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


Laurie Stone said...

You make an interesting point. I notice on the surface everyone seems happy and calm, but those empty shelves give away the worry. The other day I was at a store and someone coughed -- into their elbow, correctly -- but for one split second everyone stopped. They then went about their business. Crazy times.

Lea said...

Interesting....Yes... even Anderson Cooper observed on his show that he was on a plane and coughed and people gave him dirty looks. It's tricky. This is a time of year for coughs and colds anyway and the LAST thing you want to do is show that in public!