The coronavirus pandemic has created a lot of pain, suffering and sacrifice, the least of which is how it has changed the way we complain about our pain, suffering and sacrifice.
In the pre-COVID-19 days, my wife and I, like millions of other couples, would meet at home at the end of the day and regale each other with the perils and woes of our respective workdays.
We talked about how hard we worked and how good it was to be home.
Now, home is work and work is home.
There’s no more, “Hi honey, I’m home!” There’s only, “Hi honey, if you need me, I will be in a different part the house because I am tired of looking at this part of the house.”
I will be the first to say that we are both very fortunate. I work in communications for a large non-profit organization, and my wife co-owns a bookkeeping business with her mom. Unlike millions of Americans, neither of us looks to be in imminent danger of losing our income.
We are both also lucky our jobs can be done at home. Due to the sacrifice of the essential workers on the frontlines in grocery stores, restaurants and warehouses, we get what we need by curbside pickup and mail order, so there are not a lot of reasons to leave the house.
That means a lot time spent together. Again, in that regard, we are fortunate because after 32 years of marriage, we still enjoy each other’s company.
But this pandemic has certainly highlighted our professional differences. To be more precise—she is way more professional than me.
Well, maybe professional is not the word I am looking for. Productive, that’s what she is. This woman works all day. She is on task, on time and on the ball, every single minute.
Maybe it’s the nature of her work. She deals in numbers, and bills for her time. She owes her clients efficiency, organization and clarity.
Me? I mostly write for a living. Memos, speeches, articles, reports—it’s all about putting the right words together. It takes a bit of creativity, a lot of collecting of information and a dash of spin.
In other words, a writer has a lot of excuses to surf the internet in between eking out sentences and paragraphs. When my wife passes my desk and sees me reading the New York Times online, I tell her it’s research. Can I explain why I am reading the real estate section? I cannot. Such is the mystery of creativity.
My wife is even productive when she is not technically working. Every day around noon, she makes herself a healthy lunch and then shops on Amazon for household items we need. After a few minutes of eating and shopping, she’s back to the bookkeeping grindstone.
I have learned that if I want to show her something important—like a dog on Instagram that plays the piano—I have to show her at lunch, and even then I may get shooed away because she is eyeballs-deep trying to order a new collar for our growing puppy, who so far has shown no interest in our piano.
The only work activity that I exceed my wife in is virtual meetings. She makes and takes a few calls with clients and her employees, but because I work for a very large organization, much of my day is spent on conference calls, many of which are on video.
I try to keep the volume down on these calls since my office is right next to my wife’s, but I do hope that she overhears me once in a while using business vernacular in my most professional sounding voice. After all these years of marriage, I am still trying to score points as a “serious person,” despite the fact that I still ride on the back of the cart while pushing groceries to the car.
During the pandemic, she has more than once remarked that I appear to be good at my job, which really is a more thrilling evaluation than the one that I get from my work boss at the end of the year. I have read a few articles recently in which working from home during the lockdown has revealed to one spouse that their partner is not a great employee.
After years of listening to their husband or wife come home and complain about the idiots they work with, imagine the revelation that their partner may not be business genius he or she has purported to be.
One of the many disorienting aspects of the COVID era is that so many realities are now shared. Cohabitating couples see first-hand how their other half works. Kids see what their parents really do for a living. Parents see how their kids participate in class—at least virtually—and how teachers teach, again with the challenges of distance.
“How was your day?” used to be an actual query seeking factual information. These days, so many family members experience each other’s days that now we need to ask, “How do you feel about your day?” Even a day spent under one roof unfolds in different ways—large and small—to the people living under it.
Weathering a pandemic requires empathy, listening and mutual support.
A dog who can play the piano can also help, so I have my next quest. I just hope she keeps it down when I am using big fancy business words on my conference calls.