Saturday Six #22: Furlough Memories

Today is the one-year anniversary of my last day of work before “pandemic furlough.”

Because the funding for my salary relies heavily on tourism, and because tourism shut down last spring, our entire department was placed on furlough. Initially, we were supposed to be off for two months, but as the pandemic stretched on, the time was extended for another month. Tourism hasn’t exactly recovered, and frankly, I consider myself lucky to still be working.

Those weeks I was off work will always be a strange and special memory, a specific moment in time that will carry its own set of emotions. Some memories are good, and some are difficult, but it’s something we will likely not experience again. To remember that “unprecedented” season, I’d like to share a few snapshots from my furlough. Six, to be exact.

Unemployment Claims. Every week, I went through the process of calling the automated line and filing my claim. The most frustrating part was that I hadn’t worked here long enough, so I had to draw unemployment from our previous home state, and that took months to be approved. At one point, I was crying on the phone with my case worker because the money hadn’t come through, and we were literally one mortgage payment away from being completely broke. The payment was finally released on my birthday…two weeks after I returned to work. If we hadn’t received the stimulus check and the emergency SNAP benefits, we would have been MUCH worse off.

School Lunches. Three times a week, we picked up school breakfasts and lunches for all the kids. We’d come home and reheat the “hot” food in the oven while we sorted out everything else, lining it up on the counter. While the kids didn’t like everything we received, it was a godsend to have that food available (and also not have to play waitress every day). It was also a great reason to get out of the house, and many days, we took the lunches to a park to eat outside.

Our school lunch “haul” right before Memorial Day weekend, including Hope Packs from a local ministry.

Family Dinners and Pizza Parties. We used different platforms for video chatting to “have dinner” with lots of friends and family. We’d gather in the living room for a picnic, along with a laptop, and visit with friends over pizza. Or we’d bring the laptop into the dining room at eat at the same time as our family in Ohio. And honestly, living away from friends and relatives, we found ourselves asking why we hadn’t done this sooner!

Tea. I’ve always enjoyed tea, but I really developed a tea habit during furlough. Every day I drank Bengal Spice by Celestial Seasonings (a chai-inspired herbal tea) or Hot Cinnamon Spice by Harney & Sons. I also discovered how to make Bengal spice into iced tea, and how to add unsweetened vanilla almond milk to make an iced tea latte. A year later, my tea habit is still going strong, though I’m trying branch out into other varieties.

Daddy School. My husband took on the role of supervising the kids’ at-home education, haphazard as the instructions were from school, and he did a great job. The kids did all sorts of projects, like disaster timelines and art videos and counting all the spare change we could find. He even let me step in a few times and do music class, though I’m not sure how much they remember. My favorite part was the weekly “field trips” we took as a family: Dubai, Monticello, the Statue of Liberty, and lots more.

An 8-foot timeline of world natural disasters.

Tension. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, of course. About halfway into furlough, my husband had knee surgery, and once we were home together pretty much 24/7, tensions began to rise. Lockdown and furlough were a crucible for us, and it’s all still shaking out. I don’t imagine we were the only couple or family to experience this. When you take away all the fluff and the fun stuff, you’re left with the bare bones and the chance to really evaluate what you’ve got.

Even though there were infinite frustrations that came along with the pandemic, I’m still trying to look at those weeks as a gift in as many ways as I can. On top of these atmospheric memories, I finished a novel, walked off almost 25 pounds, and watched all six seasons of Downton Abbey for the first time.

It was a time of accomplishment, a time of togetherness (for better or worse), and a time I won’t soon forget.

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