Life moved at a very different pace when I was growing up in Silicon Valley in the 1980s. Days languished on — life was not hurried. I walked to and from my local public elementary school, and after school there were no activities to rush to. I don’t even remember getting into our car on a weekday. Perhaps the only rush was to finish our paltry homework, so that we could run out to find other kids on our street riding their bikes or roller skating, drawing hopscotch, etc.
My best friend lived four houses down from our’s, and our new next door neighbor had two girls around my age and my and my sister’s, so we all became fast friends. I didn’t have their phone numbers — in the off chance that they weren’t already out on the street playing, I would knock on their door and ask the age old question, “Can (name of friend) come out and play?” Rarely was I met with a no.
My father was in the nascent stages of his own start-up — something that wasn’t very common in that era. I remember trying to explain to my friends that my dad worked for himself, and was met with confused frowns. “So … he doesn’t work?” My father came upon some money when the previous company where he was working was acquired. Rather than joining the new company, he decided to cash out and start something of his own. The $96k he made would be enough to keep our family of four (and mortgage) afloat for a couple of years.
I still remember the office my parents built for him in the garage. A few months later, the office lay abandoned, as the oppressive summer heat came in, and the lack of ventilation became unbearable. His office was moved to my little sister’s bedroom, which was more of a storage room for her stuff anyway, since she slept in my parents bed (“co-sleeping” was a term we never heard of in the 1980’s).
Money was tight — there was no frivolous spending, or wastage of any sort. My mother made home-cooked (predominantly Indian) meals — 20 meals a week. The one exception was ordering pizza on a Friday night — and what a treat it was! Little Caesars (which used to be called Piggie’s Pizza, for you old timers out here) had a great 2 for 1 deal, pick-up only.
The concept of a pick-up only restaurant itself was revolutionary. What kind of restaurant didn’t allow their customers to eat there? (Answer: all of them, circa COVID19) I remember looking forward to the drive to pick up the pizza — how the appetizing aroma of melted cheese and tomato sauce would fill the car, and how our stomachs would rumble and palates salivate on the short 6 minute ride home.
And traffic. Or, shall I say, the lack thereof. Evergreen (southeast San Jose) to Saratoga during rush hour would take 20 minutes. It felt like forever. Now, that same distance could take up to 1 hour 45 minutes, depending on the time of the day.
So there we were, all four of us at home, except for the 6 hours a day that I went to school. We may have been short on money, but there was no shortage of time. We cooked, cleaned, ate, played, grew vegetables and flowers, and all our friends were within a ten-minute walk of our home. When summer came around, we had even more free time.
Cut to the year 2020.
Every year, for the past three years, my husband and I draw out an elaborate spreadsheet for the 10 weeks of summer. I run an Indian classical dance school and teach my own summer camps, and so we meticulously detail out which weeks I will teach, find camps that fit within a matching location/schedule (hoping that our son will like those choices), and figure out which weeks will be a “break” so that summer actually feels like vacation. Additionally, we try to have one week which will be our family vacation where none of us are in work or school. One week.
This summer, my son will experience a summer similar to my childhood summers — no summer camps, no planned activities, no plans. Where our resources are limited, but in exchange, we have time. A summer without air travel, where we will hardly even get into the car — but will go for daily long walks after 7pm when the harsh summer sun cools down and finally it becomes bearable to be outside. Perhaps, we will even have children play in the streets — wearing masks and being constantly reminded to keep a distance and wash their hands.
We take it one day at a time, and remember that this, too, shall pass. Until then, may we find love, joy, and revel in the luxury of time that we have with our loved ones — whether they are in the same home as us, or a screen away. And perhaps, when we return to “normal,” we bring with us some of the good that shelter-in-place has to offer.
Antara Bhardwaj is a Kathak artist and filmmaker based in Mountain View, California. She lives with her husband and son, and runs a dance company and school by the name of Antara Asthaayi Dance, where you can follow her on Facebook and Instagram.