Five Days Locked in My Winter Palace

I cracked my eyes open, just a bit. My bedroom was still dark with all the curtains closed, but I could see a pencil thin line of bright white light above me, peeking from under the skylight's shade. Outside, it was full on daytime.



I turned over and could see my husband's bed, just two feet from mine, with a small exercise trampoline lying face down on top of it. He was nowhere in sight, he'd spent the night on the couch.

I lifted my wrist until the green glow of the numbers on my Fitbit came to life. They shone 12:19. Definitely full daytime.

I couldn't even remember the last time I'd slept past noon. Maybe a decade ago, in my 30's?

I hadn't been drinking the night before or doing anything else wild. I wasn't sick or depressed, I'd just shifted into an alternate universe called nothing to do. I was on my third day of quarantine after returning from an out of state trip. Gripped by the pandemic, Massachusetts created an order that requires all incoming travelers to quarantine until a negative Covid test is obtained. It doesn't make sense to take a test without an incubation period, so there I was, a prisoner in my own bedroom.

My husband had evacuated our room, which had also been serving as his office, and taken over the living/dining room instead. I had full reign of my domain: full control over the curtains and lights, full command over the TV remotes, and full regulation over my sleep schedule. I was a prisoner, but I was also king.

I'd leave the bedroom to get food and drinks or use the bathroom, but only with a face mask on. Somehow, in this bizarre paradox of great restriction and total control, my mind played a trick on me.

I don't consider myself a busy person per se because I don't multitask and I don't rush about, but almost every hour of my day is filled with some type of productive activity. My social calendar is generally full 6-8 weeks in advance and, like everyone else, my to do list is never ending; as soon as I check something off, I think of ten new things to add. It doesn't bother me. I know I'll die with an unfinished list, it's part of being human and creating in the world, so I just keep plugging away.

Yet somehow, stuck in my 15x15 foot bed-lined box, my mind decided I had nothing to do. All the "shoulds" and "to dos" dissolved. Even though my to do list, my inbox, my commitments for the next week all still sat, just as they had three days before, my mind deleted them from whatever lobe is in charge of focus and production.

On day one I ate toffee popcorn and coffee for breakfast while laying in bed playing video games. I watched cartoons in Spanish, the language I'm working on learning right now. I discovered the word I'd been taught in school to mean hair, pelo, isn't used in everyday language and cabello (ka-bay-oh) is used instead. Which is awfully close to caballo (ka-buy-oh) meaning horse. I was pretty confused because I couldn't figure out why Rapunzel was talking about a horse!

I watched countless Disneynature films and fell in love again with the world. No matter how many times I see it, I am still in awe over the dolphins hunting as a pack, the mama bear taking her cubs to the salmon run, snow leopards who survive living on cliff faces. And seriously, how adorable and awesome are baby pandas?!

With nothing to do, I did what I wanted, I got a jump on preparing for Easter, ordered everything for our celebration, and came up with the idea of including personalized stationary in the kids' baskets. They were so excited — my son spent an entire afternoon designing his own logo to put at the top of his.

I digitized at least a hundred magazine pages I'd been saving in binders over the past twelve years. Most of them craft or home ideas that I thought were inspiring or brilliant. I'd wanted to do this project for a long time, but it hadn't even made the to do list yet.

And I slept. I slept very soundly, the best sleep I'd had in years, on a teenager's schedule. Somewhere between midnight and one, just as I was thinking of falling asleep, at least one of my kids would appear. "Hi Mom!" my son said. He was standing in the doorway to my room. I could hear his smile, but I couldn't see it. It was covered by a cloth face mask that was black with little chemistry symbols all over it. "Hey kiddo!" I replied. "Come on in."

I'd turn the TV off and he'd sit in the swivel office chair at his dad's oak desk in the far corner of the room; and just like a high school slumber party, that's when the serious conversations would start. That's when hearts were revealed and deep thoughts expressed.

The window to his mind was wide open and I got a glimpse of what's real for him, what moves him, and how he makes sense of it all. There's no to do list in the world that can plan or create moments like that, but it was by far the most important thing I did all month.

One of the most amazing things about being human is the capacity to channel and express the creative energy behind life. We are creators. Even with nothing to do, I was doing and creating, but without looking for a box to check off. It's so very easy to get lost in the momentum of the daily grind, to put our heads down and forget that we are human beings and instead think we are human doings. We imagine each day only as a fresh opportunity to do more: more at work, more at home, more for the family, more for the community, more accomplishments, more adventure, more for the sake of… more?

I'm grateful my mind played a trick on me, grateful it decided I had nothing to do, grateful for the freedom, for the experience, and for the special moments. And I hope I'll remember, as I get back on the treadmill, and the months whiz by, that it doesn't require a quarantine to step off; all it takes is one instant to wake up and recall the true magic of simply being human, being me, being enough. *For curious souls like me who are still wondering why there was a trampoline on my husband's bed... We have two closets in our room, one stores books, the printer, etc., and the exercise trampoline. I'd taken it out of the closet and put it on the bed in order to get to the binders with the magazine articles in them.

** For super curious souls... My husband and I have separate beds because he's allergic to the cat. When he sneezes and coughs it can startle me awake. Getting rid of the cat isn't an option, she's kinda the center of our universe, so we've adapted :-)