My Week as an Essential Worker
Updated: Oct 2, 2020
A week in the life of an essential worker.
May 29, 2020
Monday is Memorial Day.
Tuesday, May 26
The morning does not start out well. After a holiday weekend, neither of my kids is in the mood for “school.” Both refuse to participate in their Zoom calls. My husband and I alternately beg and threaten them, but nothing works. There are only two weeks of school left -- why can’t they just suck it up? Luckily, our au pair Niklas takes over their school day and my husband Enrique and I start our work days. Without Niklas, I would probably have to take a leave of absence from my job.
I work at home in the morning, interviewing a potential hire and writing an email newsletter to supporters. After lunch with the family, I open my inbox to discover an email from a funder requesting more details about a proposal for a program that has been turned upside down by COVID by end of day. That’s in 4 hours and I will be at a food distribution all afternoon. I spend the next hour frantically calling other people at the agency to figure out a plan of attack. This is not the first time the funder has given an impossibly short turn-around time for information.
I then head into work to help with a grocery distribution. It’s uncomfortably hot and we are out in the parking lot. I answer emails about the proposal in between checking in clients. Near the end of the distribution, one of my coworkers comes out with a pitcher of ice water and a stack of plastic cups for all the staff and volunteers who have been melting for the past few hours. I push my mask aside to drink. After the distribution, I return home and crunch the numbers that the funder is requesting. I finish just in the nick of time to help one of my kids get on a Zoom call with a tutor.
We go about our evening and the kids finally go to bed. I sit down to watch the Netflix series Pandemic and am mid-way through when my older son pops out of his room because he can’t sleep. I invite him to sit and watch the show with me, thinking he is old enough to handle it. He later tells me he was upset by watching the researchers stick the cotton swabs up the birds’ cloacas to test for flu viruses. Mom guilt alert.
Wednesday, May 27
I’m at home on Zoom meetings and phone calls for much of the day. Our management team is trying to figure out how to safely return to the office once Shelter-in-Place ends. Other calls revolve around how to present data to the community showing the scope of the work we are doing. I conduct another phone interview for a temporary rental case manager to help us through the still enormous list of clients awaiting rental assistance. After work, I help one of my sons with his Zoom piano lesson. We FaceTime with my parents, who want to know what to get my son for his upcoming ninth birthday. My mom is worried that gifts will take longer to ship and wants to get that Amazon order placed right away!
Thursday, May 28
I have been mentally preparing for this day for a while. We have been planning to give out $50 grocery store gift cards to our clients, but they haven’t been told. It’s a hot day. When I arrive at work, the line of clients is already down the block. We get set up and start checking people in. The first few clients are surprised and delighted to receive gift cards. “Thank you so much!” they say. It’s funny to be thanked for something that I didn’t provide. The gift cards were a donation from the Public Safety Foundation, which supports the local police department, among other causes. Word gets out as clients call their friends, and the line gets longer. People come from other cities, and while we still offer them food, we cannot distribute gift cards to them. We serve dozens more people than we would on an ordinary day and end up staying open an hour later than usual in the warm afternoon sun to do so.
I go home and decide I need a break, so I take the kids to the local skate park. My younger son skateboards like a professional even though he’s only six and my older son scoots around happily enough for a little while. I stay away from other kids using the park for fear that I might unwittingly transmit COVID picked up from a client. My kids don’t want to stay long because they are thirsty and I forgot to bring them water. Who knew kids could die of thirst in an hour? We return home and I work on data entry. It’s important to have an exact record of who received the gift cards today.
Since the weather warmed up, Thursday night has been barbecue night at my house. We eat our tasty meat and corn-on-the-cob, cooked by Niklas. Today’s the day to release the butterflies we have raised from caterpillars. Miraculously, we started with seven caterpillars and they all turned into butterflies! I’m sure there is a metaphor in there somewhere about how eventually everything will be okay, but I will skip it because butterfly metaphors are overdone. We celebrate the occasion with fancy butterfly-shaped chocolates I had ordered myself as a Mother’s Day gift.
Friday, May 29
I wake up to news that the country is basically on fire after protests stemming from George Floyd’s death. Let’s try that sentence again. I wake up to news that the country is basically on fire after protests stemming from George Floyd’s murder. I check on a friend who lives in Minnesota, blocks from the protests. She is scared, but fine.
I have an appointment this morning to get a COVID test done. I drive 20 minutes away -- I couldn’t find a closer site with available appointments -- but I don’t mind because I’m able to listen to an online writing class. I arrive at the site and they check my ID and appointment confirmation email, attaching the corresponding test kit to my windshield. I continue driving to the next zone where I self-administer the test. A man wearing scrubs uses a grabber claw to pick up my test kit and drop it in my car. He talks me through the directions and watches as I stick the extremely long cotton swab in first one nostril and then the other, telling me I need to insert it more deeply and twist it around. My eyes water and I am right on the border of uncomfortable and in pain. Any woman who has ever been to the gynecologist is familiar with this particular spot on the pain spectrum. As an essential worker, I’m supposed to get one of these tests done at least once a month. I choose not to think about that. It could be worse, at least the cotton swab doesn’t have to go where they stuck it up the poor birds!
I drive back home, volume cranked up on my writing class, a terrible sensation lingering in my sinuses. I work from home for a while and then go into the office to assist with another food distribution. Many of the clients inquire about gift cards, upset that they missed the distribution yesterday, but we have none to give today. I respond to emails from other clients, upset that we haven’t yet been able to help them out with a second month of rental assistance and may not be able to at all. I return home ready for the weekend. I eat sushi with my family -- a Friday night tradition. A friend texts me pictures of protests against police violence happening in our area. The freeway that I had driven on to get to the COVID test that morning is now shut down by protesters.
I think about what this week has been like for my Black friends. I’m disgusted by the racism and police brutality on full display in our country going all the way to the top. I wish there was something I could do, but I feel both powerless and already at full capacity helping disadvantaged people in my own community. There is one thing I will definitely be doing, and that is voting.