We are well into Corona time and that means that we’ve all gotten used to preparing to not go out into crowded spaces, like grocery stores, for…well, as long as possible. For some of us, the strictness of this has lightened up. For others, like me, we remain in quasi-isolation, keeping to our family units and homes as much as possible. In some places, isolation is just as established as it was in April with no end in sight.
But I’ve actually taken to isolation with an enthusiasm that surprised me. The desire to keep my family away from harm has turned me into an enthusiastic Prepper.
I should say that I am normally the least neurotic person I know when it comes to health issues…or even the news. I know everything that is happening to my Boston Red Sox baseball team, but that’s about as far as it goes. But this virus has me as worried as a guy like me can be, mostly because I’m a father.
It’s not that I actually think that I, or my immediate family, would be in mortal danger if we were to get Coronavirus. We are not in the high danger constituency and we live in a country (Slovenia) which has had very few cases (and which was the first country in the world to declare the pandemic . But I’m scared of making my family scared. If I get a virus, any old virus, and am in bed for a few days (which is normal), they are going to be freaking out and wondering “what-if.” That’s what I want to avoid. It’s why I all but stopped traveling abroad in 2015, when there was the terrorism scare. I have never actually considered that I would fall victim, and I think that the last thing you want to do is let terrorists “win” by changing your life because of their scaredy-cat threats. No, I almost completely stopped traveling abroad because I didn’t want my family to be scared, to “what-if,” until I got home.
So, I’m pinching myself now for taking measures that feel overly cinematic, illogical, and at the same time appropriate and adult. You might have heard of a movement, particularly popular in gun-toting American states, called “prepping.” Preppers proudly prepare themselves for some “inevitable” apocalypse. Civil war, terrorist attack, nuclear incident, zombie uprising…or pandemic. We’ve all seen the movies: The Road, Bird Box, A Quiet Place, Cloverfield. Movies about global disaster and the few, patchy survivors who have to steal from pharmacies and grocery stores, while evading death, to gather supplies and keep themselves alive. This doesn’t feel like a First World, 21st century possibility. Until it does.
You don’t have to be a hardcore Prepper to be prepping. You don’t need a bomb shelter built beneath your house with its own generator, a rack of shotguns, an independent filtration system and video surveillance (though you might want to think about!) But let me ask you this. Does your pantry contain more than, say, 3 kg of rice? Another 3 kg of dried pasta? And do you, by any chance, own one of those really cool combination radios, flashlights and electrical rechargers that can be filled by plug or solar power or hand crank? Yeah, I just ordered one. I was even looking at the LifeStraw, the portable system that allows you to filter water and make it drinkable without an apparatus, until I realized that no, we would not be fleeing our home to survive in the mountains for the next few months. I did get a set of those N95-style masks, the only ones that keep out Coronavirus. I smirked as I saw that the prices for masks that were normally less than $10 each had shot up to over $100. The world smells a profit (I found them for $7! Ha!) I also caught myself counting how many jars of sauerkraut are in my pantry, and ordering canned peaches, in case we need a source of vitamins for the long, nuclear winter ahead in which we will be unable to leave our homes for…
Oh, wait, am I catastrophizing? That’s not me, but here I am, sort of half doing it. I feel silly, over-the-top, too filmic. I try to stop myself. But then I catch myself ordering 5 extra kg of rice because, hey, we’ll eat it anyway. Rice is delicious!
Now, a few months into Corona Time, the immediacy of nervousness has receded into a new (hopefully temporary) normal. From March through May I ordered groceries online (even staying up into the small hours, repeatedly trying to log into a supermarket delivery website that was otherwise overflooded and crashing). Now I venture out, masked and gloved, to get groceries. The sense of battening down the hatches and never leaving home for months at a time has lessened (at least, with regard to the virus—looking at the news in the US, it seems there are other reasons to remain at home). So I remain, for the time being, in semi-isolation. We’ve seen some friends, but always outside and at least two meters apart.
I’m far more prep-conscious because of my kids. A pair of daughters, age 5 and 6, will now be home from school as Slovenia, where I’ve lived for more than a decade, has closed schools for at least two weeks. Do we have enough to feed them? Will they get enough vitamin C? Can I convince them to eat gratuitous amounts of sauerkraut? I wouldn’t be worried if it were just me and the Mrs., but I’ve become hyperconscious of doing what a real man does—taking care of my family. So I just ran out again today, to pick up a crate of apples and another of oranges. Because, well, I want my family to not just survive—of course we will—but to think of this as a chance to buckle down and be together. It can feel like a treat, as long as no one is sick, like camping at home. Most of all, I want them not to be scared, and so I’ve stocked up on groceries to stock up on normalcy.
Hopefully, Coronavirus will have passed by the time I run out of jars of sauerkraut. Then my insta-prepper approach might feel, in retrospect, unnecessary, gratuitous, maybe even a bit childish. But if it does not pass before my supplies dwindle…then I’ll be glad for the extra jar of sauerkraut.
Dr Noah Charney is a best-selling author, professor and father of two. His latest project is a limited-edition parenting book + app trending on Kickstarter.