I don’t mean to gloat, but my kids are back at daycare. A few days before the start of the month the school wrote to the parents with options. The kids could start at the beginning of July or the beginning of September, take your pick. It was a tough decision, partly because it had become impossible, after finally getting used to our reality of March and following, to imagine any further change of life; and partly because it seemed like gambling. Will the school stay open? Will our family stay healthy enough to attend? And finally, because it was hard to picture what the experience for the kids would be like, with a long list of new safety protocols in place.
Thoughts were thought, exhausted late-night conversations were held, emails were exchanged with other parents. Somewhere in there, our car was stolen. We decided to send the kids. “Both of us are losing our minds,” Jesse said, in the days we were considering what to do, more of an observation than an argument. Somehow, a month has passed. Daycare’s been great. Things at the center are low key. Most of the other families seemed to have crafted some summer travel plan—generally a variation on a visit to far-flung grandparents end-stopped by a 14-day quarantine period before and after—so relatively few elected to return in early July. I like to imagine that the huge reduction in class size has partially made up for the increased work load, for teachers, of all the spraying things down, keeping people apart, and etc. etc. they have to do to satisfy state requirements. I drop the kids off at the door of school in the morning. Someone takes their temperatures with a little wand, collects their things from me, and ushers them inside. I fill and sign an online form attesting that no one in our home has had fever, cough, shortness of breath. It doesn’t seem normal, but what does? Last Thursday, we finally got our car back. It had been driven to Lorton, Virginia, abandoned by a roadside, towed to an impound lot. Geico towed it back to Towson, where it was poked and prodded at the Honda service station. The battery was dead. Otherwise, the car seems remarkably unscathed.
It was, though, filthy: mostly because it was filthy when it was stolen. But now that it had been out of our possession for a while, the filth seemed more sinister. The morning we retrieved the car, I took it to a car wash, topped up the tires with air, sprayed and wiped the dash and door handles and the driver’s side seat belt latch where the cops had left some residual fingerprinting dust. I got a soap-filled steel wool ball and scrubbed the impound notices off the window. I tried to vacuum it, but the vacuum at the gas station was broken. I could have gotten them to do it at the car wash place, but it didn’t seem like the right idea for right now, paying people to breathe inside your car. I swept off the seats and installed the new, still-clean car seats we’d bought while the car was missing.
I’ve been doing a lot of cleaning lately, I don’t know why. Probably because now that the kids are away more, it feels possible to gain ground against disorder. Probably also because it’s something I can control, inside a sea of things I can’t. Thirdly because I recently read Book One of My Struggle, and about 250 pages of it are devoted to a blow-by-blow of Knausgaard and his brother cleaning their grandmother’s house after their father’s gruesome (and very, very mess-encumbered) death. I love Knausgaard so much, and I love the way those passages raise cleaning to the level of a moral activity, without ever saying so outright (I rinsed the wash rag in the water, wrung it, and laid it over the faucet to dry . . . repeat until sense of profundity is achieved). One of the first days the children had school, I cleaned the downstairs bathroom, thoroughly. It’s the smallest room in the house, but I wanted one room, just one, to be immaculately clean. I did it all, hot water, the toilet and fixtures and mirror, of course, but also the switch plate, the baseboards. We’ve lived here four years, and I don’t believe I’d ever scrubbed those baseboards before. I didn’t feel moral, exactly, but I did feel as if I was inhabiting my life.
Temperatures have been in the mid-to-high nineties for several weeks. It is a challenge, we don’t have central A/C, but there is an animal satisfaction in just getting through it. The weekends offer a nostalgic return to the recent past when every day was like this, an endless slog of kid-dom, with—as compensation—zero time to indulge your grown-up angsts. It’s weird how many normal summer things are off limits to us (no swimming pool, no cookout, no museum), so we do our new summer things instead. A successful format lately has included leaving the house early and driving to a town we’ve never been to before, cruising around, wondering what it would be like to live there, hitting up a local park or playground, procuring lunch or ice cream. Enjoying actual married-couple conversation in the car on the way home while the kids nap hard in back. So far we’ve seen Lititz, PA; Kennett Square; the towns of the Philadelphia Main Line. Westminster, Middletown, Ruxton, and Ellicott City, MD. Once in a while we dip in a river.
On Saturday, I gave everybody haircuts, myself included. I took the kids to Roland Park playground. It was hotter than hell, but we had a good time. Later in the afternoon, Jesse took the kids to the harbor. I couldn’t sit still. I had cleaned a couple floors, a couple bathrooms, had treated the house plants to Miracle Gro. I cooked that night’s dinner and the following night’s. It was well over 90 degrees in the kitchen. I drank a tallboy and listened to Dark Side of the Moon on Alexa. I never loved Pink Floyd back in the day—of course they had a couple songs, but I wouldn’t have called myself a fan—but the twisted, conceptual albums of the '70s somehow feel absolutely right at the moment. Maybe it was the tallboy, or maybe I hadn’t listened to music in a while. A whole album! So luxuriant, and this particular one so English and sylvan. After that I listened to Love’s Forever Changes, and that felt right, too, a creepy, symphonic, apocalyptic, shape-shifting album by a racially mixed late-’60s band from L.A. I sang along to every word while shvitzing in my kitchen, cooking meatballs in a 425-degree oven because I do not give a fuck, hydrating via tallboy. While so doing, I thought about the person who turned me on to the album, a black grad student from my PhD cohort at Cornell. He’d come from Denver, which was not so high-profile cool and prosperous back then. He was the oldest of us. I don’t think he made it through, either. He played the album in his car one day, while kindly giving me a ride down to New York City. “What IS this?” I asked, amazed. It was winter, the sky was gray, the landscape blasted and stripped down by ice and snow. We were rocketing down Route 81 toward Scranton, where we would turn and tip east toward the 80. His name was Kevin. He shook his head indulgently at my youth and inexperience. “Oh man,” he said. “You don’t know Love?”
Hang in there,