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A Mother’s Reflection in Quarantine: An Extrovert’s Meditation on Isolation

isloation during cocid-19
@mariapiessis

An Extrovert Mother’s Meditation on Isolation

I need you.

I need you, and YOU and especially you over there, the one looking at your phone. (I need YOUR attention the most.)

My love language — sweet husband, dearest aloof client, the treasured friendly-faced clerk at Whole Foods — is…talking to you excitedly about, well, whatever. Let’s just say, if you’re behind me in line at Starbucks, you’ll have blurted out your crush and your mom issues before we’ve even ordered our flat whites. In other words, my worth as a person feels tied to my ability to be shiny in the room. Just try to resist me. (Try!)

So let’s just say 2020’s social distancing puts a damper on my style. It’s actually a form of torture for a person like me.

It’s so lonely to not be chatter-boxing to people in person (I have a house full of family, but they’re busy WFH or are under two years old and less appreciative of my conversation skills) and being lonely never feels good. Still to be robbed of being, well, in your face, is one thing (I guess I can deal with a bit of loneliness as I ride this out). But if that means that I’m robbed of what I count on as my main personality currency — my ability to command a room — I have a quarantine-related question: Can I deal with being…uninteresting?

Let me paint a fuller picture. I’m the kind of person who, if we’re walking down the street together, I’ll walk repeatedly into you as we talk. Not only that, but I also keep apologizing and am genuinely surprised at myself, each time I do it.

I’ve also been called, more than once (more than 100 times?) a serial interrupter. I genuinely have so very much to say based on JUST how interesting you are! I have even trained my impulse to interrupt you down by two-thirds, which is still perhaps once a minute. (I’m trying, OK?)

Better yet, don’t be surprised if you catch me mirroring your demeanor. I can’t stop myself, even if I try. If you’re somber, my voice drops an octave. If you’re excited, I will match the timbre and pace of your words until we match our tones in lockstep.

And though these things are annoying by themselves, I promise you they’re deployed in earnest. (You’ll know how open my heart is the more I stumble over your words to say with my words, “OMG, exactly! And what else happened?”) I promise you, hang out with me, and you’ll feel seen. I promise you that through the lens of my striding into my own spotlight, I really aim to use that light to see you better.

But back to this horrific global pandemic, when everything became terrible.

So far I’m one of the lucky ones in this crisis. I gave birth to my second child on February 9th, just a couple of short weeks before the quarantine began. I’d been holed up in the newborn bubble of my small apartment, already up all night and pacing, even before the entire globe was mandated to do the same.

Since my first child prepared me for what the fourth trimester held in store, this time I wasn’t upset by having to decline social invitations, or by the reality of a life spent entirely in sweatpants. When my first baby was born, I was similarly housebound — except back in ‘normal times,’ when you had a baby, the world would come to you!

My tendency to talk through every single thing I was feeling (with every single person I encountered) was completely intact after my daughter Colette’s birth. The visitors were non-stop! My inner extrovert was honestly even thriving since a new mom is expected to be the center of attention. Everyone that arrived had questions, and could bring with them the news from “the outside world,” which I was as breathless to receive as I was breathless to deliver my own “news.” (My ability to captivate an audience as I retold my birth story on repeat was a skill). It worked for me.

But zero visitors in our homes AT ALL is what we now face. It’s an anxious time, but since we’re all under the same isolation mandate, we global citizens find ourselves with some pixel-happy shared experiences. Raise your hand if you’re attempting to learn TikTok dances in your kitchen like a teenager (or if not, laughing at those who are but maybe shouldn’t be!). At the very least, we’re ALL using FaceTime and Zoom to video chat with everyone (LITERALLY EVERYONE!) we’ve ever met. We’re making “dates” with a zillion permutations of friends and family (and even co-workers, who we never thought we’d miss!) and clinking our heartfelt ‘cheers’ from phone to phone. We hold up our beverage (or our newborn!) to try to replace happy hours and hugs.

Doesn’t all that sound peachy? Shouldn’t I be thrilled that my virtual interactions, which used to be audio-only, now include an almost mandatory video component while we’re all hunkered down? Stand by for a brief rant.

FaceTime sucks. And it’s the worst for an extrovert like me.

FaceTime is awkward, and Zoom is even worse. One person is always late. Another person doesn’t know how to use it. Everyone feels nervous to be “on camera” and that nervousness alters their mood. Everyone accidentally talks over everyone else (Hey, at least it’s not just me!). I also always run out of things to say, which NEVER happens to me in person. I often miss my comedic timing on a video call, which of course I resent, since I LOVE to deliver a line.

So while video calls always feel stilted and awkward, FaceTiming in the Era of Corona is 100% worse. As we all sit within shouting distance of one another but forbidden to cross those imaginary lines, FaceTime sucks because the more I reach out to you hoping to connect, the more painfully obvious the barrier between us becomes. I just want to hang out with you, for real. I don’t even need my schtick; I’m okay with being uninteresting. I relinquish the need to walk my body into yours to make my point. I’m a lonely extrovert, yes, but I’m also a human. And I need a hug. (A real one!) So do you. And you. The whole world right now needs a hug.

The thing about extroverts though, is we typically aren’t afraid to be firestarters. Instigators, interrupters (duh) and conversation starters. In the same way that, in person, I might walk into you as we talk, forcing you to open up (or be trampled!), I could now, if I choose to, butt into your business, from afar, TO DO GOOD. I think #quarantinelife has shown me a new layer of my extroverted self, something beneath what I assumed was rooted in vanity. I think the truth is, this isn’t a quality I’ve always had, but instead a recent, COVID-crusted evolution.

I can — and therefore I will — use my unabashed interrupting skills to call neighbors at home without texting them first, and check in on healthcare worker friends where others might feel they’re intruding (I don’t care!).

I can connect people who need help to those who want to give it (since I’m always online with half an eye) and I can send 1,000 check-in texts per minute because when I’m on a roll and can’t be stopped. I can also reach out (using a normal, face-less phone call, please!) to offer an ear for a friend to rant to, after a job is lost or when a relative falls ill.

I’m still overstepping on bounds (yay! You know, with love) and I’m still getting to feel shiny. But now, I just might be lighting up the room using your glow instead of mine. It’s not just that I need you, it’s that we all need each other.

Art: Maria Piessis 

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