A Long December

Maybe this year will be better than the last

Our house listing went live the day the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament was cancelled. March 12. We had just sat down for a celebratory lunch at Sauce On the Side, immediately across the street from Bankers Life, when a couple guys started rolling the B1G logo away from the plaza and down an alley.

Amanda and I had gone around and around about how to ensure the best future for our family and our business. Four years before we built a house for us and two kids. Now it’s us and three kids, three dogs, and two cats. I was making less as a freelancer than I had at my last w-2 job but I was happier. The store was suffering from years of on-and-off street closures related to ride shares and redevelopment but we were trying to hold on until the hotel, retail, dining, theater and office complex across the street finally came to life. The plan was to build again, differently, but close.

I could feel something big was rumbling in as the B1G rumbled away. Just how big I couldn’t know.

Sometime after that major employers started telling people to work from home and teachers started telling kids to take everything home with them, “just in case.” I don’t remember the fine details anymore: the sequence, the dates, the recommendations, the phrasing. I just remember that one day we had a business to tend to and two of our three kids went to school each week and the next we were locking our doors and laying everyone off and talking about remote learning.

There was an uneasy calm for a time. Ambient noise from the highway, railroad and thoroughfares adjacent to our neighborhood fell away, replaced by birdsong. Long days were filled with socially distanced play dates and conversations with neighbors. After spending at least part of every day working on and worrying about our business for more than a decade it was actually a relief to be shut down by a force majeure. Lending rules tightened. My 1099 income was excluded from the lender’s calculation because I hadn’t been working for the same group for two years. We decided to ride it out and took the house off the market. We scrambled to get PPP funding that disappeared as soon as we were ready to apply. We got in on the second round thanks to the Indy Chamber of Commerce.

I stopped writing. I stopped podcasting. I started buying plants. I read. A lot.

At some point my father-in-law and I built spit shields in front of our cash registers and we reopened the store. Then a man said he couldn’t breathe, another man smirked and three other men, putatively tasked with enforcing laws, stood by and watched the murder be carried out. We supported the protests literally and figuratively. We had no interest in media outlets turning their lenses on us in the hope that we would tsk-tsk property damage so we boarded up our facade. That wooden wall, like so many others, became a canvas.

We learned that our 7-year old’s behavioral problems and academic delays might be a result of poor sleep. She and Amanda spent the night in a hospital and found out that our daughter was waking up 30-plus times an hour. We scheduled surgery to have her tonsils and adenoids removed.

The YMCA child watch program I relied on for my sanity reopened and I was able to work out most days of the week. There was talk of in-person school. Talk that, in retrospect, everyone wanted to believe but no one really did. In the early days of March and April, the kids were fine but we weren’t sure if the business would make it. In late summer it was clear that the business would be ok for a while but it seemed like the kids had reached a critical juncture.

We created an ad hoc remote classroom for five fourth graders in the community room behind our store and sent our first grader to the YMCA with a class schedule that was never followed. The two year old stayed at home with Amanda and I and we took turns working at the store where she worked ON the store and I worked my job. We wrung our hands about the election. My thinking started getting foggy, my short term memory deteriorated.

A return-to-school date was announced. Our daughter had surgery. Her sleep improved. Her behavior did not. A friend referred us to a specialist in neurological disorders. She and her brother went back to school. We hired a couple of people at the store in the hopes of building the business back up. We threw together a last-minute Halloween that ended up being a pressure-valve night for all of us. Word came that in-person school was ending again.

My contact employment was terminated on Election Day. My anxiety spiked. After more than half a year without a true day off, I took a couple of days to be by myself and figure out what do. That resulted in a realization that it’s always been incredibly difficult to work a job during the holiday season in a normal year — the store just demands too much from us. I needed to make a career move toward something that didn’t just accommodate my family reality but supported it.

Just as I came to that conclusion Amanda called to tell me that one of our employees had been exposed to someone who tested positive and then worked with everyone on our staff but me. I spent the next three days working open to close by myself as tests were taken and results came back. All negative, thankfully.

With unemployment still high, Congressional Republicans prioritizing judicial nominees over Covid relief and hospitalizations rising, we had no idea what kind of Christmas to expect. A good Christmas would carry us to the edge of summer 2021. A bad winter would be the end of us.

I accepted a job and told them I couldn’t start until the second week of January. We decided to take advantage of my free schedule. I’d handle the second round of remote learning, assist with the store as needed, and Amanda would do the damn thing at the store. We enjoyed Thanksgiving together, our annual last day of sanity before things get really real.

Sales were good, surprisingly so. But our staff started falling apart. One employee felt bad and tested negative, felt worse and tested positive, stayed home for a week. Another employee announced she’d be scaling her hours back from 40 to 24, then 17. Another simply stopped showing up for work. Our YMCA closed its childwatch program again. Each circumstance was complicated, but the outcome was the same — another hook landing right below the ear, buckling our knees.

We got a diagnosis for our daughter (more on that later). We made it to Chrismas Eve and had a pizza party with my mom. For the first time ever we stayed home on Christmas Day and made it through with minimal shouting and maximum chicken tikka masala.

It’s just after 9 p.m. on New Year’s Eve and my family is still healthy, housed and relatively happy. I wasn’t the best version of myself this year in ways that can be excused by the circumstances and ways that really can’t. I want to write more next year, I want to podcast regularly. I want to have a regular meditation and yoga practice and do more scratch cooking for my family. I want to be successful at a job that I can put down when I, “clock out.” I want to grow things.

But right now I feel like a three day old balloon so I’ll just resolve to be kind to whoever is still awake when I hit, “publish,” be gentle with myself, sleep as much as possible between now and tomorrow and do my best after I get up.