Douglas A. Boneparth is a Westfield resident and Founder of Bone Fide Wealth, LLC, a boutique wealth management firm in New York City, and co-author of The Millennial Money Fix. Contact Douglas to learn how he’s not your parent’s financial advisor.
In our kitchen, looming over all of us, is a whiteboard that reads, “House Rules for Staycation 2020.” It lists the following:
- Mail stays up front. Packages to the back. Boxes outside.
- Wash your hands before all food preparation and meals. Any time returning home.
- Clean phones twice per day. Other tech often.
- Disinfect common surfaces every other day.
- Change towels every three days.
- Clean the house once per week.
- No blankets in the kitchen or on the floor.
- Eat. Everything. Waste. Nothing.
- Drink half your body weight in ounces of water.
- Shower daily. Wash your hair if in public places.
- BE NICE. If you can’t be nice, take a break outside.
- NO TOUCHING YOUR FACE!
The other night, at the end of her bedtime routine, Hazel, our 4-year-old, was visibly upset. Just before lights out, she confided to her mother that she wished for the whiteboard to be erased. The two then cried it out together, allowing themselves to grieve for the way things used to be before the coronavirus.
I find it interesting that, just a few weeks ago, I could see us getting back to a version of our *normal*, everyday lives. But after being home for more than six weeks, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to understand how we will return to the way things were. With each passing day, the challenge becomes greater as my disappointment grows larger. I’m getting awfully tired of people asking, “When will we reopen?” as they desperately search for someone to give them the answer. At the same time, I feel their pain as we all wish for better days to be right around the corner.
Since the time quarantine started, I’ve lowered my expectations for reopening. While there are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic right now, the lowering of my expectations is more about managing disappointment than it is any negativity. I can’t imagine having to Hazel that summer camp might happen, only to later tell her it’s been canceled. My wife and I don’t have the time or energy to plan around a potential reopening just to learn we’re not quite ready yet. In some strange way, it’s made dealing with the current situation almost easier than preparing for whatever comes next.
This only further suggests how difficult it will be to return to *normal*. As creatures of habit, the more we deprogram ourselves from the way things were, the more we program ourselves the way things are. In order to get back to something that resembles *normal*, we must first gain a level of trust that allows us to confidently take part in the things we used to do like have dinner with friends, take face-to-face meetings and send our children back to school. Unfortunately, trust isn’t formed overnight, which is precisely why I’ve curbed my enthusiasm about reopening sooner than later.
We will get to a point where trust is restored, but I wholeheartedly doubt it will be because someone said it should be. Rebuilding trust will surely be centered around testing data, which is painfully lacking, but it also starts with gathering in small groups of family members and close friends. From there, it grows to activities like dining out and shopping at local stores. Finally, it proliferates to filling office buildings with workers and sporting venues with fans. We must experience each of these exercises in trust before we can say we’re truly open for business.
In early March, my wife told me how big of a backyard rager she was going to throw herself for her 35th birthday in the late summer. She knows, as well as I do, that her big birthday bash will likely be drinks on the patio with a few select friends. That’s more than three months from now! Are we really expecting to ride even half packed trains to work if we’re unable to get together with our friends and celebrate birthdays? Hardly. So it doesn’t matter what anyone says we can do, or how much better the data looks, if we can’t restore trust.
When I think about all the steps we need to take to get to that point, it’s almost impossible to pinpoint when they will, and can, take place. It’s why I set my expectations the way I have because it’s too easy to think things will just automatically get better when I can pretty much guarantee you they won’t. I much rather lower my expectations in order to avoid the type of disappointment that sets you back mentally. And if we get there sooner, I’ll be delightfully surprised.
I hope my daughter is still too young for the pandemic to give her enough of a comparison to the way things were and the way things will be moving forward. We could be so lucky to possess some of the blissful ignorance that comes from a little child’s limited capacity to remember. With any luck, this time in her life and the whiteboard in the kitchen will become nothing more than a faded childhood memory associated with all the time she got to spend with her mommy, daddy, baby sister, grandma and Disney+.