When the quarantine hit New York City, I quickly realized that my sons and I would be safer staying with family in the suburbs, rather than home with my physician husband. Now, like many families with one parent in healthcare, we don’t know when we’ll be reunited.

Julia Edelstein with her sons
Credit: Courtesy of Julia Edelstein

When the coronavirus first arrived in New York City, life changed just a little bit each day—an extra mask or two glimpsed on the subway, one child absent from kindergarten. And then all at once, the day-to-day existence of my family was unrecognizable. I am the editor-in-chief of Parents magazine and our office closed. My two boys saw their schools close as well. I went from commuting two hours a day, sitting in crowded meetings, and grabbing lunch in the office cafeteria to barely leaving our apartment, fearful of what lay in store not just in the supermarkets and bustling parks, but in the hallways and elevators of our 40-story apartment building. Like many working parents these days, I cared for my children—Joey, 5, and Gabriel, 3—all day, then logged onto my computer to edit Parents magazine and manage my team late into the night. Through all of this, their father (my husband) woke up, got dressed, and went to work at one of New York City’s largest hospitals. He is a psychiatrist who treats medically ill patients who have mental health complications, and his daily rounds take him to many different floors. By mid-March, anxiety in his hospital was high, as a face mask shortage loomed.

In the evenings, my family cuddled on the couch and held each other close, grateful for connection in a surreal time. But soon we had to face facts: This kind of close contact was not safe. If we continued to live in the same tight quarters, my husband would inevitably put our whole family at risk. We began to worry about how we would care for our small children if one or both of us developed COVID-19. I have inflammatory bowel disease, and when I catch a virus, I’m often hit hard. A little over a year ago, I developed an upper respiratory infection that turned into a serious case of pneumonia and landed me in the hospital.

My father called daily asking me and the kids to join him in the suburbs, where he still lives in the big house where I grew up. He's in his 70s, and my only living parent—and the fragility of his health worried me to my core. But my husband was scheduled to work a shift in the emergency room the next night, where exposure to the virus was even more likely. Once he brought those germs home, my family’s invitation to Grandpa’s house—where my sister and her family were also staying during the crisis—would be revoked.

We must have gone back and forth on what to do 30 times in the hour before I tearfully packed our bags. I knew the boys would feel better with a backyard and that my stress level would improve in a true quarantine. But our kids had never gone more than a few days without their dad, and I feared for my own father’s health. There were no good options, and so we chose what we considered to be the lesser evil. Sharing the plan with the boys was hard. They were excited to leave the city, but they didn’t quite understand why Daddy couldn’t come too.

We’ve been apart for three weeks now, and we all remain healthy. The boys miss their dad a lot. I see it manifesting in different ways. My older son is growing up before my eyes. He is showing self-initiative in ways he never did before, because I’m stretched thin and can’t be in five places at once. My little one sometimes walks around the house looking for his dad and asking where he is. He often wakes up flustered in the middle of the night and is emotional when he “Zooms” with his nursery school. But generally, they are happy kids, running in the backyard and dancing and singing in the kitchen. Both boys come to me for hugs and cuddles all day long, and I’m happy to be their human pillow, even if I’ve lost all sense of personal space.

Managing full-time parenting and full-time work is undoubtedly stressful, chaotic, and tiring, but I feel lucky to have a job that I love, healthy kids, family to help me, and a place to stay outside of New York. Without question, the situation is infinitely harder for my husband, and for all of the health care workers risking their lives and missing their families.

In the time since I left New York City, my husband’s hospital has become almost entirely dedicated to COVID-19 patients. His department is being trained for deployment into urgent care, emergency room, and critical care setting, and we are currently awaiting his assignment. He is eager to make a difference, but our anxiety runs high.

Still, we're trying to be positive. FaceTime has been our lifeline: My husband joins us virtually for bedtime each night. He plays virtual Uno with my son and has even read him whole chapters of Harry Potter aloud. My biggest daily challenge is when my thoughts turn to the weeks and months ahead. I’m in the midst of editing the June issue of Parents and I’m trying to envision a happy summer for families across the country—and a Father’s Day where my own nuclear family is together. But the truth is, I don’t know what the next few months will bring.

What I do know for certain is that when the world starts moving again, I will reenter it as a different person with different priorities. I have slowed down and taken the time to truly appreciate the profound privilege of being with my family. I know that life will never be quite the same after this—and maybe that’s not all bad. In the meantime, I’ll be here with my boys and my laptop, taking this hour by hour.

Editor's Note: While social distancing and following your state's shelter in place orders are crucial to flatten the curve of coronavirus infections across the country, many families are unable to remain safely at home if their family includes essential workers, especially health care workers on the frontlines. If you are unable to safely shelter at home, traveling to a safe home is deemed essential travel. However, you and your household members should quarantine for 14 days upon arrival and minimize contact with others. For more information on safely quarantining in a shared house, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website.