I return to my office at my organization on September 20, 2021. It will have been 18 months since the lockdown started. Some people would like everything to return to how things were before the pandemic. Many people recognize that things will never be the same again.
We learned so much about ourselves during this time period. We learned about how fragile democracy can be, and the ability for leaders to inspire us or divide us in troubled times. With a pandemic that disproportionately affected minorities and systemic violence that resulted in protests last year, we saw how far we have to go to give people equal access to healthcare and opportunities. Modern science proved to be incredible in finding a vaccine in such a short time when it is focused on a singular problem. By working remotely, we also learned new skills that could be useful in providing flexibility in where we work and when.
My family has changed completely. Over the past year, I’ve been at home while my wife has commuted to work at John Hopkins to help with the crisis. While we’ve had awesome childcare, I’ve improved my skills at helping my kids as they wake up and when they go to bed. We lost several members of my family in India to the crisis; most of my connections there are gone. However, I am acutely aware of how lucky we’ve been through these challenging times. I was never in danger of losing my job. No one in my immediate family got sick. We had access to a vaccine soon after they were available.
The new normal can be better than the old normal. The lucky should support the less fortunate. We should take the best of what we discovered during the pandemic and improve the way we live, work, and learn together. Most importantly, we should prepare for the next crisis without forgetting about this one.
Yesterday, I received the first dose of the Pfizer Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a CVS store in Merritt Island, FL. This is three months after Megan received her vaccination as a nurse. It was a minor miracle; Megan had used a website to see if there were any vaccines available in the area and entered in my demographic information. The next day, I spent 10 minutes in line and another 15 minutes in the store to confirm that I wasn’t suffering from any side effects. All was good. Another surprise was that it was easy to shift my second dose from a CVS in Florida where I was on vacation to a CVS in Maryland where I live. I don’t think I could have had a better experience. I feel incredibly happy, tired, and lucky today. The end of the pandemic seems one step closer.
I suspect that most people will suffer through a lot more red tape than I will on their journey to the vaccine. Vaccine hesitancy is a huge threat to herd immunity especially in the South, but it does mean that some vaccines are available because people either don’t want them or because they are shopping around for a specific vaccine. Strangely, this hesitancy comes from people who want things to return to normal but don’t realize that the vaccine is a major step towards this goal.
I’m ready for things to go back to normal. Being on vacation has been nice because I am fortunate enough to forget about work for a few days and focus on my family. When I return, it’s back to the non-stop zoom calls, irregular hours of working, and keeping the kids occupied, safe, and healthy. In a few years, I’m sure that there is a lot that I will look back on with fondness about this time period. Right now, the past year feels like a setback on so many fronts.
The past few months have been very eventful. The 2020 election is over. We have a new president-elect and we know who will control congress after runoff elections in Georgia On Monday, Megan will get her COVID-19 vaccination. While the number of infections is soaring and the death rate is higher than it has ever been, this scientific miracle could make life return to normal again. All the conditions will be ripe for a more scientific, systematic approach to tackling the virus.
However, four days ago, our Capitol building was attacked by domestic terrorists who were redirected from a political rally. In the capitol, the members of the House and the Senate were counting electoral votes for the presidential election. With the exception of some political theatre, this is a largely inconsequential event. The domestic terrorists overwhelmed the capitol police and threatened to violently overthrow our democracy. It was terrifying and we’re still trying to figure out what happened. Lawmakers were forced to go into hiding. The terrorists flew the Confederate flag within the building. Some lawmakers were exposed to the virus while they were sequestered. One terrorist and two officers are dead. It felt like something out of Keifer Sutherland’s 24 show, except the terrorists were angry Americans instead of jihadists.
The last four years of life in America have felt chaotic and this event was shocking even though it wasn’t surprising. There are less than two weeks left before the next president and congress take over. As our country determines the consequences of the 1/6/21 insurrection, 12 days seems like a very long time to wait for sanity and stability. It certainly exposed challenges and fragility that can’t be fixed anytime soon.
Over the last few months, we’ve celebrated birthdays, I’ve changed roles at work, we’ve gone to restaurants, we’ve found reliable babysitters, we purchased a new car, and next week Megan returns to work after a 6 year break. As the United States still suffers from the worst pandemic outcomes in the world, there is still a degree of normalcy that is returning. Our country is having a very bipolar recovery – the stock market is returning to pre-pandemic levels while unemployment hangs around 12%; we can’t leave our homes without a mask. I’m still working at home and this may not change until next February. I’m just happy to have a job.
Until last week, we felt safe and relatively unscathed. In India, my relatives have not been as lucky. My grandmother passed away last week; we’re not sure whether it was COVID related. However, my aunt passed away soon after with COVID and my uncles and close relatives have tested positive. They are all well-educated – doctors and engineers. We suspect that they trusted each other enough to let down their guard and it spread among them. We hope that they recover in the hospital soon. It’s scary to think that we may soon lose all our ties to India.
The Democratic National Convention was this week. It was a virtual four-day event capped off with a speech by Joe Biden. It was very good. Everyone has had to make big adjustments to maintain social distancing; I think they made great compromises and in some ways, improved upon the physical format for the convention. Surprisingly, there were moments that were more intimate. There were speakers who shared deeply personal stories. The Republican Convention is next week. I don’t know what to expect, or whether I have enough of an open mind to watch any part of it.
Election Day 2020 (November 3rd) is coming. Mail-in voting will be popular to but it has become a political issue in this stupid culture war. 5,000,000 are infected and 170,000 are dead. Instead of controlling a public health crisis, we’re fighting over whether wearing a mask is an invasion of constitutional rights. The country has had major protests around racial inequality. The last three years have wrecked our reputation around the world and our state department has lost most of its talent. We need to get people to vote!
Ten days ago, protests began in the United States over the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis. It was captured on video. For nine brutal minutes, George Floyd kept telling the officer he could not breathe with the officer’s knee on his neck. The officer never budged. It was chilling. While I am not African American, I do worry about any encounter with the police and I also worry about what could happen to my children in those scenarios. If the video represents the tip of the iceberg when it comes to racism, those fears are not unfounded. Not all police officers are racist, and not all protestors are peaceful. There has been looting in several major cities.
It’s also incredible that these protests are happening during the COVID-19 crisis. Over 100,000 people have died so far. The protests put people in close quarters with each other and the police have responded with force. Recently, the military was deployed to tear gas peaceful protestors so that the White House could have a photo op in front of a church. I’m shocked that so many people think that police brutality and racism are a bigger problem than a pandemic. It’s possible that they are right.
Things are peaceful where we are. Police departments are working hand in hand with citizens to coordinate on safe marches in the city. A lot of people are furloughed or unemployed right now while we wait for the pandemic to die down. This might actually give people time to work together on societal change and public policies. For people who are working, many are learning how to be effective at their jobs while working remotely. I am certainly surprised at how efficient I can be without a commute while working in my basement. It’s nice to have more family time and watch my kids grow up. However, I think we are all eager to return to life as normal without social distancing and isolation.
The Koorse family is one week into a self-quarantine due to the COVID-19 public health crisis. 10 days ago, life was normal. We knew there were COVID-19 cases in the United States and that it was wrecking havoc in Italy and China. However, we felt safe and secure. Since then, the reality of the crisis has really hit us hard. The CDC has recommended social distancing and staying at home. People are stocking up on goods and hospitals are running out of medical supplies to protect nurses and doctors on the front lines. The stock market has dropped by a third and all businesses have ground to a halt. It isn’t clear when the economy will start back up again. If Italy is guidance for what comes next in the US, then this crisis is just beginning.
It has impacted our family in many ways. I have to work remotely. Daycares and schools have closed up, so Megan and I spend more time keeping Dahlia engaged. My parents went to India to help with my grandmother before the virus was a pandemic; they are now stuck there with no clear approach to getting home since flights are being cancelled and countries are closing borders. My in-laws have several rental properties; they’re not clear when/if their renters will pay rent. The illness targets people who are elderly which leaves our parents and grandparents especially vulnerable. Megan’s friends who are nurses are having a hard time keeping in touch because they are overwhelmed with work in this call to action. Our family takes walks twice a day to stay fit and get fresh air. Megan and I occasionally make grocery runs to get supplies. Leaving home feels more dangerous now since everyone is processing the pandemic in different ways. Some people act like nothing has changed and move in for handshakes. Some people wear medical masks and do not make eye contact.
It has been nice to get rid of the commute. I love having lunch with the family and watching Arin do new things every day. It’s amazing to see how much new technologies can deliver on a virtual office that feels more connected than co-location in shared spaces at work. I’m lucky to work in a company that prioritizes family over profit but it makes me feel sad for the explosion in unemployment that is coming. I knew that my wife is the true MVP of our family in raising our kids. Being home, I have more visibility into the multitudes of roles this requires – being a good role model, an amazing project manager, and a patient teacher. Instead of shutting down screen time, we’ve found better tools to help Dahlia learn. She uses Khan Academy for kids on her tablet to learn about counting and reading.
The community also provides many reasons to be optimistic. Artists and instructors have started up online sessions where families can listen to music and practice yoga. Local restaurants have switched to delivery pick up. Even if this is the new normal, no one is giving up. We are all in this crisis together. We’ll find new ways to cope and this too will pass.
A year ago, the Koorse family was hanging on by a thread. We had just had baby Arin. My workplace was awesome enough to grant me paternity leave and we had come to Florida to spend our first months with our son in a sunny climate instead of the brutal cold of Maryland. However, the first few months with a baby are challenging – even if you’ve been through it before and you think you know what to expect. The entire family was feeling sick, the baby was colic, and his big sister had no idea what was going on.
Fast forward one year. Dahlia, Arin, Megan, and I are partying on the beach in Cape Canaveral. We’re mostly healthy and we are all very happy. My son is cruising around on two legs and my daughter is swimming in pools and sharing her toys. While work-life balance was rough, we’ve made it through this crucial period for our family. Life is good.
I’ve been thinking about this blog very frequently recently. When I first set it up in 1998, I used it to win a business school representative election. In 2001, I started using it to communicate about my Peace Corps experience. In 2005, it became a forum for showing how challenging it can be to transition back to life in the United States after living abroad. In 2008, it became an infrequently updated collection of ideas about the non-profit world. In 2015, it was all about my first baby. In 2019, it’s been all about my second child. What is it about now?
I stay away from most social media. However, I am passionate about politics around the world and group dynamics. I do think I want a forum to express my opinions and collect feedback. 2020 is going to be about finding a new way to share my interests on the blog and to participate in the rich online communities that sponsor activities that align with my values.
Time passes so slowly if you are unaware of it and so quickly if you are aware of it. Marc Bolan
It’s been a long time since my last post on the blog. Dahlia is nearly four years old. Our son, Arin, was born in late November of last year. We purchased our home in Frederick, MD. We feel settled and we have a mortgage to prove it!
Megan and I have amazing siblings. Her brother Dave and my sister Sneha are our best friends. Dahlia and Arin are having a splendid start to their relationship! She held his hand during a difficult car ride today and he calmed down immediately. We know they will take care of each other regardless of where life takes them.
Two children is exponentially harder than one child. You have to master time management and also adjust your expectations on how long it will take to do anything. It’s a minor miracle when everything goes according to plan. I tell my teams at work that plans don’t reflect reality; they exist to help us make adjustments so that you can still achieve your goals. Parenting feels this way to me.
We’re in Florida for a family vacation. After a rough few months of work, I’ve sorely needed this time with my family. Our daughter is making gigantic leaps in terms of personality and comprehension.
She has an incredible sense of humor. Although she’s been sick for the last two nights and we haven’t been sleeping much, during the day she finds interesting ways to keep up our spirits. Yesterday, she walked around with her baby doll on her head. When she saw me, she would point at the doll, call it a “hat”, and then break down in giggles. When she was younger, I would do that with every piece of her clothing. I would stick it on my head, ask her if she liked my “hat”, and then laugh when she said no. She does this to me now, and it’s clearly the funniest joke I have ever shared with anyone.
She loves spending time in water. We’ve gotten her two pairs of decent boots because she loves to stomp in every puddle. She’s a natural in our condo pool in Florida and has no fear about jumping right in. I learned swimming when I was eight during a family trip to Cyprus. I wouldn’t be surprised if she would pick it up naturally over the next year.
She’s currently 20 months old. Outside of watching a few TV Shows when she’s been sick, we’ve stayed true to our goal of keeping her screen-free for two years. As the two year mark approaches, we’ll need to make a careful choice about how she approaches all the media consumption devices.
When we look back at 2016, we might consider it the year where political systems and democratic ideals faltered against the pressures of populism, intolerance, and class conflict. I should feel glad that it is over. However, it was easily one of the best years of my life! I made a successful transition to a new job in another state. We also got to experiences hundreds of unique experiences with our daughter, DJ.
Over the past few months, Dahlia’s personality is really starting to emerge. She is outgoing, creative, and fearless. That has encouraged us to take many trips to various farms and hikes. We’ve dressed her up as an owl for Halloween and found many, many toys to play with. We’ve read hundreds of kids books at home and in Story Time at our local libraries.
It’s not all positive though. She got a broken wrist after a short fall on some stairs because she was so aggressive with her climbing tactics; she spent most of December with a pink cast. Her first experience with Santa Claus was traumatic; she’s never cried so hard.
Right now, our family is with Jean Browe who is Dahlia Jean’s namesake and great grandmother. Christmas in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina is a lot warmer than our last few months in Frederick, Maryland. We’re having a terrific time at Brookgreen Gardens and we are eager for more adventures in 2017.