I pretty much stopped watching the news more than a year ago. While I was pregnant, I suffered terrible nightmares and was stressed out by all the bad news on TV. I decided that everything I needed to know about current events could be found in The Economist and The Daily Show, which I read and watch devotedly. Even though the nightmares have long since ceased, I have not resumed watching the news – in fact, we do not even have cable. So I was living in blissful ignorance – playing with my son, making pizza dough for supper, and planning a playdate for tomorrow – when a well-timed “breaking news” update caught my attention.
Wait – back up. To be perfectly honest, my ignorance was not quite “blissful.” Having no income and spending 24/7 together the last sixteen days has put a bit of strain on me and my husband. He has his way of doing things during the week, a set of rules and routines for our son, and having me around has upended all of that. It also means that he rarely gets time alone, since even when the baby is napping, I’m still there. That said, we truly value family time and enjoy one another’s company, so we have both made an effort to limit plans that do not include each other.
Still, when one of his dad friends called yesterday to invite my husband and son for a playdate, I encouraged them to go and assured them I would be fine on my own. I took the opportunity to go to the gym for the first time in months. I was flipping through channels on the elliptical’s TV when I saw CNN’s “double doomsday clocks.” The one timer counting down to the debt ceiling that will be reached at midnight tonight, and the other marking the length of the federal government shutdown – 12 hours and 16 days, respectively.
Every time I see these “double doomsday clocks” I am reminded why I no longer watch the news. Even though the shutdown has had a profound effect on me personally – I am out of work, my family is without any income, the parks and museums around our house are all closed down, and we have no idea when our lives will return to normal – I still think the media’s coverage has been a bit ridiculous. I do not even want to imagine what the rest of the world thinks of the shutdown/debt ceiling circus. My own husband, whenever there’s an update about the political impasse, guffaws, “How is the United States a ‘First World’ nation if it can’t even manage its own finances?” I have no good answer.
But I digress. Politics of the shutdown and debt ceiling brinksmanship aside, what caught my attention at the gym this afternoon was a “breaking news” update reporting a deal had been struck. I watched the White House Press Secretary gloat and realized I may very well be going back to work tomorrow. Rather than relief that the shutdown is finally ending, I felt as if I had been doused with a bucket of cold water. In that moment, my heart ached for my husband and son, and I couldn’t get out of the gym fast enough. Back at home, I scooped my son up in my arms and held him so tight he gave up trying to squirm away and let me cuddle him. I told my husband the news, and he shared my sense of loss.
Of course, it will be good to get a paycheck again, and at least now my family can return to our “regular” routine. But in a country where we only get ten paid vacation days a year, I have had sixteen “stay-cation” days with my two favorite people, and I do not want this holiday to end. It’s like when you wake up on Saturday morning, excited for all the possibilities of the weekend, only to realize that it is already Sunday afternoon. There is still much on my “Shutdown To Do List” left undone. But I did not even attempt any of it today. I devoted this afternoon and evening to playing with my son and husband, with several teary moments as I thought of how much I will miss them tomorrow.
Now the Senate has passed the compromise bill, and it is only a matter of hours before the House passes it and the President signs it into law. I need to start gathering my things for work, packing my lunch, and ironing my suit. It feels surreal. The only thing I can liken it to is my return from maternity leave. I do not know what to expect when I get to the office tomorrow. I know I will be buried with work as soon as I walk in, and yet, I imagine my colleagues will also be suffering a kind of post-shutdown hangover. It has been a bizarre few weeks. At times, I have felt eager for the uncertainty to end. Now that the end is near, I would give anything for another week of political bickering.