Editor’s Note: Joe Bardi — writer, editor, musician, husband, father — has always been a busy man. But until recently it had been up to his wife, freelance writer/photographer and frequent dRTB contributor Heidi Kurpiela, to handle the bulk of weekday parenting chores, because she could work from home and he had an office job. Then the pandemic hit. The following post is the eighth installment in “Quarantine Diaries,” a series about the double whammy of suddenly being both unemployed and a 24-hour stay-at-home dad. Read the first seven installments starting here.
More than the virus worry, economic anxiety and good old-fashioned existential dread that the Corona Crisis has dredged up, it’s the mind-numbing boredom that I find to be the most debilitating aspect of our current predicament. Every day unspools largely the same: sun up, kids scream, try for schoolwork, give up in frustration, go outside, come back in, lunch, check unemployment status (still nothing), back outside, random art project, dinner, Simpsons episodes, bath time, pre-bed argument, kids to bed. If that sounds like meaningful structure I applaud you.
We have our moments of joy. Example: This week, we splashed around in an inflatable pool I nabbed on Amazon — a solid daily diversion. But we’ve also replaced one daily grind with another. The kids going back to school would be a vast upgrade, of course, but that’s not happening before the fall at the earliest. Summer camps have already been cancelled through June, and we’re not holding out much hope for July. Heidi and I are staring down the barrel of a long, hot, stressful summer. How do we survive?
It turns out my wife and I have chosen vastly different (yet sort-of similar) tacks to putting our minds right, de-stressing, and maintaining a sense of self-worth in the face of unending attacks by sub-10-year-olds: Heidi does home improvement and I make music.
My wife is a superhero. I know, everyone’s wife is a superhero, but not like my wife. A short list of home improvement projects Heidi has tackled during our quarantine:
• Built a vegetable garden from scratch with Chip.
• Built a kid’s sandbox out of scraps of wood she procured through dumpster-diving and by sweet-talking the dudes working on my neighbor’s home addition.
• That was the second sandbox! She was unhappy with the first, tore it apart, and rebuilt it at twice the size.
• Bolted shutters onto every front window.
• Built and installed planter boxes under those same windows.
• Removed, repainted and reinstalled our front storm door (which is now broken and swings wildly, but omelet/eggs, people!).
• Painted, then repainted, a support column in front of the house to match the broken door.
• Completely ripped out an overgrown front flower bed — including removing an entire busted underground sprinkler system.
• Re-did said flower bed at twice the size, now including a 250-square-foot gravel patio, mulched area, a pallet of new plants, a wooden gangplank and other accoutrements. (Henry has been gnome shopping recently.)
• Constructed a makeshift outdoor shower, which itself is only Version 1.0 and slated for upgrade in the next week.
• Up next: Building a fence for the front flower bed out of discarded pallet wood.
I’m sure I’m leaving stuff out. The woman is a gardening Goliath. She can smell discarded scrap wood from four blocks away. For her birthday in April we bought her a bunch of saws and a tool box, and I thought she might cry. She’s asked for big-ass watering cans for Mother’s Day. Is this chick a keeper or what?
One final point that is key for understanding how amazing Heidi’s home improvement drive is: Most of these projects were completed between the hours of 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. Yes, I said 3 a.m. We’ve discussed it, and if Heidi is still digging up flower beds in the middle of the night when she’s 80 it will make her a weird old lady. But for now she’s working around the kids’ schedule, and we’re sticking with labels like “industrious” and “hard-working.” I did say “for now.”
What am I doing while my wife rebuilds the house by hand from the ground up? I’m making music in the living room! Yes, I am aware of how this “looks.” My wife, covered in filth, sawing boards in the front yard at 1 a.m.; me in comfy shorts, sitting on the living room couch, plush headphones covering my ears as I tweak a guitar solo. It’s probably grounds for divorce in more old-fashioned parts of the country. I told you she was a keeper.
Before Corona, my band Zerobabies was my main creative outlet. The Babies practiced once a week, and played our original, instrumental hard rock at local haunts like The St. Pete Side Lot and Green Bench Brewery. (We had high hopes on making our Cage Brewing debut this year, as well. Damn you, Covid-19!) Our last show was March 7 at the Side Lot, and since then we’ve all been in social isolation. There’s a band text thread, and a shared Google Drive folder for sharing demos. We check in constantly, but boy do I miss seeing the fellas.
When I first landed at home with nothing to do I assumed I’d play guitar all the time, but for the first three weeks or so not a note. Somewhere in there Zerobabies keyboard-player extraordinaire Mike Pave shared a demo he’d made that included sections for other band members to add something. I layered a few tracks of guitar onto it using Apple’s Garageband and sent it back. In the process I realized that though I’ve used Garageband for years, I never really understood it. Now seemed like a good time to rectify that.
What started as an exploration of how to record from home has turned into an EP of music. I have five full songs (totaling about 20 minutes) in the can, and they are (dare I say it) quite good! Each one took hours upon hours to produce, with my mixing found beats and spoken word clips with my own guitar-playing and sounds I recorded. We hooked up Henry’s electronic drum kit to the computer yesterday, and I’m now working with sampled beats provided by my son. The specialness of the moment did not go unnoticed.
My wife loves it when I make music, and has told me so in no uncertain terms. For this I am eternally grateful. Music has always been a side pursuit for me, something to be done in my off hours and just for fun. That my wife not only accepts that it’s a part of me, but also embraces its intrinsic value as somehow on par with the back-breaking manual labor she’s pulling off in the yard, is the greatest gift she could give me as a partner.
Heidi and I aren’t operating on some false belief that our passion projects will translate into income once Corona subsides. She will not be going into landscape design; I won’t suddenly start selling commercial jingles or touring the world with my band. That said, we’ve both learned valuable lessons about what’s important to us as productive people, and what makes us happy. That starts with accepting each other, celebrating the other person’s passions, and offering encouragement, advice and support whenever and wherever you can.