During the first week of the quarantine, I continually felt like I was about to lose my sanity and couldn't believe how long each day felt. On Saturday, March 21, while my husband was putting our kids down for a nap, I got in the car and drove to Peets Coffee and Tea for much needed caffeine before Governor Pritzker's Shelter-in-Place order was about to go into effect. I parked my car, and when I walked up to the entrance of Peets, an employee, who knows me as a regular customer, was taping a "temporarily closed" sign on the door. I stood there frowning, and waved. Then I got in my car and drove to another favorite café, Intelligentsia on Broadway. They also had a sign: Closed. Then I drove to Starbucks. Closed. Then on the way back home, I passed two independent coffee shops along Halsted. Both with darkened windows; they were closed. Silence had not yet settled over the streets, yet this felt like the beginning of a rough, truly unique time.
I returned home with nothing in my hands but with the realization that this quarantine was going to be harder than I thought. I was used to being with my kids for long days; as a teacher, I have spent summers with them, playing at our neighborhood parks and local beaches. But I always had a break in the evening due to my supportive husband, or a day off when I sent the kids to daycare once a week. But the idea of impending nonstop time with kids was starting to give me anxiety; this is not how we are meant to function (especially without my much-needed lattes, green teas, and mochas, which just do not taste the same from a K-Cup)!
Today, my two kids and I are lying on our bellies on the living room rug, and my five-year-old daughter, Miriam, who is gripping my phone inches from her face, asks, "Can we watch it again, Ima?" On a normal day, this question gives me pause, as I am highly cautious of limiting my kids' screen-time. But today, despite the fact that she has already watched three episodes of "Dinosaur Train", I say, "Sure!" because this time, not only do we have ALL day at home (again!) but she is asking to watch a guitarist discuss and sing the Ma Nishtana, a four-minute YouTube video that her Religious School Teacher recommended. We have watched it and sang along to the Hebrew at least twice a day for the past two weeks, and the first Seder is still five days away.
Sheltering in place with my family has been a learning experience in tolerance, patience, and gratitude. And reconfiguring some of our norms. One thing that I didn't realize it would give us was more time for Jewish education. My daughter attends religious school, and we participate in Kabbalat Shabbat family services on Friday nights. But when was the last time we listened to a Jewish song together and learned the Hebrew words, one phrase at a time? Learning the Ma Nishtana is a right-of-passage in Jewish culture, and to be five years old and to have a special, needed place at the table for a holiday with stories and traditions sprinkled with her own name, the timing of this quarantine helped our family add meaning to our Passover experience.
While there have been humorous memes about the irony of celebrating freedom from a plague during a current plague, our resilience is always what saves us. And during this seemingly endless amount of time and space together as a family, I feel like I have more of an opportunity to be a leader for my kids by providing meaningful Jewish education, and even without my favorite lattes, I truly enjoy it.
Jamie Wendt is a writer, teacher, mother, and author of the poetry collection Fruit of the Earth. For more information, visit https://jamiewendt.wordpress.com.