any time. Social contact, even between family members and close friends, is brought down to an absolute minimum and based on strict necessities. The German police patrolling every street and alleyway are far from joking with their readiness to hand out a 25,000 Euro fine. I highly doubt that they would be handing out fines often if at all. Germans are famous for following rules.
And pretty much everyone I know who is a parent has already begun to lose their minds.
Social media is a tempting place at a time like this. What else are you going to do, when there is literally no place to go even if you can go out? But since I have no valuable contributions to make in any of the “how to work from home without wanting to commit murder when there are children around all day every day” and “God help me I have no idea how to homeschool without going completely insane” support groups, I’ve simply been sitting back and watching the show like a fly on the wall, or a fly on the computer screen, to put it more accurately. In comparison, my world has been eerily quiet. Where has all the heartfelt advice such as “you really should have children someday, it’s the most wonderful thing in the world” and “children are the greatest blessing, you really should not miss out on such amazing gifts from God” gone?
My husband works for the U.S. Army as a Department of Defense civilian. We are very closely tied to the American military community in Germany. Having once been an active duty army family, we have a pretty good idea about what it’s like. The joke is that the American military is good at two things: hurry-up-and-wait, and breeding. Letting it be known that you don’t want children will almost immediately mark you for the next potential army neighborhood pariah. Admitting that you regret having children is an offense that ought to be punishable by lynching. The peer pressure is real.
Don’t get me wrong. I have absolutely nothing against people who choose to want/have children. I myself have friends who are parents, and the lifestyle fits them like a glove. I cherish and hold to my heart the times when they would include “Aunt Holly” in their milestone updates, in their school projects, in their conversations, and in their fond memories. I have loved those children as much as their parents. If I have room in my life for my friends, then I certainly have room in my life for their children. And I myself actually love children enough to have been an elementary school teacher for almost 3 years, up to the point when my husband’s dream job plucked us from the Maryland suburbs and dropped us into Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany.
That being said, over the years, I have lost way more friends than I have kept. I could only watch in dismay, as people whom I had once thought highly of transformed into mombies and sanctimommies on social media as soon as they fulfilled their evolutionary purpose of procreating. We went from having so much in common to having nothing in common. Accomplishments, adventures, and personal improvements have all been replaced by an endless row of pictures featuring diapers, pacifiers, toy strewn floors, and food smeared high chairs. Despite my efforts, they gradually disappeared. Not all of them I have completely lost touch with, but I don’t think our paths would ever cross again. To them, I’m the failure. Nothing I have achieved in my life can direct their attention away from the fact that I have not and will never be fruitful and multiply. And this includes my husband and my families. The spotlight will never be ours because we have no heir to our genes. We simply will never be good enough. 9 years of marriage, and we have nothing to show for it but a very large family of animals, which we blasphemously refer to as our “children”.
Now that I’m housebound for 80% of my life, I have nothing but time on my hands. To those who are having their houses torn apart, and those whose work from home schedules are nearly impossible to keep up as a result of their cabin fevered and spring fevered offspring, my life must be like a dream. After all, I have all the time in the world to do whatever I feel like all day. It’s true up to a point. I can work on my German, practice my music and learn new repertoire, read all the books on my endless reading list, relax, meditate, do yoga, walk my dog, and nap as much as I want. But the other side to this seemingly ideal coin is the never-ending stretch of silence, the sheer loneliness from lack of human interactions, and the feeling of being cut off from the rest of the world. I have never been able to be a couch potato. I need movements, I need the outdoors, and I need the physical presence of my dearest friends to share deep, meaningful conversations and precious, unforgettable experiences.
Not able to see the people I love face to face, not able to travel, not able to even have a date night dinner at a restaurant with my husband, all of these have started gnawing a hole in my mental health. I can’t even go to the stable to see my horse every day like I used to. My visits have been reduced to no more than one hour every other day, and even that is a luxury to be appreciated. They say the human brain atrophies in extended isolation. Evolution has evolved us to be social creatures. The natural desire for company exists in every human being, even one as introverted and socially anxious as me.
Some days, when inevitably, my restless and bored brain begins to wonder, I can’t help but play with the thought of “what would it be like right now, if I had a child in my life to look after and keep busy with?” And then reality hits me: a child, in quarantine, locked away from the world in order to survive in the midst of a global pandemic… and the idea would flee my mind as swiftly as its arrival.
It is now early evening. My husband will be home from work soon (his position is “essential” enough that he still has to go in 50% of the time). It is my turn to cook dinner tonight (one more thing for me to do, yay). So I must leave my musings for now. More will have to wait for another day. I’m sure a new wave of inspiration will sweep over me soon enough. Solitude tends to have that effect on an artist, if I must look for a silver lining after all.
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