Tag Archives: #Pandemic

Keep calm and carry on? A return to tradition

Flashback to March 14, 2020. COVID-19 was the top news story. My daughter Julie and her family were leaving for the Orlando airport after a week’s stay. We had spent a few days on the beach and been delighted  by news of the birth of our grandson in a San Francisco hospital. We had cancelled our planned visit to Magic Kingdom the day before Disney announced it was closing the park that weekend. Instead, we spent hours in a community pool making sure we weren’t too close to anyone else. 

Julie’s last words as she got into her rental car were, “Mom and Dad, promise us you will stay safe!” She begged us to skip our plans to see Death Trap, which was being performed by our local theater group that evening. She must have called her brother, because Adam FaceTimed us an hour before we were to leave for the play. “If you stay home, I will keep the camera on your new grandson for the next hour.” Seeing our grandson won. We had no idea we would be feeling its effects—masks; sheltering in place; cancelled trips; cancelled events; hours of Netflix’s and puzzles; new variants; tragically, loss of friends to the virus—for the next two years.

Within the first month of the pandemic, I decided that celebrating with a Sabbath dinner every Friday would bring some joy. I polished my grandparents’ candlesticks; bought a new Kiddish cup on ebay (I must have lost mine in our move); brought out my embroidered challah cover, and located a friend’s challah recipe I had always meant to try. With some difficulty—the whole world decided along with me to make bread—I purchased flour, yeast, and sugar to make the traditional Shabbat bread. And I mixed and kneaded and braided my first challahs. Delicious! 

The following Friday, I was a little more confident. I made four small ones, and shared one with president of our (closed down) shul and one with a friend whose wife had just been placed in memory care.By April, I had totally embraced not only the baking process but also the spiritual elements. I learned that it was appropriate to say prayers during the kneading process, a way of feeding the body and the soul. I initially prayed for my family as well as our country and for all impacted by the pandemic. But my prayers soon extended to the sick, the grieving, the lonely. I kept a Mi Shebeirach list on my phone as reminders and often played Debbie Friedman’s version of the beautiful prayer as I kneaded the pliant, soft dough.

We developed a rhythm: Every Friday afternoon I baked the challahs, and just before sunset, Larry would head off in our car, delivering two or three still warm fragrant loaves to needy people in our community. When I couldn’t physically share them, I attached pictures of the challah onto an email with a note. “I kneaded prayers of healing into this loaf of bread. Thinking of you. Love, Marilyn.”

By the time Larry and I were finally able to travel to see our children and grandchildren in June 2021, I was a seasoned challah maker—to a point. Baking bread in someone else’s kitchen proved to be a challenge. In San Francisco, I realized the sound of the mixmaster cranking out the initial steps of challah process woke my grandson from his nap. In Colorado, the 9100 foot elevation resulted in loaves that looked more like amoebas. I had to learn to work around nap time and altitude. 

Meanwhile, I was tweaking my technique. I replaced the butter in my friend’s recipe with canola oil, which meant less noise and more kneading time, my favorite party of the process. Rocky Mountain challahs, I learned, needed to go into the oven immediately after braiding to prevent over-rising. A straight egg yolk wash resulted in browner, shinier loaves, which Larry wholeheartedly approved “This is the way challah is supposed to look,” he said, biting into the harder crust.

Over the past two years, I have baked and shared dozens of challahs, many that were appearing on our shul’s Zoom services. As our world finally has begun opening up, however, finding the time to make the challahs on Friday has been more difficult. I “cheat”by making seven or eight loaves and freezing 2-4 braided unbaked challahs, to be defrosted and baked when needed. (I still feel Jewish guilt when I use that shortcut!)

Friends have asked me if they could buy my challahs or even sell them at our Farmer’s Market. I decline, telling them emphatically I am not starting a new career. Instead, I offer them my challah “recipe,” a nearly 3000 word tome with numerous tips. Recently, I even invited two friends over for a “challah workshop.” After we all enjoyed slices oof the warm loaves smothered with butter, they went home with a batch of the still-rising dough they had prepared. They sent me pictures of their finished creations, beautiful in their own right. I am just following an old Yiddish expression: “Give people a challah, and they eat for a day. Give them a recipe, and they become challah bakers!”

Initially, I was hopeful that this would be the last article I would be writing about the pandemic. Two vaccines and two boosters later, Larry and I have pretty much resumed our lives. But there are now disturbing numbers that show another upward trend. Will we have to resume mask wearing? Sheltering in place? Only time will tell. 

When I wrote this mid-April, I was on a challah hiatus. Instead, Larry was enjoying sponge cake, Passover popovers, and matzo brie. But Passover ended next Friday. I soon will be pulling out the ingredients for the challah and donning my special apron. Stay safe, my friends.Better yet, Keep Calm and Bake Challah.

Wrestle with COVID leaves survivor a changed woman

“When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” Haruki Murakami

Ever since the first cases of COVID-19 were identified, America has been divided regarding wearing masks, gathering in large groups, or, most recently, getting one of the variants of the vaccine. Heated arguments have occurred in government institutions to sports venues to houses of worship to classrooms to local bridge groups. For Kathy Glascott, a COVID-19 survivor, such protocols are not a matter of personal choice but a matter of social responsibility.

A former elementary school teacher, from Buffalo New York, Kathy Glascott was the happiest she had been in many years.  She had retired to a 55-plus community near Orlando, Florida, and, as was her style, she showed up for life. She was involved in several activities including the British Isles Heritage  Club, the Western Upstate New York club, and SOL Writers. A widow, she met her significant other Mike through the community’s Singles group, and they were having fun, going to concerts and dances and traveling to places of which she had only dreamed.“It was like being a teenager again,” she said.

Then, in February 2020, the unsettling news of a virus later identified as COVID-19 began to emerge. Heeding the early advice of medical experts, Kathy sheltered in place and tried to avoid exposure. Short on groceries, she took a risk and went for a quick supermarket run. “I didn’t have a mask because you couldn’t get them” Kathy reflected months later. “Looking back, I wish if had the damn groceries delivered.”

Soon after, Kathy began to feel unwell..One evening, exhausted and exhibiting symptom of what she thought was bronchitis exacerbated by her asthma, she had Mike take her to the nearby hospital’s ER. She had no idea that it would be  5 1/2 months until she would see anyone except through a plate glass door.

Kathy was diagnosed with bilateral pneumonia and COVID-19 and almost immediately placed in an induced coma in the ICU. She has vague memories of anything from March 27 until she woke up from anesthesia on May 5. “During that time,” she wrote months later, “my body was assaulted by machines that were surrogates for bodily organs—a feeding tube, a respirator, and catheters.”

Meanwhile, her brother Brian Joyce, a Methodist pastor in New Jersey, kept her large family and many friends abreast of Kathy’s life and death struggle through posts on her popular FaceBook page. On three occasions, Brian gave the grim news that she had been intubated and was near death. Even when the medical staff removed her from her induced coma, she was not out of the woods. She remained hospitalized for another six weeks and later continued her recovery in a rehab center where she had to learn again to hold her head up, sit, stand, walk, and swallow.

Brian warned his FaceBook followers against what he called “COVID-19 fairytales.” “It would be nice if Kathy’s story demonstrated a victory over the virus,” he posted on August 1 as his sister entered her 19th week of fighting for her life.“In reality her recovery is a daily journey through pain, loneliness, separation, therapy, small victories, and moments of great success and rising hope.”

On September 6, 163 days after she had been admitted to the hospital, Kathy was finally released. For the first two months, she stayed with her neighbor and closest friend Susan Schulman.After Kathy moved back into her own home, she continued to rely on Susan,  Mike, and others to provide a much-needed network of support. 

Over a year later, Kathy is still trying to make sense of what happened and “to fix what’s broken.” She mourns the six months of her life she lost to the virus in which her only contacts were her ever-present, albeit, wonderful medical staff members. 

Although not confirmed by her doctors, Kathy considers herself as a “long hauler,” one of unfortunate 10% of COVID-19 survivors who experiences prolonged effects of the illness. In her case, she struggles with vision problems, a chronic cough, reoccurring bronchitis, neuropathy in her feet, frequent fatigue, and bouts of PTSD. “I’m better, but I’m not the me I was before Covid,” wrote Kathy on a post in her blog This and That:Musings on Being a Writer.“I have a new normal that makes me feel diminished, stressed, joyful, discouraged, and grateful all at the same time.”

Kathy also recognizes that COVID has affected not only herself but also those with whom she is involved. This is especially seen in the impact her illness had on her daughter, Brenda Glascott, a college administrator who lives with her wife in Portland, Oregon. “Ever since I woke her in the middle of the night on March 28 to say, ‘I love you’ before I was intubated for the first time,” said Kathy, “Brenda has had to make a number of hard decisions on my behalf. And she made each one with courage and love.” Kathy has said that the hope of seeing her daughter and others who sustained her and kept her fighting in her darkest hours.

As a survivor, Kathy feels a responsibility to protect herself and others.“I try to honor the concern and love shown me by not taking unnecessary chances and by practicing safe protocols.” Those measures include limiting her exposure to others and wearing a mask even though she is fully vaccinated.

She is an outspoken opponent of those who reject such measures on the pretext of personal freedom. “If you hate wearing a mask,” reads one of her FaceBook posts, “you’re really not going to like the ventilator.” In another post, she quotes George Takei, the American actor and activist. “Telling me you are proudly unvaccinated is like telling me you’re a drunk driver. You’re not a patriot. You’re not a freedom fighter. You’re a menace.”

A writer and author of three previous books, Kathy is working on a fourth that will recount in detail her own “harrowing dance” with COVID-19. “When I think about the many people who were affected by my struggle, I am humbled by their love and concern and grateful for the outpouring of prayer and support I received,” she said. “I hope to pay it forward by sharing my own experience and encouraging others to take the necessary steps to protect themselves and help curtail the spread and continuance of this terrible pandemic.” 

First published in (Capital Region) The Jewish World, October 28-November 18 issue.

The Pandemic in Three Pratfalls

On a beautiful morning in theRockies, I weave my way up the two mile Mount Royal Trail. Geared up in hiking boots, pants, and my new “Mountain Mama” teeshirt, I enjoy the solitude, the sounds of mountain streams and chirping birds, and the sight of butterflies that lead me up the path. Small wooden bridges span the occasional creeks. Arriving on the bank of Rainbow Lake, I take in the beauty surrounding me before starting the trip down the Aspen Trail. 

Despite my pure joy of being in my “happy place,” I know my family worries about my frequent solo hikes. It would be generous to say their fear emanates from possible encounters with moose, elk, or bear. Unfortunately, it actually comes from encounters with rocks and roots. No, they don’t fear my being eaten by a forest denizen. They fear I might trip on the gnarled tree roots, the patches of loose stone, or the small boulders that are a part of the hiking experience. 

Not that their concerns are unfounded. Over the past 16 months, COVID-19 has not felled me. It has been my own stupid feet.

My first trip down free fall lane came early in the pandemic.” With pools and exercise classes in our 55+ active community shuttered, my husband and I were taking one of our long morning walks. It was hot, as usual. It was humid, as usual. What wasn’t usual was the dead snake lying on the sidewalk in front of us a mile into our walk.

“Watch out!” I yelled to Larry. He crossed his right leg in front of me to avoid the snake, and I I fell fast. And hard. And as I slammed face first onto the pavement, all I could think was “Damn that snake!”

I felt incredible pain and tasted the blood that was pooling in front of me. For one of the few times in my life, I was grateful my nose was more Barbra Streisand that Amy Adams, as it appeared to have taken most of the hit.

When I gingerly stood up, Larry and I assessed the damage. Scraped elbows and knees that did not require stitches? Check. Bones intact? Check. Teeth whole and still in mouth? Check. Ability to walk home. With the help of an ice pack wrapped in a towel provided by a Good Samaritan who had witnessed the accident from her front porch, also CHECK!.

Fortunately, outside of two black eyes and multiple minor scrapes, I had avoided major injuries and a trip to the emergency room.

My second adventure in face plants occurred twelve months later when the world was finally opening up. Larry and I were visiting my brother and sister-in-law in Sarasota, Florida, our first time we had been able to connect with family since COVID hit. On the second day of our visit, the four of us took a trip to Spanish Point, a 30-acre outdoor museum site. We were weaving through a section which was being set up for an evening concert. As I was wearing the required face mask, sunglasses, and a wide brimmed hat, I didn’t see that the sound bar the sound technician had placed between the bottom rungs of two of the chairs. My foot caught on the pole, and I did a hard splat in the grass. It was a second lucky “break” in that I walked away with a scraped up face, another set of black eyes, and no ER visit. 

Three months later, my luck ran out. Larry and I were in San Francisco visiting our son, daughter-in-law and sixteen-month-old grandson. On a Saturday morning, we took an easy, scenic three mile round trip hike on the Tennessee Valley Trail in nearby Marin County. We were off the trail and walking over to our parked car when I tripped over a stupid rock—or is it that stupid me tripped over an innocent rock? Fortunately, I fell right in front of a doctor and his family who were about to begin their hike. He bandaged me up with the diagnosis that nothing appeared to be broken but the cut on my forearm was deep and required stitches.

After striking out at our attempts to get help at two urgent cares (One was closed; the second “didn’t do sutures.” ) our son dropped Larry and me off at University of California San Francisco’s emergency room. At first, judging from the number of people in the waiting area, I thought that I would get in and out quickly. Four and a half hours later, however, the ER manager announced that, along with those of us cooling our heels in the waiting room, there were at least 25 ambulances lined up outside with people in worse shape than us low priority patients with mere ear infections, head bumps, and cut forearms. We should expect a possible ten hour wait.

I was about to ask for a sewing kit and a prescription for antibiotics and call it a day when—thank goodness—I was taken into a room to get patched up. Six stitches and a tetanus shot later, I was good to go. Thankfully,I have had no lingering effects from Pratfall #3.

Initially I was worried that maybe I was having balance issues. In the days and weeks that followed, others of all ages have told me of similar situations that resulted in much worse endings—broken elbows, wrists, and legs. Yes, I consider myself lucky.

As I was getting ready for my first solo hike in Colorado, my daughter encouraged me to wait for her so that she could watch over me and make sure I didn’t fall. I said no, insisting that this almost-71-year-old body was still more than capable of hiking up and down trails, thank you very much. She did meet me halfway and showed me a longer but less steep trail that I have taken on my own as well as others with Larry and my granddog.Larry and I have also tackled longer, more difficult hikes without a scratch—or splat—between us.

Our most memorable Colorado hike this summer was the one Larry and I took with my granddaughter. When we reached the Rainbow Lake area, she insisted we ford a small stream by scrambling across the logs that spanned the water. Larry questioned whether she should attempt the crossing. “Don’t worry, Zayde!” she said. “I’m a Mountain Girl I got this..” Taking my cue from her, I successfully made my way across the logs, albeit slower, more cautiously, and certainly more awkwardly. But I did it. After all, as my new teeshirt proclaims, I am a Mountain Mama. I got this!

Epilogue: Soon after sharing this story with my writing group, Larry and I spend the afternoon exploring Vail Village. In one of the stores, I decided to try on a shirt that had caught my eye. As the salesperson led me to the changing rooms. he said, “Take the room on the left,There is a lip on one on the right, and I won’t want you to trip.” 

“Do I LOOK like someone who would trip?”I bristled. He quickly backtracked, “Well, even sixteen-year-olds have tripped over it.” Not surprisingly, I didn’t buy the shirt. Before I left the store, however, I sought out the salesperson and gave him my business card with my blog address. “My next article will be The Pandemic in Three Pratfalls,” I said.”Your comment will be in it!” 

First published in (Capital Region, NY) Jewish World August 5, 2021

“Farklempt!” Overcome with Emotion!!

Yiddish may be one of the world’s more obscure language, but it has given us words which are no less than perfect. Someone may have “nerve,” but chutzpah reflects a shameless audacity that says it better. Being a “good person” is nice, but being a mensch brings that individual to a high level of honor, integrity, kindness, and admiration. One can complain, but when one “kvetches,” he also adds a layer of whining and fretting that really captures the moment.

Another word that Yiddish does best is farklempt, overcome with emotion. I can count on one hand how many times I have ever needed to use this word or felt its power. The day I held our newborn son. Three years later, when I held our daughter. And six years ago, when I lay eyes on my two-hour-old granddaughter. And now, I can use it again: When we were finally able to hold our grandson for the first time.

Our grandson as born in March 2020, a few days before the world closed down due to the pandemic. My husband Larry and I were on Indian Rocks Beach, Florida, with my daughter Julie, her husband Sam and our granddaughter when our daughter-in law-Sarah went into labor in a San Francisco hospital. Our son Adam announced their newborn’s  official arrival late that night via phone calls and texted pictures. 

By the time Julie and her family flew back to Colorado later that week, the impact of COVID-19 on our lives exploded. We promised our children that we would “stay safe” and shelter-in-place. Larry and I had made reservations to fly out to California later in the month, but we had no choice but to cancel and wait until things improved. Little did we know at that time that that wait would stretch out for over 15 months.

Thanks to social media, we got to see a great deal of our “San Francisco Kid.” Adam and Sarah called frequently and focused the camera on our beautiful new grandchild so we could watch him sleeping, nursing, bathing. Then, as the months dragged on, we saw him learning to crawl, learning to walk, speaking his first words. But we were unable to hold him in our arms.

Larry and I tried to repeat certain rituals so that our grandchild would know us. Each time we connected, I would sing “The Wheels on the Bus.” As the months progressed, I went beyond blinkers going “left right stop” and coins going “clink clank clink.” I introduced dogs barking and ducks quaking and pigs oinking and cows mooing, “Isn’t that crazy?” I would ask him 3000 miles away. “Ducks and pigs and cows on a bus??”Larry, meanwhile, would move two fingers against his lips and say, “Bu bu bu ba!” 

By the time our plane landed in SFA in mid-June, Larry and I were beyond excited and also a little nervous. How would our grandchild  react to these two people whom he had only seen on a small screen. Would he cry? Turn away? After hugging my daughter-in-law Sarah until she couldn’t breathe, Larry climbed in front of the Honda Civic with Sarah, and I tucked in the back next to our grandson’s car seat. He looked at me as if to say, “Who is this lady?” I gently touched his arm, but he pulled it away. I softly started singing “The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round…” His eyes got big, and he burst out into a huge smile. And Larry? As soon as we got out of the car, Larry lifted him out of the car, held him with one arm, and with the other hand, did his “Bu bu bu ba! routine.”The baby laughed and, for the first time ever, imitated Zayde perfectly. Our grandchild knew us both.

Our visit has been Grandparent Heaven. It has been  filled with hugs; “besos for bebe” (kisses for baby!) in honor of his Hispanic caregiver; beautiful smiles; hours reading Go Dog Go and Brown Bear, Bear, Who Do You See?; innumerable playings of songs by Rafi; multiple trips to city parks;a special day at the San Francisco zoo; and a few very precious baby sitting stints. As promised, I even pulled off two Shabbat dinners with fresh baked challahs and candle lighting via Zoom with the rest of our family. 

Soon Larry and I will be heading for our second “farklempt” moment. We will be flying to Colorado to be united with Julie, Sam and our granddaughter, again over fifteen months in the making. Yes, we have spent hours and hours on FaceTime with our Rocky Mountain family, but I will be overcome with emotion when I can finally hold them in our arms.

Through the past year, Larry and I have said again and again how grateful we were for our physical, financial, and financial health. But again and again, what we missed most was family. The next step will be getting all eight of us under one roof. That moment will be for me the end of this long, difficult time. Until then, I will savor our time with our family, time that has become even more precious, more important, and more cherished after so long deprived. 

Fallow 2020 may help us reconnect with what we have

In her book, Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, British writer Katherine May recounts her own “sad” time where she was forced to hunker down after family illness. “Wintering brings about some of the most profound and insightful moments of hour human experience,” she writes, “and wisdom resides in those who have wintered.”

We are all “wintering” now through this pandemic. As we welcome good news with the rollout of the vaccines, we also grieve for those we have lost, those who remain ill, and all of us who have had our lives upended. But there WILL be a spring. I am not sure if I ever want to go back to the phrenetic pace of our previous life. 

My whole life has always been about filling up my calendar. I thought this would change once I retired to Florida, but the last five years have been even busier. My days—and in many cases Larry’s as well—were filled with concerts and theater subscriptions and annual Disney passes and movies and dinners out. I scheduled so many events that neither  Larry nor I could keep up, resulting in revelations of upcoming plans mere hours before they occurred. “You were going to tell me about this WHEN?” Larry asked, as he dressed quickly to get to an afternoon tribute band concert being held in our 55+ community. “Sorry, sweetheart,” I responded as I quickly threw on some makeup. “I thought our tickets were for the evening show!”

Our lives were also filled with trips to visit our children as well as to see places on our bucket list. When we weren’t away or running around to our innumerable commitments, we also enjoyed visits from friends and relatives. We refer to  it as “The Tourist Season,” where our sunny home in Florida looked much more enticing than their snow and ice covered homes February through April.

That life as we knew it drastically changed in March.

Our daughter Julie and her family had flown in from Colorado on March 7 for a week, just as COVID cases were beginning to spike. We stayed in a rented cottage on Indian Rocks Beach, celebrated the long distance birth of our grandson on March 8, and enjoyed the sunshine. We felt safe on the sparsely populated beach. Once we got back to  our home, however, we cancelled our plans to visit Disney World and prepared all our meals at home.

On Saturday, as Julie’s husband Sam packed up their rental car for the trip to the airport, Julie pleaded with us to shelter in place until this was over. “Stay home, Mom and Dad,” she begged. “This is really serious.”

Despite her entreaties, my husband Larry and I were still debating whether to attend our community theater group’s production of Deathtrap. “This will be our last foray for a while,” I reasoned. “We should support our friends who put so much time preparing.”

One hour before we were to leave, our son Adam called from California. “If you promise not to go to the play,” he told us, “we will spend the next hour Zooming with you so you can watch your six-day-old grandson.” We complied. Outside of trips to doctors, the supermarket, and small, socially distanced outdoor meetings , we have kept our promise for the past nine months.

But maybe, for those of us fortunate enough to have survived 2020 without major physical and financial catastrophes, this year has been a break from our normal “Rush, Rush, Rush” routine. Larry and I have found a new rhythm that has given us respite in unexpected ways.

Each morning, we exercise, sometimes together (bikes, walks) and sometimes on our own (Larry’s pickleball and my swims). After lunch, we spend a leisurely hour or two n the couch doing duplicated crossword puzzles, working silently until one or both of us say, “I need help!” I find time to write while Larry satisfies his passion for history and sports with the help of Google. After dinner, a shared affair, we watch a Netflix or Amazon movie and read. I say a prayer of gratitude every day that I am going through this difficult time with Larry, my soul mate and best friend.

We both have appreciated the power of online technology, allowing us to keep up with far flung family and friends. Adam, and his wife Sarah have kept up their part of the bargain, Face Timing with us several times a week with the camera trained on our ten-month-old grandson. Although we have yet to hold him, we have at least been part of his life, watching him sleep and poop as an infant to seeing him experience applesauce for the first time, pop his first tooth and crawl backwards. 

Thanks to his long, elaborate stories, our five-year-old granddaughter often checks in with Zayde. She asks him to retell the story of how Wicki Wolf was foiled again by the forest denizens, which include “good” wolves, moose, and even a visiting alligator who somehow survives the Colorado winters. Julie and her husband often share the screen. Frequent emailed pictures and videos of both grandchildren keep us further in touch.

True, there are times that I fear we have maxed out on Zoom. Synagogue services and board meetings. Book clubs and writing groups. Planned meet-ups with siblings and cousins and friends. But we still have much more down time that allows us to savor what we have rather than rush to taste something new. Although physically distanced, we have become more emotionally connected with the people for whom we care and even reconnected with those whom we lost touch in the frenzy of busier schedules.

As 2020 end, I know I join millions of others in being glad it is over. A popular meme summarizes those feelings: “2020. One Star. Very Bad. Would not recommend.” I look forward to a healthier, happier, and more huggable 2021. But I also hope that I will retain the lessons I have learned as I experienced my own wintering.

First published in (Capital Region, New York) Jewish World, January 7, 2021

Too many questions! What I miss most during the pandemic is certainty.

This article was written in May but never got onto my blog. I am catching up with my posts now. When reading, think of where we all were before Summer 2020 started. Marilyn 9/8/2020.

Yes, I know the old adage that says life changes on a dime, and that you never know what will happen tomorrow. But now my life is filled with too many questions regarding the future. Will Larry, my husband, or I contract COVID-19? If we do, will we die? How about my children and grandchildren? What are their chances of getting the disease?

The Drill
We know the guidelines. Practice social distancing. Wash your hands. Avoid touching your face. Wear a mask. But will that be enough? We have gone to stores three times since March 6. The first time was to Publix, during a “senior’s only” hour. Huge mistake. The store was mobbed, most people were not wearing masks, and the wait at the checkout was a minimum of 30 minutes. We switched to Instacart. Just recently, however, we ventured out to Publix and Lowes, donned in masks and gloves, for some targeted shopping. I would estimate 80% of the people and almost all the employees (except one young woman sorting produce) were wearing masks. Were we safe? Every time we are in a public place, we reset the clock to see if symptoms occur in the next 14 days. The biggest uncertainty is “When will this end?”

End Agenda
The first thing on our end agenda will be to see our children and grandchildren.This week, we cancelled our summer plans. As we had done annually for the past five years, we had booked our plane flights and rentals in Colorado for eight weeks. Going there gave us a chance to escape the summer heat and enjoy  the beauty of the Rockies. The best part of the summer was being close to my daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter. Along with meeting with them for dinners or concerts, we often were recruited to bring our granddaughter to pre-school or pick her up. We often watched her so that Julie and Sam could get some private time.

We have worked with our rental person so that we can use the condo at a future date. But when will that be? August? September? Next summer?

The pandemic has also put our meeting our new grandson on hold. Prior to his birth in March, we had made plans to fly out and stay at a bed and breakfast blocks from their home.

Longing For Connection
My children have been wonderful about keeping in touch through video conferencing. Adam and Sarah often arrange the screen so that our new grandson fills the picture. We have seen him poop, burp, yawn, sleep, and squirm. We have hear him cry and sigh and make what Adam calls his “pterodactyl” sounds. But we haven’t held him. When will that day arrive? Our granddaughter, with the help of her parents, also checks in often. We talk, read or tell stories to each other, and bake chocolate chip cookies together “virtually.” But—again the but—when will we be able to actually hug her and kiss her beautiful “punim” with those big blue eyes and wonderful smile?

Of course, we are not alone in this pandemic. Everyone faces an uncertain future, whether it be as trivial as getting a haircut (and a long-overdue hair color!) or as critically important as having necessary surgery. For parents working from their kitchen tables, they daily juggle their workload and their childcare and even home schooling. Will daycare resume this summer? This fall? Next January? Is it safe even to send the children?

For those working outside the home—especially those on the front lines—they wonder if they will bring the virus home with them. For those who have been furloughed or—worse—lost their jobs, they wonder when they will able to return to work. When they are, are the benefits of a paycheck worth the risk of also exposing themselves and/or their families to COVID-19? Now that Florida has eased up restrictions, a beautician told her client that her husband is battling cancer. “If I go back to work, I may bring the virus home. Do I stay safe or have money for food, rent, and other necessities?”

As most of my friends are also grandparents, they speak to me of so many missed opportunities including a Mother’s Day visit, or a high school or college graduation. Even those who live close to their families must watch their grandchildren play from10 feet away or on the other side of the fence.

What is one of the saddest parts of the virus are those whose loved ones are in assisted living or nursing homes. One friend shared with me the loss of a parent who passed away “from a broken heart” when he realized that he could not see his family in the foreseeable future. Another friend is limited to FaceTime with his wife who, even though physically two miles away, could be on the other side of the moon. My friend Allison, a member of my writing group, has her 99-year-old mother in a medical crisis in Trinidad, and she can only call her siblings to get updates. There is one certainty: many people who do not survive will die without being surrounded by their family. Many will also grieve alone.

Certainty And Control?
Before COVID-19 (BC) life had been more certain. Or was it? “The pandemic has handed out a stark reminder that the idea of us humans ever having had a locus of control is a complete myth,” Allison shared in a note to the other members of our writing group. “Now that’s a different type of loss— thinking we’ve lost something that we never really had.”

This morning’s headlines carried a glimmer of hope. The manufacturer Moderna said that the first coronavirus vaccine to be tested in people appears to “be safe and able to stimulate an immune response.” Reading further dimmed my excitement. The vaccine was tested on eight healthy volunteers ages 18 to 55. Will this be the answer? Or will several other possibilities in the queue turn out to be the answer? Meanwhile we wait and hope and deal as best we can with these very uncertain times.

First published in The Jewish World, May 28, 2020.

Hairy tales from the pandemic become a focus

With all that has been happening in the world since February, the discussion of hair grooming, seems to take up a great deal of time and space.

Six weeks after our life went into lockdown, my husband Larry was looking more and more like Bernie Sanders. Trips to the barber were not an option, and he had purchased through the internet electric hair clippers. Larry could easily get the front and sides, but I was responsible for the “back forty.” As I held the buzzing clippers in my shaking hands, visions of a Big Bang Theory episode in which Penny accidentally shaved a chunk out of Sheldon’s hair flashed in front of my eyes. Fortunately, the clippers were fairly idiot proof. Five minutes later, and the job was done. Larry looked more like himself.

Larry, along with many of his friends, have resorted to do-it-yourself grooming. Others have used this time to grow beards and ponytails. In our retirement community, grayer and balder versions of their long haired, bearded Sixties self are a badge of honor. 

For my women friends, it is not so much a matter of length as a matter of color. More and more crowns betrayed the grey that years of Clairol had covered. The big question was not, “When will this pandemic end?” No, it was replaced by the more looming question: “Should I go natural? “When restrictions lifted in June, most women ran back to their hairdressers, begging them to do their magic. A few, however, used this opportunity to allow nature to take its course. One of my friends  consulted “a Silver Foxy” Facebook page 

Along with a number of less desirable traits, I did inherit my mother’s genes when it came to hair color. Frances Cohen maintained her dark hair into her seventies. One of her favorite stories was a bout a conversation her hairdresser had with another client. “I want the same color that Fran uses,” said the fifty-something from her perch in front of the mirror. “What Fran has doesn’t come in a bottle,” the hairdresser. Just before the pandemic, I decided to stop highlighting my hair and was surprised to see that my natural brown color had little to no gray. While I questioned my sanity for ‘blonde-that sometimes-looked grey’ treatments I had done for years, my friends just kept saying how lucky I was that I had not spent all the time and money many had expended for years to change my hair color.

In the meantime, another hair-raising adventure was happening in San Francisco. My grandson Sid was born in March with a head of fine brown hair. One month later, he lost all the hair on top, which matched his father’s own male pattern baldness. Unlike Adam, however, my grandson soon recouped the hair on top but lost it on the sides. At five months, he now sports a beautiful brown mohawk. This entire tonsilatory adventure is now captured in a series of pictures chronically the ups and downs of Sid’s hair length.

My grandson may not care about the way his hair looks, but that is not the case for my five-year-old granddaughter. Two weeks ago, Sylvie, who had not gotten more than a trim since March, asked her mother to cut her hair “short like Abigail,” a character from Spirit, her favorite animated show. Julie was hesitant as the last attempt at a shorter style resulted in meltdown. But apparently it made all the difference when it was Sylvie’s choice. Julie texted her relief soon after she lay down the scissors. “I cut it once and she made me cut it again even shorter. She’s very happy!”

Following the text was a picture of my granddaughter sitting in a laundry basket with a huge smile. It was a perfect haircut.

Less than twelve hours later, we heard the familiar ding of Julie’s text message sound. “Well crap. She loved her haircut so much and was so excited… she snuck in her room and cut more off. It was so short on one side I had to shape it into short bob/pixie cut. No pictures available as she is in tears right now.”

The tears continued the next morning through breakfast and through a sad walk to pre-school. After a twenty-minute discussion on the buildings steps, my granddaughter finally was ready to show her face and bob. Unbeknownst to Julie at the time, my son-in-law Sam promised a trip to the toy store after he picked her up that night. Sylvie returned home clutching a “wish list” unicorn that thankfully ended further tears. 

A day later, we FaceTimed with my Colorado family and made sure to tell Sylvie how much we loved her short hair. When she commented that it was “too short,” we reassured her that her hair, unlike her Zayde’s and her Uncle Adam’s, DOES grow back.

Yes, between buzz cuts and bald spots and unplanned bobs, I will always remember all the hair raising adventures from this pandemic. 

First published in The Jewish World, August 20, 2020.