I was supposed to be gone, but I stayed. JetBlue, like other airlines flying out of JFK, cut flights to once a day. That’s about 40 flights in total leaving New York City. JetBlue contacted me with the bad news that my original flight was changed, so I made some date adjustments and will remain in NYC through Mother’s Day weekend. How wonderful that I can be with my daughter to celebrate her first M.D. with her daughter!
Naturally, I bought some matching T-shirts for the three generation females; they have pastel rainbows across the chest that read, “Once Upon a Time” and for Baby Millie, “And they lived happily ever after.” I think those classic story phrases pretty much sums up everything.
Once upon a Saturday two months ago I landed in New York to share the experience of birth. To meet my granddaughter. To help. To celebrate. To roll up my sleeves and do whatever needed to be done to make this transition to parenting less scary. Accomplished: Check. Above and beyond: Double check. When I leave on Wednesday with my shiny red Mary Poppins bag, I know that I did something earthquake-esque. But still being in the midst of the rumbling, it’s hard to explain. Let me try:
You see, I came here to help. I came here as a worker. I came here knowing I was needed. And wanted. By my daughter. By my son-in-law. By Millie. To have purpose is profound.
As a teacher, I have a purpose.
As the mother of two puppies being cared for by my ex-husband who’s holding down the fort at home, I have purpose.
As a sister and cousin, as a friend, I have purpose.
As a writer, as a former journalist, as a mess-around artist, I have purpose.
And this purpose fills me. Every day I have something important to do. Something important to learn and discover. Like what this two months of isolation and the opposite of isolation as a member of this new family living in a 500 square foot NYC apartment, means. Really means. The Big Picture. The tight shot.
Let me try to untangle the daily tasks–diapering, rocking, burping, emailing students, grading, lesson planning, distant conferencing–from the guts of this story: Love. Every day I fall in love. With this little girl. With my big girl who knows what this forever love thing feels like. With my new role as the elder stateswoman. With the knowledge that every day is precious. And to love every moment. Because, just like Millie, just like this beautiful Spring day in NYC, it’s a new moment.
I realize I have been living in the past or the future. But when you look in a baby’s eyes, you are in The Moment. Nothing else matters. Only now. Babies don’t doubt your love. They trust. They know you are there for them, to love them, to guide them as they greet each milestone. Everything is new. Everything. And you have to help them. You want to help them because it’s the only thing that really matters. Love is the only thing that lasts.
Those intimate, unrehearsed smiles, they mirroring you. When I’m back home in a few days, I’ll take those moments in my pocket and throw them in a pot of soup, in the moist soil beneath the lemon tree, in the glass of LVE rose around the fire pit, and I will savor and rejoice this sauna of lavender love I have been privileged to experience.
Today, Saturday, not Sunday, I have purpose.
Mom used to joke with us (sort of) when she was about to lose it, that she had bats in the belfry. I can understand this expression because the guy upstairs, right above where I’m typing, is “playing” the bongo. He think’s he’s good. He’s not. He thinks it’s OK to torture us with his tinny, brain-slamming percussion. People, it’s not cool to play the bongos publicly when you don’t know how. I’m just sitting here, minding my own business, trying to get a tan, trying to chill out before the week ahead, and this fool-man is making me want to scream, “Shut the f— up!”
I am becoming a New Yorker.
By the time I leave, I will have been here–to the day–officially, two months. Dealing with the heat the building superintendent insists on never turning off, the stoned karaoke neighbors, the 13-year-old boy’s constant tantrums, the red cardinal that comes out each morning and sings for me, the full cycle of blooming tulips and van Gogh neon blue irises, barren trees now bikinied in jeweled green leaves, the 9 pound 4 oz, infant who morphed into size-three months sleepers, the new afternoons iced with butterscotch skies, the turquoise bistro table that holds a bottle of sparkling Boisset wine, my daughter who is healthy, my son-in-law who, God bless him, takes care of Millie at night while he crams for first-year med school exams while encouraging his wife to sleep.
I’ve order two cases of Boisset while shelter-in-place.
I’ve ordered bagels and cream cheese via a delivery service twice and pizza once and now, Thai food. I’ve been on a dozen walks around the block. I wash my hair ever other day. I put on make up twice a week for Zoom calls. I’ve ordered three new shift dresses and leggings because I only packed for a week. I’ve Venmoed grocery $$$ to my daughter three times and have about $12 cash.
I’m still not sleeping through the night. I wake up thinking I hear gun shots. But it’s the rattling vertical blinds shaking in welcomed wind. I’ve watched “The Handmaid’s Tale”, “Little Fires Everywhere”, the tiger guy, “Waco”, tons of late night talk shows and have yet to finish the giant book I brought or finished knitting even half of the blanket I naively thought I’d have plenty of time to work on while in New York City.
I’m listing. Yes, I’m aware this is not particularly interesting to read. But I’m trying to add up the equation, make sense of this boxed-in time. Days, weeks, months have passed and now I’m blogging, talking, sharing with strangers. Why? Why do I open the window and stand out on the balcony looking, listening, feeling the day’?
Because I’m alive. Thank God. I didn’t get ill. Because we did the right thing, the safe thing, the wise thing the protestors are now complaining about. Because we trusted the experts we have the luxury of craving fellowship. Our brothers and sisters who lost a loved one don’t have that option. We have been isolated from their grief. Maybe if the protesters got sick or had a loved one die they would be praising not complaining.
So I sit on the balcony and cite statistics and have another glass of wine knowing that I may now just be a real New Yorker. I’ve experienced New York’s seasonal transition from early to mid Spring. I’ve become a fan of these rugged people who “just deal with it” and endure. I think everyone here is Governor Cuomo: Empathetic. Factual. Personable. Do what you gotta do.
I’m not New York-salty like my daughter. But I’m a hell-of-a-lot more appreciative. I really do heart NYC, city of my first granddaughter’s birth, home to America’s true rock stars.
Since my schedule has been twisted and turned and topsy-turveyed I’ve had to completely negotiate the time I journal. Usually, as in, my entire life, I have always journaled first thing in the morning. Especially when I camp. I’m up before everyone else, make the coffee, then hop down to the beach or along the river or sit near the campfire and write. It’s just the best. Me, my mug of steaming coffee, Nature, my thoughts. It’s my way of understanding myself better and opening my heart to the day’s known and unknown opportunities.
But since being in NYC with a new baby in the house, well, as you can imagine, nothing is predictable except nothing is predictable. You never know when the baby will need you or, since I’m remote teaching, when a student might email with questions or when you’ll finish feed-backing and tallying “collected” or “missing” accounts in the grade book. Consequentially, I’ve had to sneak-in journaling which, hipster that I have become, has morphed into “blogging” late at night. Let’s be clear, I’ve never been a night person but my compelling need to figure things out on paper is how I have coped with life since the third grade. These days, I am writing, not at a desk in a room that’s well-lit, but crunched in funny positions on the floor, in bed or standing up at the baby changing table. I don’t write every day, like I used to, because, well, being shut in, there’s not a heck of a lot to write about. I don’t meet new people. I’m watching great shows on TV. I have no time for reading, like I thought I would, and my knitting and art projects are pathetically being neglected. Frankly, I have everything to write about and nothing to write about.
I’m tired of the COVID-19 whining. We all are. We are here. We are coping. It’s not fun. We are finding the blessings. We are grateful for our health. We are grateful for family and friends. We have abundant empathy for those who are suffering and those who are helping us wade through these “dynamic”, “challenging”, “cruel”, “dire”, “heart-breaking”, and the adjectives go on and on, times. We’ve all seen every commercial imaginable that suggests “our” advertisers sincerely care. At Week Seven, we get it. There’s nothing more to write about. Thus, I don’t write as much.
Then there is being a new grandma. Now that I could write about every day: I watch her like I am an artist studying her every breathe, how she spreads her lips into a wide smile, the nature of her coos and gurgles, the predictable way I can make her tiny toes curl and open by gently pinching her heals. I’m curious about what makes my five-week-old granddaughter tick, and who she’s going to be, while training myself to focus on NOW.
The thing that I’ve discovered as a new, and I’d say somewhat reluctant, blogger is that now when I write it’s to an audience of unknowns. When I write in my paper journal, as I have done my entire life, it’s to myself. I write to sort things out. Usually the “things” and my thoughts are incredibly messy and misspelled, like the tangled pink yarn in my backpack awaiting my attention. Here in this space, I’m not naked; I have to wear loungewear.
This is all a round about saying that I’m still trying to figure this blogging thing out. How vulnerable should I be? Does anyone care? Is being truthful with each other in this strange walled world important? Will it make the world better? Is it just more noise and clutter when what we need are more private thoughts? I’m not sure yet. As I said from the start, this is an experiment.
What I do know so far is it’s nice to have a few people who read what I write. That’s really kinda cool. Thank you. It’s encouraging to think that some of my ramblings could have, somehow, in this mountain of information and virtual resources, positively impacted you. Because at the end of the day, connecting with each other–on a real and personal level–is how we change the world for the better. We have to take off the masks, channel our creative spirit, and be little kids again.
So here’s what my scientific experiment has determined: When I write at night I am more melancholy; I try to wrap up the day’s events, be insightful and find the light. When I write first thing in the morning, like I am doing right now, I write from the light’s perspective; I feel the promise of the day.
Let’s see if we can get some dialogue going: What is your best Time to Write? Like me, do you notice a difference in tone and topic? I look forward to hearing from you new virtual friend.
I spend money when I’m bored. I spend money on things I don’t need when I’m lonely or have a hard time going to sleep at night. It has come to my attention that I put things in carts and, in my enlightened moments, wait to click “buy”, but sometimes do so—accidentally. It has come to my attention that buying is my way to nest in that weird “Kilroy Was Here” graffiti-state of mind, because I know I don’t have long left. In NYC, that is.
Truth be known, I hate shopping. But online shopping has become some sort of weird shelter-in-place obsession. Packages arrive every day. It’s my daughter. It’s me. Buying groceries, clothes. The patio and table bistro set just arrived–two weeks early. The new parents don’t need more stuff, but I have this compelling need to make sure their balcony is cute and fun and ready for some morning coffee or a glass of wine and sunset.
The neglected outdoor space: It’s been driving me crazy since I got here. It’s their overflow space, which I completely understand, but it’s also a potential space for them to feel the fresh air, albeit it’s near the train tracks and overlooks the apartment parking lot. Still, when space is so limited, it’s a place to escape the confines of the apartment.
Every morning, afternoon and evening, I find myself looking out the window for hours. I listen to the sirens. I am still not desensitized to the roaring trains and I study,–like Jimmy Stewart in “Rear Window”– a few, very few masked people walking by.
I crave the air. I crave green and a place that isn’t heated or air-conditioned. I need to feel connected to Nature, of which there is none naturally here. It’s all been prescribed and calculated. Just the sky and clouds and persistent rainy days are of God in this urban space.
City life. It’s not for me.
So in my own way I’m attempting to recreate a place of urban tranquility for my daughter, son-in-law, baby granddaughter and mother-in-law when she arrives in the Fall to become a full-time nanny. I’m trying to set it up so that it’s a place to smile and relax and remember the historic eight weeks that we sheltered-in-place and made lemonade out of lemons.
Which reminds me, I miss my lemon tree back in CA so much. If I could, right now, I would sit outside in my backyard and have a spiked glass of a tangy lemon beverage. I see that it’s in the low 70s and it’s almost sunset.
I will be there soon enough. As for now, I get hugs in the morning, afternoon and evening. Baby vomit is my new perfume. It’s Saturday night and I get to go to bed early feeling, at long last, a sense of peace and sense of God’s deep love for me and everyone else. I pray that those who are sick and their families. I pray for their doctors, nurses, and staff members who are doing their best under terrible circumstances. I pray for my family and friends that we may see another day and each of us, in our own ways, contribute to the betterment of humankind. We gotta wait the storm out.
In the meantime, we can all make ourselves useful and be better versions of ourselves than we were six weeks ago.
“Good night my love, sleep tight my love, I’ll see you in my dreams.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LczGrMv6BuE My sweet Dad sang that song to me every night. It used to soothe my nightmare-inclined mind. When he sang that to me, all was well in the world. He loved me so. And I him. He was always so free to share his heart with me. It never goes away. That love. That belief in me, no matter what. That’s what this parenting and now grand parenting thing is all about.
They live in us. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JUvj9uIOts
This shelter-in-place with baby has turned me into an official Disney geek. I sing all the sappy, wonderful show tunes to my granddaughter and, no kidding, tears stream down my face. This love thing is ridiculous.
At some point I have to leave here and go there. I keep looking for official advice. “When is it safe to travel?” I read “The Los Angeles Times”, “The New York Times” to see if there are any updates? Forget TV “news”. All hype. Florida’s loosened their rules, so has Texas. The “liberators” are charging City Halls. People are getting antsy. We all are: But I refuse to be “one of them”, the disrespectful, the conspiracy theorists, the folks with political placards who are turning this medical test into some kind of New World Order made-for-Netflix series.
I want to do the right thing. I don’t want to get sick. Nor do I want to get anyone else sick because of my need to return home. Yes, I need to get home to my dogs, my garden, my ocean, my backyard–my bed. But I don’t want to do that at the expense of strangers and those I love. God forbid Covid-19 makes me become self-centered.
I’m truly blessed:The crisis has allowed me to hang out with my new granddaughter and witness my daughter and son-in-law become parents. We are spending quality time together that I will cherish forever. But I also know it’s time for them to experience this new life together as a family. They have sacrificed precious apartment space with me and new parent time. They don’t complain, but now I’ve moved into their bedroom, stolen my son-in-law’s work space, not to mention my opinion, of which I have many. I bite my tongue a lot, but not nearly enough. They are saints to put up with me.
So I’m thinking two more weeks. In 14 days the virus will have hopefully flattened in NYC and Los Angeles.I will have been responsible. I will have been helpful.
And I will return home an entirely different person.
2. I am Officially Adaptable. I love routine. I love nesting. I love predictability and this last five weeks has been anything but.
But now I know I really am capable of being flexible. I resist, but I have proven to myself that I can sleep on a mat in the living room for 4.5 weeks and not complain and listen to trains all day and night and re-focus my attention on my mission–to be of service, to learn and grow–to enjoy.
3. I knew this before I arrived, but I am seared–tattooed–by The Power of Love. I would do anything for my grown children and now three grandchildren. They are my heart and soul. Family IZ everything. Sticking together, doing what’s right even when we’re bored and would rather be off dining at our favorite restaurant or hanging out at the beach. I love my family so much that I refuse to do anything that may jeopardize their lives, and the lives of others.
So I will wait to buy the one-way plane ticket back to L.A. until I know for sure that it’s safe. Yes, it may cost me more money to wait until the last minute, but I have to do what is right.
A friend of mine recently emailed me a photo of a beautiful canvas with an open-ended landscape of an impressionistic golden field, flaming sunset and a cloud-mottled sky. “What is the place in you this day where you open and let eternity in?” reads the embedded caption.
The unexpected email reminded me: I still have some things I have to think about before I leave.
Such as the mystery of the Navaho rug, the unfinished spot where Spirit is said to enter. I have known of this, but completely forgot about it until my friend’s email reminded me. The blank spot, the “imperfection”, is a call to be open to the wondrous unfolding of life.
For the first time since arriving in NYC, I open the rain-crusted sliding glass window and close my eyes: Along the tracks of the roaring train, in the nightmare of sirens, the neighbor’s lilac bush perfumes the night. I can hear the beating, beating heartbeat of grandmas and grandpas, teachers and students, cousins and aunties, healthcare workers and all the everyday heroes who are safe in in their homes tonight because you and I waited.
Some people think it’s 4.5 weeks we’ve been sheltered in place. For me, it’s been both. I’ve been in NYC for more than a month and I’ve known my granddaughter just shy of that. What an extraordinary time to be born. A time of fear. A time of patience. A time of anticipation. A time of renewal. A time to re-focus. A time of life lessons. A time to embrace God’s immense love.
I’ve been remote teaching now for four weeks. It’s like being locked in the dug out on Opening Day. Not a huge fan. Not because I don’t like technology. What I don’t like are the kids who are drifting, who have given up, who don’t care. They are flying out there in cyberspace away from self-discipline and predictable routine. Grades don’t count. We pass or fail. We give everyone a break. I wonder how this is all going to play out for this group of kids? You know, the ones caught in the middle. The ones without a lot of parental supervision and support. The ones whose parents are “done fighting” with them. The ones whose parents give up.
Those are the ones teachers worry about the most. We always have. We always will. Especially now. We worry because in March we were just getting it together, just figuring out each other. A month ago, most of them accepted that I’m “tough”, but by Spring they know why–because I care. By Spring students have learned how–and why– to push themselves–for themselves, not their teachers or parents.
But now, dozens and dozens and dozens of my students, and students throughout the United States, aren’t doing anything. They don’t care.
How do you get them motivated from afar? I tried a cool, creative writing assignment. We are podcasting. And now we are finishing reading “Fahrenheit 451” and taking traditional Cornell Notes to get them ready for high school. I’m hosting Book Club discussions and using my excited voice to share my energy and enthusiasm hoping that it’s contagious. I’ve written them motivational emails, shared our teaching plan with parents every week. I immediately email back anyone who has a question.
The kids have checked out.
And we have 7.5 weeks left until summer.
The teacher in me can’t stop being a teacher. I can’t stop caring. But then I have this beautiful baby in the world, and my beautiful daughter who is The Best Mommy Ever and my son-in-law who is in medical school studying so hard and taking the night shift to watch his little girl so his wife can sleep. I have so much to be grateful for. The smiles. That are real now. Her sweet cooing sounds. And the way I seem to be able to soothe Millie to sleep. We already have this amazing bond.
And then there’s Bradbury’s book and protagonist Guy Montag, whose life forever changes following a conversation with a young neighbor who asks if he’s happy. Realizing his entire life, his job, his marriage, has been a farce, he frantically searches for answers in stolen books, including the Bible, of which he has no prior knowledge or context. He tries to memorize biblical text and becomes frustrated when he comes to Matthew 6:28: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin.” His entire life has been predictable, and now he becomes unhinged when he can’t interpret the passage.
It was, of course, genius for Bradbury to include baffling text in his book about a world gone mad. He includes references to classic novels, poetry and the Bible precisely because they provoke thought.
Ah ha!…….AH HA! Lightbulb moment!
It’s not about the book. It’s not about the students. It’s about the lilies. It’s about Baby Millie. The flower isn’t going nuts. Millie isn’t either. (She’s actually a most excellent, calm baby.) I am the one losing it. Not the students (they’re cool–no homework, no grades). No spinning. No toiling.
Consider this, my sister tells me, “Enjoy time away from the classroom. You don’t have to grade. You don’t have to deal with nasty parents. You don’t even have to ‘motivate’ kids who don’t want to be motivated.”
Consider Millie and the fact that tomorrow it won’t rain and I’ll go for a walk and look at the tulips a few houses up the hill. And we’ll have yogurt, apples and walnuts in the morning and a cup of coffee, then I’ll record my daily lesson, and read student stories and find time to kiss this new human being.
Consider the hell many others are dealing with right now. Worrying about my students’ academic future isn’t productive. In fact, stressing about anything isn’t helpful.
Consider transforming worry into prayer.
It’s Thursday, 2 p.m. East Coast Time. I opened the good wine, Raymond’s 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon District Collection. (Sip and Stay Sale Boisset Collection https://my.boissetcollection.com mention my name as your ambassador and it’s up to 40% off and free shipping through the end of April). (Side hustle) I’m enjoying this delicious Napa wine with a 500-page book that I’m finally now getting into, and the NYC Spring rainstorm. and no news is good news, and the baby, and my daughter, and my son-in-law studying to become a doctor, and the trains that never stop, and the sun that just came out.
I’m sitting on my couch bed, near the balcony where I can feel the wind and the fresh air. The baby is good. She’s drifting in a breast-milk tummy-full slumber. She’s smiling. She’s healthy. She’s Life.
Her mommy is looking for a bigger apartment to accommodate her visiting family member(s) and potential baby-care relatives staff. A Real Estate transaction two-and-a-half weeks after giving birth, and her mother here, and her husband in the next room cramming for a two-hour test on Monday. Oy-vey!
Did I mention a pot of veggie curry is on the stove?
Did I mention I haven’t had much sleep since February?
Did I mention I Amazoned some new comfy clothes, a forest green T-shirt dress, a light-weight purple grandma/teacher sweater? And some vitamin C and elderberry gummies?
Did I mention my hobby is online shopping for groceries? That I never “win” the Game of Home delivery? That I place between 20-28 items in my shopping cart, but am always denied? That I do this when I’m supposed to sleep? That I’m obsessed? That I want to figure out how to beat “The System”? That it’s different in NYC than other places, like Southern California. Apparently in California, as attest by my Facebook friends, you can get scallops delivered to your front door and make pumpkin bread with real pumpkin and and organic green beans.
Did you know not everyone’s so lucky?
I wouldn’t know if I wasn’t here.
I wouldn’t know that people live in 500 square feet apartments where there’s no room or budget to hoard speciality items and palettes of toilet paper. If I wasn’t here I wouldn’t know that you can’t pick up wine at a grocery store, that you have to go to a dedicated wine or liquor store–that closed down due to “19”. I wouldn’t know that living near the railroad track and the freeway isn’t looked down upon; it’s sought after. If I wasn’t here I wouldn’t know that landlords rent out apartments that look like crap, that they don’t care about things like lead paint and replacing gross dark green carpeting and painting over the azure blue walls a neutral white. If I wasn’t here I wouldn’t know you need a broker to negotiate an apartment and he charges $5,000. If I wasn’t here, I wouldn’t know that you can’t snap your fingers and get in a car, that you have to take mass transit where social distancing isn’t possible or practical.
Now that I’m here and not there, I didn’t know how good I had it. I didn’t know that my daughter’s current one-bedroom apartment near the noisy Long Island train is like living in Beverly Hills compared to the dank, dark, dowdy two-bedroom, $2,100 Queens apartment she and her husband just toured, the one that currently houses eight bunk-bedded souls.
Ellen DeGeneres blew it when she called herself a “prisoner” “trapped” in her beautiful Malibu ocean-view home. She meant no harm, but was schooled, and me too.
Truthfully, honestly, my life in California, for all the complaining I do, is much easier than my day-to-day existence here in NYC. It’s just tougher here. Harder to get food. Harder to sleep. It’s more expensive. Less peaceful. Harder to get around——to escape.
I am spoiled. There’s the truth of it. I like getting in a car and driving five minutes to work. I like living near the ocean. I like having a backyard and a front yard. I like having an army of loved ones around me in good times and bad.
This place, this city with a gigantic heart, is teaching me something I would never understand back home. NYC and her Golden Apple is teaching me to be grateful. NYC is teaching me to focus on The Good. And remember the sweet times, the musicals that I normally always see when I’m here—-and will see once again in the future. The way New Yorkers, my daughter and son-in-law, and soon Millie too, pull up their boot straps and get it done. New Yorkers are beasts and I’m a wuss.
Living in NYC for a month now, crashing in my daughter and son-in-law’s living room while I and participate in daily rituals of caring for a new baby, has been a lesson in self and environmental awareness. I am completely out of my element. I am sleep-deprived, like the new parents, and totally and completely in love with this new person.
She looks at me, with her Winston Churchill grimace or her gummy-mouth smile, and I realize it is all worth it—every single worrisome CV-19 Press Briefing moment.
I am not home. Don’t know when I will return. Nothing is predictable. But I am where I am needed. Or where I need to be. On the flip side, when this is all over, I will no doubt look back at this time and realize that of all my years on Planet Earth, this last month of worry and delight have been the best days of my life.
I have been changed, “For Good”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZ0pXUb5jVU
Walking in the Surrealistic Canvas of Today with my daughter and two-week-young granddaughter at a nearby park on a glorious 67 degree NYC day, we social-distanced while getting a bit of much-needed fresh air. The park was confettied with old and young, cyclists and joggers, strollers and park bench sitters, all staying respectably far away from each other. It was eery and wonderful. The baseball field, framed by white flower-laden trees and cheerful red-breasted robins, was barricaded from the public with trash trucks and park law enforcement vehicles. A mom and a dad stretched white sting between two poles creating a makeshift tennis court. Masked grandpas chatted two benches apart as my daughter circled around and around the track.
People are dying. People are suffering. And there’s this: Life.
A nurse in scrubs stretches and decompresses as her caring husband gives her physical and psyche space. I watch her and think about all that she’s seen in the last several weeks and want to give her a hug, but realize what she needs most is to be left alone and separate from the day she’s had or is about to have.“God protect her,” I pray.
On the east side of the park near the closed playground, my daughter sits down to feed the baby and a husband and wife in their 60s greets an old friend in his 70s who says, “I’m going back to work.” He’s an undertaker, if that’s what they call them nowadays. “Business has been so out of control,” he says, “It’s like World War II. We can’t handle any more bodies.”
“No escape,” my daughter says, as she places little Millie back in the turtle-covered stroller.
I look up at the stained-blue sky and think, We are in a Salvador Dali painting, flying like Peter Pan between fragments of disconnected metaphors and a Jamaica Kincaid novel. It’s all real and none of its real. We are in a dream, a nightmare, a Sunday school class at Christ Church.
It’s not our fault. Yet it’s anti-human.
And the park. And the baby. And all of our lives. And I might die. Cuz I’m a Baby Boomer. And I haven’t retired yet. And I haven’t lived my best life yet. And if I do get this stupid virus please don’t put me on a ventilator. I don’t want to live the rest of my life–if I make it–with my lungs shredded so that I can’t go to Tuolumne Meadows Poetry Festival this summer in Yosemite’s High Sierras or get that little RV I’ve had my heart set on and tour the U.S. I have stories I want to write and pictures I want to paint and babies I need to see grow up and grandsons who need their grandma and I shouldn’t have to think about dying from a stupid, horrible pnemonia/flu virus while I’m here in the park taking my granddaughter for her first walk.
I might. Die. So might someone I love. My sister who has a compromised health condition, and my cousin, who is also vulnerable. And all those people I don’t know. They are dying now. Like the ruthless panther-predator that it is, this damn virus might take one of us down. As I watch a little girl with braids learn to ride her bike for the first time on this fine Spring day, I realize how truly vulnerable I am, how vulnerable everyone is and always has been.
We knew a crash was coming. Before the virus, we’d likely blame it on the Democrats or Republicans; we knew the High roller Times wouldn’t last. We just didn’t expect to get clubbed from behind when we weren’t looking.
Dali said it best: “What is a television apparatus to man, who has only to shut his eyes to see the most inaccessible regions of the seen and the never seen, who has only to imagine in order to pierce through walls and cause all the planetary Baghdads of his dreams to rise from the dust.”
Breathe in and out, in and out. Notice. Listen. Look. I’m in a Dali painting, a collision of melting pocket watches and jagged cliffs. Surreal.
Today is the start of my school district’s Spring Break. I had a four-day camping trip scheduled and my older daughter’s 40th birthday party to help organize and I knew I would be fretting about Katie and the baby and missing her and now I don’t have to. Fret that is. I get to take a walk with a pseudo mask. I get to hunt for magic in the streets of Queens. I get to make phone calls home and text tons of Baby Millie photos to my West Coast family. I get to blog. I get to read my gigantic 500-page book. I get to knit and realize knitting is kinda boring. I get to watch my daughter bathe the baby for a first time. I get to cuddle and wrap myself in rapturous powderesque baby love.
It’s funny how an infant’s poop doesn’t smell bad. It just smells like baby and you don’t even mind changing their diapers because you get to pat their cute little chubby marshmallow butt and sing songs and try to enchant them realizing it’s really the other way around.
There’s something about being around a baby that wipes away all the problems of the world. They open their little eyes and it’s like the sun shining through the limbs of a tree in full bloom. It’s like seeing beyond the stars and realizing that there’s so much more than now.
What a time to be born.
In the spring. With daffodils and puffy clouds and blue skies and grey skies, if you live in NYC, and apartments blasting with heat and neighbors upstairs who play the drums past 10 p.m. and yell and scream and you think maybe you need to call the cops, but you don’t because it’s NYC.
You go for a mid-day walk with a yellow scarf wrapped around your face because you were told before you traveled here that masks were stupid, and you notice things like silver railings that frame brick homes and you think, “Hmm, that’s different.” And you notice a brown-leisure-suit-mottled-marble fence guarding a two-story duplex and wonder, “Why?” Then you turn the corner and your mouth drops at the blossom-laden trees and the neon blast of Spring bulbs and bushes that jazz up gardens that aren’t so well kept and realize, maybe for the first time, that there is air and sky and people who care and that even though no one else is on the street, you aren’t alone. There are Signs of Life everywhere.
The neighbor who was kind enough to sweep up the trash in front of his garage, then when I say, “Thanks for making the street look nice,” he said, “No problem.” The guy sitting on the stoop smoking a cigarette who asks, “How’s the baby?” The dog walker who makes sure I have ten feet to pass before offering, “Have a nice day.” Now these aren’t fireman honking horns outside Manhattan hospitals amazing deeds. They are normal, how’d ya do? moments that I’ve actually never had before when I’ve visited my daughter’s Queens neighborhood. But I can see people are trying. They are trying to look at your eyes. They are trying to say nice things. But I can also see they are scared.
Fear can do crazy things to the brain. It can make us suspicious and stingy, on edge–not at all like our youthful Spring selves. Fear makes us old and grey and sick.
Babies are Spring. They give us hope. They give us a reason to believe in goodness and fellowship. They give us a reason to pay attention to the birds and the fragrance of the pink magnolia tree three doors down. By the way, if you’ve yet to do so, go outside and see for yourself. Get yourself geared up with your “outside clothes” and take a stroll. You are bound to see something simple that is simply amazing.
And when you get back to the apartment or your house or recreational vehicle, go online and order some flower and vegetable seeds. Give some to your neighbors. Come Summer, when we safely breach our cocoons, we’ll collectively breathe a sigh of relief at the sight of sunflower-feeding Monarchs and the caw, caw of seagulls dancing in the morning dew.
Like everyone else, I’m getting tired of wearing leisure wear. Heck, I had planned to exclusively wear comfy clothes for a week to help my daughter with the new baby, then return to my life, teaching, grand parenting, and thinking of my next chapter–retirement. Then life took a very strange turn. And today something that in normal times I would have celebrated, has profoundly rocked me: No more school. Until Fall.
No. More. School.
To be clear, I’m still teaching, just not in Room 18. Us teachers still have a presence. We are remoting. But it’s just not the same. Somehow, we have to find a way to connect, and we will. Still, we worry, can’t sleep, and fret about what this loss of routine and educational structure might do to the kids whose only structure is going to school.
Damn this stupid virus. Damn it to hell and may it never return.
I look at the last photo I took of my classroom; I can’t help but mourn all the the great lessons yet to introduce: Democracy In Action, where students find a cause they care about and step up and take action. The Inventor’s Project in which they research America 50 years from now and consider political, social, education and environmental projections and create an invention to address a future challenge. Promotion ceremonies, the dance and Disneyland. Wrapping things up. Saying goodbye. Reminding them on the the last day that once you are Ms. Barker’s student you ar always my student. Tears. Then summer!!! A well-earned summer.
It helps, I guess, that we’re all going through the same thing. There’s some sort of comfort knowing that all of us teachers across America are grieving. We care so damn much. But we are resilient and will make the best of it. That’s what teachers always do.
Which brings me to some happy news: The sack of potatoes. We have been out of food, scraping the bottom of the produce bin, cleaning out the dry beans, and left with a half a cartoon of milk. No deliveries in NYC. Sorry, all time slots are filled Despite our 2 a.m., 4:30 a.m. and throughout the day frantic attempts to set up grocery delivery since both my granddaughter and myself are medically vulnerable to the virus—NOTHING!
Cue in “Ride of the Valkyries”.
So my warrior daughter puts on her warfare-out-in-public gear and trudges to the actual grocery store–the one a new mom isn’t supposed to go to–and returns to the apartment with six bags or $214 worth of groceries. She scored the motherload! And as a bonus, she somehow muscled two big containers of paper towels and toilet paper. It felt like Christmas in April.
As soon as she got home, she decontaminated herself as did I after putting away the groceries. Now we’re set for a couple of weeks. I already made a lovely pot of vegetable soup and we had an arugula salad for dinner. Unlike my prior life where, I admit, some of my produce rotted in the fridge, now I treasure every item of food as if it’s gold. Nothing goes to waste. I promise you, that sack of potatoes cooling in the fridge, won’t have chance to go to seed. And if it does, mark my word, we’re planting it in our very own Victory Garden on the balcony.
You know what they say about breaking a bad habit, that it takes at least a month to form a new pattern? If this virus is around for a couple of months–or longer–as the experts predict, maybe all these lessons, these revelations, will change long-term behavior. I mean, if the CoronaVirus19 disappeared in just two weeks, if the symptoms weren’t that bad, we wouldn’t change the things that needed changing. It’s gotta hurt, right, for us to pay attention, for it to be real?
It’s like having the flu. First, you feel out-of -sorts. Next, you go to bed. Then you spend the entire night thinking you’re going to die. Then you ask for help and the only thing someone can do for you is get you a glass of water. Eventually, you get on the other side of the demon gremlin, and you rest. And think. And rest some more. And think some more. And go back to your old ways.
This virus, as we all know, is different, smacking our silly faces and shouting, “Sit your damn butt down and listen. You aren’t such a hot shot. Get your shit together.”
If after all this, Americans go back to their old ways, we’re screwed.
I pray we never recover and, at long last, wake up and become better versions of ourselves.