The virus lays bare the trades we’ve made. Trading our time for money, we’re told, is what we all do. Fair enough. Trading our kids for money, we’re not told, is also what we all do.
Fair not enough. Foul.
This sounds grotesque but bears a little scrutiny. Say it’s Tuesday, the 58th of Febru-vember, a day when we semi-willingly go to work to trade our time for money. Alarm clock and shower and shampoo and shave and toothbrush, a cacophony of Proctor & Gamble smells and sprays and goops = 17 minutes.
Kid lazing in bed, only to emerge from the bathroom masking newfound scents that accompany newfound fecundity with more goops and sprays, sans shower—too little time after sleeping in after staring at omni-phone-droid until 3:17 AM: time with friends and newfound World. Cereal bar and into the car to stare out a window to be dropped off with a slurry of Gotta-Go-Love-Yous-Remember-Your-(%)-Slammed-Door. Navigating a flock of white and gray minivans and crossover SUVs as they deposit their children at the County Thinkatorium and Food Shelf (Go Bobcats!) like seagulls darting to and from a carcass, but then back to the nest. 23 minutes.
Or to work. A job that for years you’ve wondered why you don’t do at home, because you’re a self-starter but of course no one else is so your boss won’t allow the precedent and turn his department into a weekday ghost town; even if productivity didn’t slip, he’d have stumbled out of a job. (Or be a management genius, if it coincided with some viral coughing and dying.) But your meetings and your slacking and your Slacking and your nodding and nodding off: all are hyperrational trades for money to pay for the minivan and the minimansion and the violin lessons—is that tonight?—all for the little bucko who used to call you Daddy after quintuple tickles but now just grunts at you once in a while, usually while looking at omni-phone-droid, which you tell yourself is okay because that’s how Kids These Days find The World. Which, you know, is out there, somewhere.
9 hours, 9 minutes.
But not at home. Or, the Terminal, as it were, with vans and carpools and comings and goings, but seemingly more goings, but eventually they come home for food. Maybe. Which is a series of beeps and buzzes from cooking a meal so processed that you wonder if it beeps, too. And wolfing down and getting up and silverware rattling and retiring—if only—to the living room or respective minimansion caves where faces are buried in screens and books. You know, to see the World, or to prepare for the World, via Homework.
And Super-Big Homework for the AP class that has to be done tonight, for COLLEGE, full caps, like will be emblazoned in rustically wool letters on a $93 sweatshirt that you’ll buy at Parents’ Weekend sometime later, Sometime Else. Homework started so late because of basketball practice or pep band or violin lessons. Or all three. Because Accomplishment, because The World out there, One Day.
More minutes here. How many? Who cares?—to each his own World.
But then comes a particular flavor of organic-but-not-living capsid, replete with replication that flatlines an economy and a school system and a nation and a world—lowercase—and the World becomes the Home. And the glowing omni-devices still keep us linked to the World, too linked, too crosslinked and crosseyedly hyperlinked, but only linked and not fully immersed in the viral soup. And in the New World of Home-work and House-work, the Minutes are no longer traded like stock futures, or for the Future, like COLLEGE on your chest or heaving into Retirement. Minutes blend and bounce and are shared, pinging between sons and mothers like the electrons among the carbon atoms in a tightly zinging benzene ring of the nuclear family. And we stopped over-showering and stopped gooping and stopped counting minutes and stopped making minute rice and started making minutes and started ricing potatoes, like how Mom used to make Grandma’s ‘Taters that were always so smooth so you give her a call or a FaceTimeWarpZoom, which works out just as well because she’s far away in assisted living with the door nearly welded shut to prevent the prevalence of virulence.
And that’s at 1:33. P.M., this time. Because of the virus.
“Wanna watch Wheel together, Grandma? Channel 4 for you, Channel 478 for us.”
Because there’s no basketball game, or violin lesson, or pep band tonight. And homework was done at home, but in the light of day, not late-night glow.
When the economy stops, or slows, and the trading stops, or slows, we realize that the Trading stopped, or slowed, including the trading our time for money, minute by minute, because that’s what people do, and that’s what we do. But the Trading our kids—to the Thinkatorium, to the gym and the studio and the goddamned omni-phone-droid—we stopped, or slowed, too. And we wonder why we’d start again at all.
Once again we will trade time and futures. But with our family we will think twice about Trading our Time for the Future. While at Home we’ve stopped counting the precious minutes; here’s to losing ourselves in losing count.
P. A. Jensen (@RuralityChecker) is editor of RuralityCheck.com.
He lives in Minnesota with his wife and son.