There's a line in "House of Cards" that's my favorite of the series.
It's not much. Just two words at the end of season 5’s last episode. They're powerful and slightly “out of character” for the character who says them.
After supporting his evil schemes and being a player in his story for years, Claire Underwood ignores a phone call from her disgraced husband, former U.S. President Frank Underwood. Breaking the fourth wall, Claire looks up to the camera, speaking directly to the audience, and says, “My turn.”
While I take the reins this week, penning our “family during COVID-19” reflections, I'm reminded of Claire’s line and how ominous it feels right now. The next season of "Cards" was arguably the worst. My thought this week was, “Does this mean that, like season 6 of 'Cards,' my attempt at The Earnheardts will suck?”
I hope not.
And, to be honest, I don’t have a lot of time to worry about how my writing stacks up to Mary Beth’s. This is because I'm concerned about something much more important. One of our kids tested positive for coronavirus.
Yes. It finally happened. After almost a year of bobbing and weaving, masking and purifying, isolating and quarantining, the COVID-19 plague reached our door.
Call it fatigue from dealing with doctor visits and Google searches and quarantine confusion and rapid tests and arguments, but Mary Beth just doesn't want to write about it. Not right now. Probably not ever. I don’t blame her.
Still, we both agreed on one thing: documenting family life during the pandemic would be incomplete, and most certainly insincere, if we avoided sharing our recent challenge.
What happened exactly, you might ask? One of the girls tested positive in mid-January. Thankfully, for her, COVID-19 manifested as little more than a bad head cold. In fact, we were so sure it was her normal allergies that we didn’t even realize she was actually sick until her normal medicine didn’t work.
I didn’t want to take her to the doctor, but Mary Beth felt differently. So, our daughter was tested on a Friday, which meant waiting the weekend for results.
I took the call from the pediatrician's office on Monday. "You're kidding, right?," I asked.
Mary Beth could hear the "Please God, no," plea in my voice as the nurse on the other end reaffirmed the test results. "Yeah, but how accurate are these tests, really?" I asked. "Shouldn't we get her retested? I hear a lot about false positives."
"They're the ones we send out," the nurse said. "They're the most accurate."
Getting the news was bad, but also completely on-brand for the pandemic.
First, the child who contracted COVID-19 had been be-bopping around the house for two days straight. Friday she was sick. Saturday and Sunday she was ready to rock. Now it was Monday and she felt fine. She wanted to return to school, but we kept her home. Any symptom of the virus was long gone. No sniffles. No droopy eyelids.
Second, it was the start of the return to a four-day school week. The kids had been back to a post-holiday 2-day-a-week, in-person schedule. The children were excited to go back and looking forward to some normalcy. But suddenly being placed in quarantine the day they were supposed to feel “normal” again was a blow to everyone’s psyche.
Third, we've learned the hard way that the length of a quarantine — when you're the primary caregiver for a COVID-19 positive child — is longer than the currently recommended 10- to 14-day isolation period. Protocols for who should quarantine and when and for how long vary from place to place. Rules for returning to school and work were hard to manage and left us feeling confused.
We’re 11 months into this thing. You’d think we would have answered the who, where, why and for how long questions by now.
So, to deal with all these changes and challenges, we turned inward for support. I mean, aside from an occasional DoorDash delivery and curbside grocery pickup, where else were we going to get support? We’ve relied on family from Day One. Why should Day 346 be any different?
And yeah, I actually kind of counted the days.
While the kids still had online school, and Mary Beth and I worked from a distance, we found ourselves returning to the things that helped us through the early days of the pandemic: puzzles, games, playing with the dogs, the Nintendo Switch, cleaning the house, and working on projects that we suddenly had the time to complete.
Oh yeah, and writing columns for Mahoning Matters.
What I realized over the last few weeks is that we would be terrible on our own. Writing a solo column is one thing, but living quarantined under the same roof surrounded by people who love us (and put up with us) certainly made isolation a lot less lonely.
— Adam Earnheardt is professor of communication at YSU and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists executive board. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn.