Monday, June 8, 2020

Inside the Skin

An unmasked man called me a sheep this morning as I waited in line at Trader Joe’s.  Believe me, I dished out some solid zingers later as I re-lived the conversation in my car on the way to my next errand. But, why would a short man with a mustache insult a masked gray-haired woman in a flannel shirt and flats for no reason?

I’d arrived at the parking lot at 7:50 AM to take advantage of senior shopping hours. Because of the store’s effort to reduce capacity to enable social distancing, a line had formed. It ended by a table occupied by two men drinking coffee outside Bagel Plus.  “Are you in line?” I asked. They shook their heads no, and I took my position 6’ beyond them.

One of the men said, “So.  What’s in Trader Joe’s that’s worth waiting for? You could cross the street to Shop Rite and walk right in.” He’d been pleasant, so I launched into my list of Trader Joe’s delicacies: shrimp burgers, dark chocolate covered peanut butter cups, frozen halibut, and mahi-mahi burgers, “heavenly when grilled!” I added. 

He nodded, satisfied, and said, “They have some specialty items then.” 

They were joined, at that point, by the short, rude man.  My shopping motives held apparent fascination for he, too, asked me the same question about waiting. His friend said, “She’s already explained. I’ll fill you in.”

“Sheep,” said the rude man, looking at me.

Startled, it took me a moment to process. “That’s an insult,” I said, though with question in my tone, for really, why would he bother?  The man shrugged and nodded. 

There are countless “I-should-have-saids” that would have been wise, calm, and cutting, and if anything similar happens again, my in-car rehearsal has now equipped me. But I am spoiled in being unaccustomed to fending off unkindness, and all I came up with on the spot was bland truth, “it’s not sheep-ish to stay healthy. “

After Trader Joe’s, I drove to Stop & Shop, still rankling, but not hurt.  Being called a sheep is the mildest of affronts, but the comment stayed with me.  Given the protests churning the country, I reflected, how would it feel to live with the routine threat of harsh words, racial slurs, injury, injustice, and death?  These based not on one’s actions but on something that was God’s decision alone.  When does that hurt, frustration, and anger erupt? 

- When, for eight minutes, Officer Derek Chauvin kneels on the neck of George Floyd, a black man who has done no harm. 

- When Ahmaud Arbery is hunted down and shot for jogging while black.           

- When plainclothes police burst into an apartment without knocking and fatally shoot Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT, eight times. 

- When cell phone technology permits video proof, and white people can no longer look away. 

Brute force. Intrusion with no knock. Rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse peaceful protesters. Have the First and Fourth Amendments been scrapped? Is the Constitution still law or just a list of suggestions? And when we love color and diversity in all else, in flowers, fabric, and our fellow creatures, why is it cause for suspicion in our own kind?

As streets worldwide boiled with protesters willing to risk Covid so their voices might be heard, I shopped for groceries.  While passing in aisles, masked shoppers were cordial, saying, “hello” or “excuse me” or “stay safe.” Thoughts of the rude man subsided as I sought corn meal, potatoes, butter, and birthday cards. 

My rounds complete, I wheeled my cart to check out. The cashier, an African American woman with a tumble of magenta curls, greeted me. Her mask hid her mouth, but her eyes were smiling. No one waited behind me, so our conversation was leisurely as she registered my selections, and I packed them in paper bags. We talked about the anguish of past weeks, and our hope that good would come of it.  She told me about her daughter, who’d been successfully treated for bone cancer when she was eight years old, and how grateful they both were to her doctors. She drew herself taller as she told me her daughter had wished to give back, and now, at 34, is a radiologist. 

Oh, the cashier was proud of her girl! She pulled out her phone to show me a picture of the two of them, and in the photo, I was able to see my cashier’s smile. In that moment, we were two moms bending over the phone, teary-eyed together at the thought of the torment of her child’s long-ago cancer and beaming (behind our masks) at today’s pride in her daughter’s path. 

When we parted, we were earnest in our wishes that each other stay healthy, and curved our arms in an air hug. Surely that encounter is the one more true? May the horror of Floyd’s death and the furor released shock us into connection with the people inside the skin.

Friday, May 1, 2020

COVID Question: What Is Okay?

“Is it okay if I sit in a chair?” 

“Omigod Casey! Of Course! Please! Sit!”

Our daughter had come by with a card and a plant to wish me happy birthday. Dave and I had greeted her from the door, and as was true the other time she visited during quarantine, she’d stopped in the yard, well clear of us.  This day, however, was rainy and cold.  It felt wrong to have my girl right in front of me, on my birthday, standing outside in the rain. “Don’t you think it would be okay if you came in? We’ve been really careful and so have you…” I wanted her to feel welcome, but under no pressure. 

Usually, routines and schedules comfortably disguise the fact that uncertainty is part of life. Now our cruel teacher, COVID, has arrived, without warning, no end points, many questions, and inadequate testsIn the absence of clarity, almost everything requires caution, even a visit from a daughter.

Casey was wearing a form-fitted mask over her nose and mouth. And while eyes are often called windows to the soul, recently I have found, through numerous masked interactions, that the rest of the face plays an essential supporting role. Smiles communicate themselves to the eyes somewhat, but not in full; “I’m smiling at you!” I’ve felt compelled to say to cashiers and those I encounter at the store. 

Through her years of involvement in theater, Casey is practiced in exaggerating facial expressions; her eyebrows alone can tell a story. But as she stood on our threshold that rainy day, I missed seeing the smile hidden under her mask. 

“This is so weird,” she said, and Lord, it is. All so weird.  

“Do you think it’s okay if I put my arm around you?” I asked.  I was pretty sure she’d say yes, but she has baby Eleanor at home, so we’re acutely conscious of the risk of infection. Twice, when two weeks had passed since the last grocery run, we planned a visit… and backed off.  But why wouldn’t that be okay? With both households in quarantine and plenty of hand-washing? The thing is, six-foot distancing would be impossible with the baby, and masks would be an invitation for curious little fingers; we’d have to feel comfortable about hugs and kisses. Tucker and Lisa and their kids live in Boston, so for now, seeing them is out. But Eleanor’s close by, and it’s tempting. 

Casey agreed to the arm hold, and so in a bold, break-out move, I gave her a one-armed… hm.  What was it?  Not a hug, not a squeeze, just an awkward gesture that one might give an acquaintance for a posed photo. What a departure from our usual full-bodied, I-Love-You hugs. 

We moved to the den where an end-of-April fire was blazing in the fireplace, and that’s when she asked if it was okay to sit. Again, Dave and I spluttered with invitations and assurances, the anomaly of it all sparking our over-abundance of “Sit! Yes!  Sit!  OMG, of course!  Sit!” 

Casey had groceries in the car so we knew the visit would be brief. Obviously, we also knew she’d been to the store.  Hmm.  I'd touched her coat… I better wash my hands.

Not wanting to convey even a whisper of concern, I rose without announcement, leaving Casey and Dave to chat. In the kitchen, I turned on the faucet, but kept the force low, hoping they wouldn’t hear it. I didn’t want my daughter to know I was washing my hands because I touched her.  

I returned to my seat and maybe ten minutes later, Casey said, her voice slightly muffled because of her mask, “Mom.  I'm thinking... you should wash your hands because you put your arm around me.” 

“Done,” I said without Guilt or Apology, my frequent emotional companions, but I couldn’t escape the sadness of the situation. 

It is easy for me to be grateful, to count my innumerable blessings. I am keenly aware of the contrast between my enviable state and the horrors and heroics facing others. Mostly, surprisingly, and perhaps shamefully too, I feel cheerful. But the reality comes in waves, sometimes fanned by Guilt and Apology brandishing a heartbreaking article or unnerving news, and more often, simply from missing my people. 

I will never take hugs for granted again.   

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

A Chance

Deeeeeep breath. Oh, that feels good. Lately, I remind myself to drink in that air, purer than it was a month ago, as deeply as I can, and thank God I can do so. It makes me heady, actually, the blessing of lungs that fill and swell my chest, fueling my cells. As we are forced into retreat by COVID-19 for fear of losing that life-giving ability, our fellow creatures and the planet itself are taking a restorative sigh of relief

 Ahhhh, they're gone…  

The charming image of dolphins reclaiming the canals of Venice is fiction as it turns out. A shame, as I’d like to think fake news applies primarily to reports Trump deems uncomfortable. Disappointing as is the dolphin fable, I’ve seen videos of turkeys strutting Boston’s thoroughfares, a mountain lion leaping onto an urban wall, and wild boar snorting and scuffling along an Italian street. Our exploitation and disregard for Nature’s children, human and animal, is a deep sadness, and I hope this respite results in responses that give all species a chance.  

Here in quarantine, my thoughts and moods circle, at times like the mythical Venetian dolphins, leaping with energy and hope, and at times like the haggard wraiths working COVID wards, swathed in masks, scrubs, and flimsy yellow gowns. It depends on the moment. I can be engrossed in a project, comfy and content, while Dave pours me a glass of wine and cooks up a tasty red sauce, or, usually at night, a tickle in my throat conjures the haunting specter of failing lungs and desperate prayers for a free ventilator.  

On this Earth Day, snug at home, I know what’s critical for my survival.  My loved ones and hugs, a treasure I’ve indulged in with abandon, never imagining they’d be forbidden, top the list.  Daffodils, sunshine, magnolias, and birdsong have proved essentials in braving hug-deprivation and CNN reports. Given the leanings of the current administration and man’s enthusiasm for dominion, I’ve worried about my other priorities a lot longer: a thriving animal kingdom, clean air, clean water, and planetary systems and seasons operating as they should. 

It’s hard to imagine that, in the midst of a respiratory crisis, an administration would whittle away at the Clean Air Act, even casting covetous eyes on the provisions of legislation guarding the nation’s waters, but, believe it. The same is true of the Environmental Protection Agency and Endangered Species Act, since 1970, the efforts of past administrations to keep Creation on track. 

In 1989, TIME magazine diverged from human-centricity to designate our Endangered Earth, Planet Of The Year. In the lead article, writer Thomas A. Sanction asked, “What on Earth Are We Doing?” as page after page depicted floods in Bangladesh, slash burning along the Amazon, species extinction, and mountains of refuse. After all these intervening years of alerts, still we face those issues, along with COVID deaths, locust plagues, scorched koalas, hunger, and wildfires. Indeed, one must ask, what is our problem? 

This week, Dave and I watched “One World, Together At Home,” a concert coordinated by Global Citizen and Lady Gaga to benefit the World Health Organization from which our president just withdrew funding.  We were drawn by the lengthy, extraordinary list of participants: Paul McCartney, Keith Urban, Lizzo, Billie Eilish, Beyonce, Celine Dion, Andrea Boccelli, Stevie Wonder, Taylor Swift, Elton John, and the Rolling Stones among them. It filled my heart that they had chosen to support the WHO and give us their music, their best gift, to cheer us in isolation and applaud those on the front lines. 

The program was a hug in itself, a message of unity, caring, and gratitude in our time of trouble. Throughout the show, I fought back tears at clips of medical personnel, first responders, sanitation workers, delivery drivers, and cashiers, some we’ve always admired, and some routinely overlooked, and all have dedicated themselves now to healing and helping. 

Even in my sorrow and anxiety over this disease, I feel the Universe has taken extraordinary measures to give us a chance. Noting that prior warnings were inadequate, this push-back is impossible to ignore, and the answers are apparent in fresh air over Beijing, free movement of wildlife, and the surge of kindness, love, and appreciation among men. I pray we reflect, learn, hold onto the good, and take action.

Happy Earth Day. 

Saturday, April 11, 2020

So Many "Always"

Last night, I saw a shooting star. It always feels lucky to catch a glimpse of that heavenly streak of light, but this was even more serendipitous. I was lying in bed, Dave beside me playing Words with Friends, his face illuminated by the glow from his iPad. My gaze had strayed from the game to the window and beyond, to the forked limbs of the maple tree black against the night sky.  And there was the star, falling, it seemed, from one branch to the other. 

To see a star fall as I lay in my bed? What are the odds? I so want to think it was a good omen from Mom or Dad or God, saying all will be well. 

Dave, as always, fell asleep as soon as he closed his iPad. Also as always, I lay awake for hours. From the front of the house, the moon shone with extraordinary brightness, casting patterns of mullions and silver across the bedroom floor. More than once, I rose to press my nose against the cold glass of the windowpane. The pink Super moon was two days passed, but still, it was round and full and brilliant. I thought of all the eyes, going back through time, through hardship and longing, that had been lifted to that beacon. 

A shooting star, a beaming full-faced moon: so much light in the darkness, and I want it to mean something, to portend hope well placed. 

I’ve been sifting through old family pictures, some as far back as the 1800’s.  One captures an elegant young woman dressed for a party, her hand resting gracefully on her lap, palm upturned. She is my great-grandmother, and she doesn’t look happy.  What was she thinking when the picture was taken? How did she die? What was she like? What did she enjoy doing? Why didn’t I think of these questions when Mom was still alive? 

To me, those in the past seem as gray and two-dimensional as their images. Hell, my own past seems a fiction now, when pictured moments of babies held close, giggling groups crammed close for a shot, and great gatherings of celebrants at weddings and holidays are forbidden luxuries. But I’ve given more thought lately to the reality of sorrow, fear, and pain faced by ancestors who endured great wars, depression, and disease.

A friend wrote me recently about her great-grandfather.  He returned from serving his country in World War I and then succumbed to the Spanish Flu. Imagine the elation of the safe return of that husband/father/son from mortal threat and one’s own release from the agonizing worry over his daily peril… only to lose him to illness at home. My heart stills at the cruelty and depth of that pain. With losses mounting from COVID-19, even of those striving to heal and help others, I want reasons, I want meaning. I cling to belief in a grand plan, far beyond my understanding… I must.

I pray a lot these days, often with tears, always with yearning, and always with gratitude for those on the front lines and in my own life, for so many years of blithe, wonderful times with loved ones. This pandemic crisis will end, and we will emerge from quarantine to hug again. For now, and for always, memories, prayers, phone visits, Dave’s hugs, funny videos, ZOOM-time with loved ones, and shooting stars must sustain me.    


Friday, April 3, 2020

Mission in COVID World

Pens and paper in hand, Dave and I planned our strategy. It was the evening before shop-day, and we discussed, reviewed, cross-checked, and re-copied our lists before bed. We wanted to be ready and well rested for the next day’s challenge.

I woke at 3:30 AM, however, and Dave woke soon after.  I was nervous, I have to admit. As Covid cases and related deaths continued to mount, it had been a comfort to near the two-weeks-in-quarantine mark and feel well, to think we were probably safe. A trip to the grocery store meant starting the clock over, but it had to be done.

Sleep, that elusive treasure, had slipped away for good.  “Let’s move up the schedule,” I suggested. Dave agreed. 

We postponed our morning showers until later, when we’d take full-on decontamination drenchings upon returning home. We suited up and collected our masks and gloves to be donned in our separate parking lots: this was a divide and conquer expedition. 

Our departure times were staggered, based on destination and hours of opening. “We’ll touch base around 7:30?” I confirmed as Dave headed out.

“Sounds about right. Good luck!” Dave replied as he kissed me good-bye.

Who says "good luck" when you’re going to the grocery store? But it’s not a cliché in Covid world. These are uncharted waters, where a head of broccoli or an over-enthusiastic hello can harbor danger. Our quarry was neither pangolins nor fruit bats, possible origins of the disease, but our stock was running low: we needed an infusion of vegetables and dairy products. 

Dave arrived at Whole Foods as the door opened for “senior shoppers.” Distressing as that label might be, for now we’ll take it to get the early slot.  At 7:35, I checked in with him from my position at Super Stop & Shop as he completed his initial assignment before heading to BJ’s.  

“How’s it look, Hon?’ I asked as I unfolded my list and surveyed the asterisked items we’d suspected might be harder to find. 

“Pretty good,” he said. “No paper products here at all, by the way, but if you can find the frozen okra and spinach, broccoli, capers, and maybe a couple more potatoes, that’d be great.” I circled those items on my list, slipped on my gloves and mask, and nabbed a cart from the parking lot. 

Stop & Shop was a gold mine. I found everything on my list, and scored two 4-roll packs of Scott toilet paper, an unexpected and extraordinary bonus.  In my life, ever, would I have thought that unclaimed toilet paper on a grocery shelf would spark a burst of elation in my chest? No. But so it was. 

Next: Trader Joe’s. TJ’s ghost pepper chips, smoked salmon dip, dark chocolate peanut butter cups, and peppermints might not rate with toilet paper, butter, and broccoli, but in this time of crisis, they were the boost that mental health required. 

Store entry was not to be taken for granted I discovered. By this time, 9:00 AM, I’d missed the early window advantage. The store was strict in limiting the number of shoppers to allow for social distancing, so the line at the entrance stretched to the end of the sidewalk with shopper-hopefuls spaced six feet apart.  It was brisk out, and many had anticipated a quick hop from car to store, so people hugged thin sweaters tight, danced from foot to foot, and chatted with those around them. “I pray they have toilet paper,” said the young woman in front of me. “I’m down to two rolls at home.” 

“I’ve two packs in the car,” I assured her. “If they don’t have any; you can have one.”  

Behind me, a woman did leg lifts, stretches, and lunges to pass the time.  A white SUV pulled up next to us, the window open, music blaring. The occupant surveyed the line (which by now stretched around the corner), was apparently daunted, and hit the gas, abandoning us with a screech of tires.  

A female member of the TJ’s crew, garbed in a neon yellow vest and gloves, collected carts from departing shoppers, sprayed them with disinfectant, and swabbed them down. She checked with another attendant in the foyer and waved for the next five people to enter. After a twenty-minute wait, I wheeled past purple orchids and cheery daffodils and began my rounds. It was a small triumph, I felt, even to gain entry. You know life has changed when the simplest of successes – a toilet paper purchase and access to Trader Joe’s – provides satisfaction, a Covid lesson I hope to hold onto.  

Mindful of the chilly souls waiting outside, I made the rounds quickly. The shelves were well-stocked but for paper goods, yet my young friend from the line sought me out to brandish a pack of toilet paper.  “I got the last one!” she grinned.

At check-out, gloved cashiers sprayed and swabbed counters after every transaction.  They did not wear masks, nor did many shoppers. 

Once I returned home, Dave helped unload the groceries, then I shed my clothes on the porch and headed into the shower. Having left the house at 7:00, Dave and I re-united at 11:30, after completing our separate missions and decontamination. Now the two-week clock begins again: were our precautions enough? 

P.S. Yesterday, two days after our shopping trip, my daughter texted to tell me our local Trader Joe’s had been shuttered, the staff on a 14-day quarantine, as an employee had tested positive for Covid-19.    


Friday, March 20, 2020

What? No Hugs?

The days run, one into the other, and it’s hard to pinpoint when change really set in. When was the last day that felt pretty normal?  For a long stretch, the Coronavirus was a challenge for the people of China and Italy, but not for us. Hasn’t that been the way for so many things? Wildfires in Australia, mudslides in Thailand, drought in the west, blizzards, tornadoes, and earthquakes – all devastating and tragic, but mostly devastating and tragic for others.  We are learning that we were kidding ourselves; those never were losses just for others. Always, we have been in this together, but if the planet’s protests were distant, it was easy to see them as separate from us.  

Now, distance, even of the social kind, is required. When most we want to meet up at Old Post Tavern or Molto, hug each other like crazy, devour some hot pasta, and share a bottle of wine, we can’t.  Our comfort and answer to hard times has always been long-lasting hugs, beloved faces as close as we can get them, and eyes soft with empathy holding ours.  What kept us afloat in the past is now dangerous.  

A week ago, I made my first stock-up-for-real trip to the grocery store.  There was not a roll of toilet paper to be had, but oddly, I, like others, had laid in a supply a few days before, so no worries. There was plenty of food on the shelves, and the usual number of shoppers. Everyone was cheerful and friendly as we strove to maintain maximum space between us while navigating the aisles with full shopping carts. 

I ran into Cathy, Mary Ellen, and Linda, friends I don’t see often.  Shelter-in-place had not yet been urged, dinner plans with others had not been cancelled, restaurants and gyms were still open, and yet, somehow we must have sensed what was coming, for my heart filled upon seeing them. We opened our arms wide, miming an embrace from six feet apart, and said,  “It’s sooo good to see you! This is my hug!” Each encounter was similar, and the faux-hugs were funny; we hadn’t missed out on too many real ones yet. 

Last Sunday night, Dave and I took pasta, spinach, and a saucepan of (meatless) sausages and peppers to Casey and PJ’s for dinner.  When PJ met us at the door, Tallulah, the dog, scrabbled at the stoop striving to escape, and Eleanor gazed out at the driveway from PJ’s arms. When she spotted us, her face lighted, her mouth opened wide, and she clapped and said, “Yayyyyyy!” a greeting I will treasure forever. I handed PJ the grocery bag in trade for the baby.  She put her arms around me, her head on my shoulder, and kick, kick, kicked those chubby little legs. Ah, hugs!  That one was a ten!  

Casey was on her computer, processing the news that Lululemon had just announced the closure of all stores. For her, this was sobering, as she’d opened her new, twice-the-square-footage, store three days before. Given the situation, I was relieved, not wanting my daughter exposed to the virus in the course of a day selling yoga-wear.  We had a tasty dinner while watching “Outbreak,” Casey’s choice. I consider myself lucky she hadn’t selected “Night of the Living Dead,” although that, too, was among the “Masochists’ Delight” listed in the Boston Sunday Globe. 

Did we hug PJ and Casey good-bye when we parted that night?  I think we did. How long will the sense of those hugs have to last?

Tucker, Lisa, Paul, and Lexi came to visit two weeks ago, so we had snuggles in abundance then. We’ve chatted via FaceTime twice in the interim as they work from home with the kids buzzing about. 

Four-year-old Paul is newly captivated by the word “poopy” and is generous in its application. Lexi, at 17 months, wants to hold the phone. So, the phone spins in its travels as Tucker strives to right it, and Lexi makes her moves. We see the ceiling, Lexi’s grin, Tucker’s thumb, and Paul’s sparkling eyes as he answers our questions about his day with a jubilant, “Poopy!”

Several times, Dave has participated in staff meetings on ZOOM, like Google-Hangouts, an extraordinary tool that will be the saving grace of businesses and relationships during our Coronavirus isolation. During his first practice session, I snuck a peek at his computer to see the beloved faces of my former colleagues ranged in tiny boxes around the screen, each waving at me from the security of their homes. Again, my heart surged to see them.  “Look at you!  It’s so good to see you!” I crowed, and oh, how I felt it. Hugs are out of the question, but even visuals are a boost. 

For a few weeks, Casey has been texting me, “Mom. I’m worried about you and Dad.  You have to take this seriously. You are in the vulnerable age range.” Her concern is dear, and I’ve assured her, “Dad and I are great. We’re healthier than a lot of people younger than us. Don’t worry.” When dire reports of danger to the elderly emerged, my mind went to Dave’s 95-year-old mother. Certainly they don’t mean us… 

But, they do. Two nights ago on CNN, anchor Jake Tapper seemed almost teary as he spoke of his forty-year-old friend who has the virus, as well as his concern for his 80-year-old father.  Tapper shed his role as a newsman for a moment as he made an emotional plea for social distancing. He was critical of youthful revelers in Florida who were still packing beaches and bars, and said something like, “Who the hell do you think you are?  You might think you’re safe because of your youth, but think of older members of your family.”

Dave was solemn when he turned off the TV. “That was unnerving,” he said. “I think I’ll skip the news for a while.” 

So, we’re hunkered down at home and choosing movies over news. Have you seen “Knives Out”? So fun! Watch it on Netflix!

We live in the woods, so we can go for walks, and wave at our neighbors. Dave loves to cook and we’ve been eating well: asparagus and mushrooms in a lemon-wine sauce over pasta; roasted salmon, mashed potatoes, and spinach, with plenty of leftovers for lunch. Dave’s baking his bread, so our breakfast routine is unchanged: Dave’s toast, butter, jelly, and coffee. This afternoon, I might make a chocolate chip yogurt cake. 

Beyond that, I’ve enjoyed a lot of phone visits. I have projects to do, an attic and basement to clean, essays to write, and that cake to bake, but given the uncertainty and suppressed worry, connection has been my comfort. Long chats, emails, and texts have filled the days: with my mother-stand-in, Mom’s friend, Beverly; my sisters, aunts, cousins, and in-laws; my friends from work and friends I’ve loved from kindergarten through college. Many I haven’t hugged in years, but it’s important now to make contact. 

Next to my senior year picture in the 1971 Farmington yearbook, reflective young girl that I was, I chose Joni Mitchell’s lyric as my quote, “Don’t it always seem to go you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone?” At the time, my nostalgia was about friends and the school; never would I have imagined what we’re currently facing, that hugs would be denied me. 

Virtual hugs to you all! Stay safe!

Thursday, March 5, 2020


In the final week of December, 1999, I ignored Dave’s reassurances and light teasing as I stocked a carton with canned goods, bottled water, toilet paper, soap, changes of clothes, and a hand-cranked flashlight and radio. Oh yes, and sleeping bags and a can-opener.  While the year 2000 did not turn out to be the crisis some Y-2K enthusiasts anticipated, I did not want to be caught shivering and cowering in our primitive 1700’s-era basement with only a rack full of past-potable wine to sustain us. As cases of Coronavirus are reported in the U.S., the situation is reminiscent. How to tread the line between science, sense, and alarming all-caps headlines?  

A recent online article reflecting exactly that quandary listed a number of tips.  Top of the list was “DON’T PANIC.” So helpful. Others were more so, advising that one purchase extra tissues, toilet paper, and alcohol based cleansers; make sure all necessary medications are up to date; keep one's hands away from one's face; and above all, “WASH HANDS REGULARLY.” 

As I rule, I’m a moderate hand-washer. I wash when you hope I would, but not before every meal, and not every time I come home from an outing. Plus, I gather from the article, that I’m doing it all wrong anyway.  Do I always use warm water?  Do I rub between every finger?  Do I scrub for 30 seconds? No. To all three. 

My kids are far more diligent about this, especially with their little ones. “Mom, did you wash Eleanor’s hands when you brought her home from daycare?” Casey will say, knowing how often I forget that. My son, Tucker, and his wife, too, march their kids into the bathroom first thing after school for a good hand-wash. Mind you, they travel the T in Boston to get home, then up escalators with railings any child, grandmother, or Coronavirus carrier would trail their hands along. So a good scrub at home is probably wise.

Even though his mother is lax about hand-washing, Tucker took it seriously from the time he was small. As a result, his hands were often chapped, so at night, I’d lather them with Vaseline and encase them in socks. It was adorable, actually, those dear little paw-like mitts. “Do you think we should sock my hands tonight, Mom?” he’d ask. 

Now that we have the next generation of precious children in our lives, I worry more about… everything. I want them to be happy and safe. I want them to inherit a peaceful, healthy planet still inhabited (at a distance) by free-roaming elephants, wolves, rhinos, and gorillas.   And I want them to be well. So I pay attention to those headlines… and wonder if the kids should wear masks. 

I’m sort of kidding about that, and every local store has run out of them anyway.  Others are clearly ahead of me on this, and calm preparation is not a bad idea. So a few days ago, I reviewed the tips in the article, added some items to the existing grocery list, and went to Shop-Rite and CVS to stock up, I mean, shop.

Everyone out and about seemed particularly friendly.  We held doors for each other, smiled a lot, and cheerfully said “Excuse me,” should we brush an elbow or bump a cart.  It felt as if we were all quietly doing the same thing, reaching for alcohol-based cleaners – which seemed to be running low – and doing this whole “Don’t mind me: I’m just a little black rain cloud” Pooh-bear routine as we casually inched toward the Purell.

Except, there was no Purell. Not at CVS and not at Shop-Rite. Hm.

Did I race off in search to Stop & Shop or the CVS branch two blocks down the road?  No. Truth is, I was running a little late to pick up Eleanor at daycare and didn’t really have time, and I have a new bottle of rubbing alcohol at home that I figured would work just as well.

And I can always run down to Stop & Shop tomorrow if need be….    

P.S.: I DID remember to wash the baby’s hands after daycare that afternoon.

P.P.S.: That carton of Y-2K provisions is still in the basement along with the same bottles of wine-turned-vinegar.  So, we’re good if we suddenly need to hunker down