It’s hard to believe that we were supposed to be at the Magic Kingdom with friends a week ago today. We even had a much sought-after reservation at Cinderella’s Royal Table. In truth, I had already planned to cancel the reservation before Disney announced their closure for reasons I’ll explain in another post, but the fact that we were still even considering going to Disney amidst the earliest days of this pandemic sounds INSANE to me just a week later.
Just that morning, I even attempted to place an Instacart grocery order at BJs to be delivered to our home back in Massachusetts that day only to be alerted that “due to larger than normal volume…” the earliest delivery date for our groceries would be WEDNESDAY. Of this week. After that I considered filling our rental car up with chicken, ground turkey, steaks, fresh produce and my family and driving it up coastal Route 1 all the way home.
When we did eventually get to Orlando airport after talking with a doctor friend who assured us we should fly as soon as possible, before anything was closed down, there was a palpable sense of gravity as people went through security. Some had masks. Most had hand sanitizer. Everyone kept their distance. The headlines we were reading at this point were warning about the lack of testing availability in the US, how to limit spread via social distancing, and advising to stand 6 ft apart. I couldn’t help but noticing that the line for Starbucks was tightly packed, extending out into the passage towards our gate. And I waited in it, glaring at anyone who stood too close or coughed in my direction without coughing into their elbow.
Remembering back, the seriousness felt downplayed in the news or we’d certainly have chosen to drive home. At this point, we planned to self-quarantine out of caution upon our return home, but my greatest point of concern was that we could get my mother sick, since she lives with us, along with my youngest sister. That, and the fact that neither had stopped going in to work. My mom is a cashier and my sister works as a hostess, which seemed dicey, given the number of people they’d interact with in a given day. It wouldn’t be possible to quarantine if they were moving in and out of our home.
I think some of our weekend panic before we were back home was related more to not being in our own space, in the comfort of our home, to hunker down, dig in, and prepare. Sort of a “my kingdom, my castle” type of ancient, survivalist, gut thing. We’d been traveling with the kids for over a week by that point, and, while being on the beach by the ocean is restorative and lovely, the warmth of the sun and beauty of the sea doesn’t change the fact that kids wake up early. We were tired and worn out by this point.
Thankfully though, I feel like we were more mentally prepared for what was coming than many back home. Maybe a week before we left, I asked Brian if he thought we should cancel the whole trip as US cases of coronavirus started to surface. I expected him to laugh and say: Are you crazy! Of course not, but instead he hesitated, then practically knocked me over with his next statement. Actually, I haven’t wanted to mention to you how concerned I am about this. I ordered masks earlier this week.
I nearly fell to the floor.
But hadn’t I been to Target for hand sanitizer earlier that weekend? (The shelves were sparse – I left with just one.) Hadn’t I just been excessively cautious on a photography job at a huge video-game convention in town— the same convention that Facebook and Sony had pulled out of due to increasing concerns over coronavirus? Didn’t we have Clorox Bleach wipes ready to go in our carry-on to wipe down the plane seats we’d be sitting in en route to Orlando? The word in the news at this point was that this was a virus hitting older populations and that those our age were getting mild versions and pulling through just fine. We weren’t worried.
Thinking back on it now, it certainly was a wishful ignorance.
And now here we are. Earlier this week was devoted to re-entry into our normal(ish) daily lives after 10 days away on vacation. While Brian jumped back into work calls (from home) on Tuesday, I drank coffee on the couch and enjoyed a leisurely morning decompressing with the kids. I think we watched Brave, or maybe Frozen II. It was calm. At some point, I started making Irish Soda bread, finally remembering that it was St. Patrick’s Day. I was tired and so were the kids. Our suitcases would lay untouched for two more days out of caution since I’d read that the virus can linger on surfaces for quite a bit. To be extra diligent, Brian even sprayed everything we had traveled with with Lysol as soon as we arrived home.
The next day, our grocery delivery arrived and my God, you’d have thought it was war times. I’d been up the night before, furtively adding items to the order and wondering: is this something I’m going to really want to eat next week? Or the week after? Will this keep? Is now really the time to be trying new recipes requiring specialty ingredients that might not be in stock? We didn’t even get everything I’d ordered either — no pot stickers, no pork loin, no rice, no tortilla chips and no bacon. I’d even chosen turkey bacon, which was still in stock at that point, but isn’t a normal buy for us. None of the unavailable items were anything we’d die without of course, but I’d never craved chips and salsa more in my life in that moment.
I got the worst craving for chickpea tikka masala over Basmati too, something my sister introduced into my life while she was in college in Albany, New York. It was an easy, three-ingredient dinner requiring just chickpeas, which we had in the pantry, a jar of tikka masala simmer sauce, and Basmati rice. Well, guess what was out of stock almost everywhere — rice. And my favorite simmer sauce. There was a related one, but not THE one, which has proven to be a hallmark of grocery shopping in the time of coronavirus.
It says a lot that when our grocery order was delivered, one of my greatest reliefs was seeing that my favorite Sauvignon Blanc had not been substituted for a more expensive bottle I don’t like as much.
I read an article earlier today about how to prepare for a pandemic. One of the best bits of advice that made me laugh noted that now was not the time to start to eat healthy. Are you really going to want to eat lentils with salad? Is today the day to kick a lifelong caffeine addiction? No. Now is the time for cookies, pasta, and expensive Starbucks beans.
Still, when I didn’t see a price I liked for bread, I thought: well, I’ll just make it. It wouldn’t have been something out of character for me, I do enjoy cooking and I love to bake. I’ve had bread on my list of things to try making — I even bought a second hand bread maker about a year ago, after viewing the holiday breads episode on Great British Baking Show. I even had my own sourdough starter started a couple years ago. But right now, with my husband working from home all day, young kids out of school and activities? Making bread so I don’t have to risk going out to a grocery store? That is intense.
Every day, I see more and more couples and families walking the neighborhood. More people out walking than I have ever seen before. We did a few family walks too. Nothing out of character, but it feels like such a bigger deal now. When we pass others on the sidewalk, there is a collective intake of breath. It’s hard to smile with your eyes and gesture some semblance of a “hello” when you’re trying not to exhale.
Personally, I’m really missing my morning workouts at the gym and my group spin class. Simple things like grabbing a coffee at Starbucks and running errands, like going to buy my own groceries. I really miss all my clients’ dogs too. I’ve walked some of them weekly for 6 months now and board so many of them, I think of them as my dogs at this point. I felt their absence the moment we walked in the door from the airport.
Trivial annoyances feel harder to handle, too, but have also helped me uncover the simple things that bring me joy. I nearly had a mental breakdown when I couldn’t get into my digital library account on Wednesday for example. Since the library is closed, I imagined I was out of luck. My sister had a stack of overdue books on my card preventing me from logging in to my account, which, while disappointing for me while away on our trip, quickly became the end of my world when I wanted to listen to an audiobook on a walk around the neighborhood a couple days ago. Self-care is a huge priority for everyone lately it feels like but this particular triviality served a purpose. I really love to read, I’ve remembered and that matters now. So I’m going to make time for that before bed each night.
Connecting with friends and family has been so important too. By about Thursday (only day three of “quarantine”) I was coordinating an e-book club with my girlfriends. That quickly lead to “let’s scrap the books and having a Google hangout tonight, with wine” which is exactly what we did on Thursday and it was the most fun I’ve had with my friends in a while, I have to say.
The girls have handled things in stride, mostly elated to be home and reunited with their toys. One of my first tasks when we returned was to postpone her school friends birthday party and email immediate family we’d still hoped to celebrate with next weekend to let them know that was also off the table. Wanting to be honest with Emilia, I tried to explain shortly after.
I felt my heart shatter as her eyes welled and gigantic tears quickly streamed down her face. This is the girl who wants to know who is coming “to the party” at our house (obviously) whenever there is a birthday in our family. Nana’s birthday? Who is coming? she’d demand. Auntie Vicky’s Birthday? What kind of cake will it be …and who is coming?
She looked at me, brow knit, and asked, voice rising: But MiMi and PaPa are still coming, right? Or Auntie Vicky? You can be sure I spent the evening online ordering supplies for her Frozen II cake, making sure delayed shipping dates would work, finding which websites still had what I needed and could ship before her birthday, and otherwise stressing myself out enormously, worrying that she would be utterly crushed when her birthday turned out to be just another day we’re just trying to get through — with a little bit of birthday cake sprinkled in.
The weather this weekend has been beautiful thankfully, in the low 70s. The forecast next week looks miserable and cold, with some snow thrown in for wretched measure so we’re making the most of it. I spent a lot of my time outside today trying to get the oak leaves off all the garden beds and neatening things up for my emerging spring bulbs. Usually, the task overwhelms me and I delegate it to Brian, but with only time on my hands and nowhere to be anymore, I kept repeating over and over to myself: “The time will pass anyway,” which is from a longer quote about never giving up on a dream because of the time it will take to accomplish it. And wouldn’t you know, the garden does actually look pretty good. Sure it’s muddy and the beds are still far more sparsely planted than I want, but I could actually see the progress.
It was a lesson I’m glad I learned early amidst this pandemic, because it feels like this is going last a lot longer than another week. So, until then, be well friends. Keep calm and carry on.