Homebody

The pandemic came to town over a year ago. Like the rest of the community, I drew inward to decrease the threat of microscopic invaders ravaging our nation. We all know the stories well. The weekly happy hours and backyard barbecues? Canceled. Stolen moments around the office water cooler? Defunct. Giant wedding parties and dance floors? Obsolete. I, and so many others, staved off total despair by searching for new hobbies—painting, knitting, baking, reorganizing our bathroom shelves. As we surpassed the twelve month anniversary of collective isolation, however, I felt the loss of those little social leisures keenly.

Before the pandemic, I constructed my world around external relationships. I wove silken webs of connection among college classmates, work colleagues, neighbors, friends old and new. My chosen family. These connections were my support system, my entertainment, my first and favorite priority.

My husband, Alex, and I frequently hosted large gatherings. Jovial Halloween house parties, taco dinners before a night out on the town, casual grill-outs, and rolicking New Year’s Eve soirées. During these affairs I loved to smash disparate social universes together to see what conversations arose. These interactions thrilled me when neighbors and acquaintances discovered their shared love of a podcast or bonded over an obscure band they followed.

Then the pandemic winter froze out any hope I had of simulating this level of socialization out of doors. Not even socially distant park picnics or walks beside the lake could survive the freezing temperatures. After months of sitting behind computer screens, even the facsimile video gatherings lost their shiny sheen. I hit a wall.

Meanwhile, Alex joined a Discord channel with several male friends. Each Thursday night, he and twelve other men used the virtual platform to play online games, video chat, and participate in trivia. My heart swelled when I heard his raucous laughter from the other room, but I was also jealous.

Jealous, not of his newfound friendships or the joy he fostered in the midst of a global crisis, but of his unavailability to connect with me. Despite the relative independence we enjoyed prior to the pandemic, I realized he was my last lifeline to human contact. In the before times, I’d supplemented my social appetite with micro interactions—the wave and how are you today at my local gym, the small talk with the bartender when she had a lull between serving rounds. I craved the idle chatter at the bus stop that used to annoy me. Every time I took the dog for a stroll around the block, I yearned to let the leash go long when we met passersby.

To make matters more complicated, I was pregnant with my firstborn. The novelty of planning baby showers and shopping for empire-waisted dresses was dampened by the isolation. I thought of friends in their maternal glory who coordinated photo shoots and birth announcements while I sat at the laptop and pushed Buy on my online shopping cart. Friends and family had only seen me from shoulders up on our video calls. The lack of witnesses to my physical transformation made it feel like an illusion, somehow. I was large and round and stuck at home, a waxing moon locked in the Earth’s gravitational pull. I was a homebody.

Every few months I attempted to recapture some element of spontaneity. I learned how to create lavish cheese plates. I built a makeshift yoga studio in a spare bedroom nook. I ordered takeout and enlisted Alex to eat it with me as we sat in the car across the street from the restaurant. These self-styled car-picnic dates only served to make me more depressed.

My belly continued to expand, and I photo documented the growing girth in the full-length mirror. Tiny flutters from within became more pronounced, and I no longer had to play the game, “Is it baby kicks or digestion?” The spontaneity I searched for had been delivered to me in the form of a wildly changing physique.

If there was anything that could bring specialness to the mundane rituals of my pandemic life, it was the concept that I was housing a tiny tenant. Perhaps this unwilling house arrest could be more of an exclusive party. I began to find joy in the babe’s growth and development and celebrated the wonders of my own adaptation to facilitate life.

This revitalized daily focus brought new questions to mind. What are the things I do for this life inside of me that I’ve neglected for myself? What would I do for my own body if I loved it in the way that I do my friends, my family, my colleagues? After all, this body has supported me for decades longer than it has the stranger within.  I began a mental inventory of the ways in which I could nourish and care for both of us, pandemic or no.

I blocked time on my work calendar to stand up, drink water, and stretch. I held forth the boundary that no other meetings could usurp the water break unless there was another open slot in my day to preserve it. I sought new and exotic tea-time snacks. As I bit into chocolate-dipped Pocky sticks or savored Biscoff biscuits with a steaming cup of tea, I banished lingering guilt and shame about the indulgence. The practice was imperfect, but I began to look forward to my oyatsu, a tiny Japanese tea break.

Slowly, these small touchstones illuminated the darker days. They inspired me to explore other self-care—new bath salts and longer bathtimes, slow-moving yin yoga instead of frantic calisthenics, and the freedom to get in bed at any hour of any day, even if just to sit and read. These little crumbs led me away from the abyss and back to myself. Amid the days of hardened isolation I realized the truth: I was not just a homebody. My body was this baby’s home.

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