When Jennifer Kappes moved to Italy with her family 10 months ago, she didn’t think she’d be spending her 35th birthday in quarantine.
She’s a Saint Patty’s Day baby after all, so being a little more festive is kind of her thing.
No one in her family has contracted coronavirus — also known as COVID-19 — but that doesn’t matter. Italian officials want people to stay home. You need a permission slip to go out. If you’re caught without one, you get a fine and up to three months in jail.
This year for her birthday, she woke up and had breakfast, opened some presents that arrived weeks earlier, and worked out. She wrapped the day up with dinner at home and a bonfire out in her backyard — complete with s’mores.
Not a totally bad birthday, but a different one, nonetheless. Her husband, Jason, a NATO officer, still goes to work at Naval Air Station Sigonella. He gets his temperature checked before entering base and has had half days the last week or so.
“It’s just weird,” says Jennifer. “It’s so surreal.”
Below, Jennifer shares her insights into what coronavirus quarantine life is like, how her family is coping, and what you actually need other than 48-packs of toilet paper.
What’s life been like since you started quarantine?
March 10 was our first day in lockdown. It feels like we’re in a movie. Out in town [compared to on base] we have way bigger houses, but we’re isolated more because everyone has their own personal gate.
We have a big house so I think that’s helping the situation. It’s 4,500 square-feet. It’s three levels. We have a gym. We have a workout space so we can get away and get that time, so I think that’s helping me. The people on base can at least poke their heads out and see people.
Italy requires permission slips to leave the house. What was it like being out?
Everybody is so calm. It’s not like how the Americans are doing it.
Our prime minister offered permission slips that have to be printed out. If you don’t have a printer and get stopped by local police, you would have to stop and fill it out there. Jason [my husband] printed a bunch at work. You have to have one wherever you go and it has a different date every time.
After five days of quarantine, they’ve started taking temps. When I went out, there were about 15 people in the store. We had to stay one meter away — which is three feet — away from each other. Everyone had masks on. I didn’t have one. No one was looking at me weird. In real life, everyone is like, “Buongiorno!” Everyone’s kissing and hugging. Now, no one is hugging. Everyone is still civil and calm, though.
Nothing’s out of stock. It’s fully stocked. We use bidets here. No one is using a 48-pack of toilet paper. They buy a few things at a time.
Is there anything you wish you would have purchased before lockdown?
I wish since I have kids that I would have stocked up on craft stuff. Easter stuff is starting to come out, now I don’t have stuff for Easter baskets. We did buy some pasta, pasta sauce, and canned goods. We can go to the store and get fresh everything. We haven’t gotten to that point [like America’s short supply] and our whole country is on lockdown.
What items are you finding are actually really useful in quarantine? What should people think about purchasing during these times?
Stuff that you think your kids will need (tape, glue, white paper, construction paper, crayons, etc.) It’s the little tiny things you’re not thinking of for crafts. Painter’s tape and washi tape are also great for games for kids.
Other items to consider getting:
- Bubble bath
- Birthday supplies
- Coins/small bills
- Feminine hygiene products
- Canned goods
- Trash bags
- Pet products
- Laundry detergent
- Home projects materials
Your thoughts on hand soap vs. sanitizer?
If we’re in our house, we’re going to use soap. I don’t know why people are freaking out about hand sanitizer. If you’re quarantined in your house, use soap. Stop the madness on that.
How old are your kids and how are they doing with this?
Nate is 7 and Morgan is 4. I think they’re fine. They love to be home. They’re getting more TV time. We do homework every day with them. It’s a relaxed schedule but they do still have a structured schedule. Most of the time I have us get dressed and not stay in pajamas all day. Every few days we’ll have a PJ day.
You created a Facebook group for military spouses at Naval Air Station Sigonella. You’ve now extended it to others and called it Staying Sane Together. Why did you create the group?
That was day two of quarantine. I did it because I am an extrovert. I need people. Being so far away from family, I knew I wasn’t going to be alone in this. I knew it was going to be worse before it was better. I had originally just done it for people at Sigonella. But then I started seeing people panicking in America and I said, “They need it more than us and they aren’t even on lockdown.”
In just one week, 100 members joined. What’s your hope for what members will get out of it?
I think it’s just a space for people to come and be positive and show support in this together and not freak out. It really was for me because I needed it for myself. It is open to everyone.
At first, I was just doing it for the military spouses but I opened it up so now it’s civilian and military. It’s funny because I’ve seen some memes about all this like, “Plans have changed? You don’t know what’s going to happen? Welcome to military life.
Why do you think the Italians are so calm with the outbreak?
The mentality is so different. Italians don’t follow rules that well. The driving is insane. They’re very touchy-feely. They love so much that I think they just know and have the mentality that we need to do this as a community and not panic is ingrained in them. There is so much love.
Americans are very self centered. No one really has that close-knit community besides the military. I think military spouses will do slightly better [during this pandemic] and the Italians are doing better because they know if they don’t come together in this, it will fall apart.
What advice do you have for military families experiencing this overwhelm?
It’s hard because it’s so unknown and we haven’t seen it in this lifetime. Patience is going to be huge. My advice is to take it one day at a time. Get off social media. I think if you take a breath and go do something with your family and give yourself some grace, it’s all still gonna be here. You just need to calm it down.
And, this is huge: Keep your sense of humor.
What’s been the most surprising thing you’ve witnessed during this coronavirus pandemic?
I’ve seen some good and bad. But I think we’ll start to see some more good. I think people are panicking but eventually it will bring us closer together once they really see we need to do this as a team instead of being so selfish.
I feel like honestly I’m glad I’m quarantined in Italy right now — as bad as that sounds. I’m witnessing this from across the world and Italians are handling it better.
I hope that they can take the advice and see the calmness of it and just know that if we can work together and do the necessary measures that we can stop the spread and find answers and get out of the trenches and move on.
As the U.S. begins to require mandatory curfews and self quarantines, what tips do you have for individuals facing the same situation you’re currently in?
I recommend not trying to rebel and go against what everyone is saying. I see through social media people are still going out and saying, “I’m not stopping my life for this” because it’s basically inconveniencing them. Just do it so we can get it over with.
Again, the humor, workout at home, have some lazy days, and have some structured days. Try to keep a lax schedule.
Be an audience for your kids. The kids are watching you. They’re going to remember this. This is going to be a huge chunk of their childhood. They’re going to remember in 2020 when we were stuck in the house. It’s okay to have those bad days, just like in “normal life” but reassure them that this is going to be okay and just do what you gotta do.
Your best advice?
Take one day at a time.
If you’re self quarantining or doing it under the direction of your local government, how are you staying busy? Let us know in the comments below!