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THE TIME MY KID TOOK OFF HER MASK AT TARGET

I may go viral soon.

Recently, my husband and two daughters stopped by Target to pick up a few odds and ends. Throughout quarantine, my kids have been earning money and their pockets were burning. They both thought carefully about what to buy, giving me a quiet satisfaction that, at 9 and 13, they are beginning to understand budgeting and the cost of the objects of their desire. My 9-year old, Charlotte, was quick to make her selections: a weird stuffed animal thing in a plastic box shaped like a melting popsicle, sharpies for drawing class, and stickers.

As usual, my 13-year old cemented herself in the office supply aisle. Caroline is a collector, having accumulated over 50 notebooks and a dozen or more water bottles. Mechanical pencils are a newer passion and she requests them daily. She is so passionate about her collectibles that she often gets stuck on only one topic that she can’t unstick herself from thinking about. Right now, it is pencils.“Mom, will you buy me mechanical pencils? Can we go to the store to buy them? Can you order them on Amazon? Can you do it now?”

Having her own money helps Caroline understand that we can buy what we’d like with money we’ve earned. It also helps her practice strengthening her impulse control, gain a sense of delayed gratification, and improve her math skills. As a kiddo with a developmental delay, these are all really critical milestones. Sometimes, Caroline’s behavior is like that of a small child, which is frustrating to all of us in her family because we have expectations for the behavior and actions of children as they age. Life would sure be easier if Caroline had the competencies and maturity of other kids her age, but she doesn’t, so we continue to navigate the bumps in the road.

While she was still hovering over the pencils, I stood at the end of the aisle and gave Caroline a five minute warning, a technique we use often to help her transition between activities. Dancing a bit between aisles in an attempt to keep 6 feet of distance between me and the other shoppers, I then prompted Caroline with a one-minute countdown and she reluctantly turned toward me with a small pack of mechanical pencils in her hand. Following a protocol we established with her behavior specialist, I praised her for making a choice and transitioning without any issues.

“All set, buddy?” I asked her, sensing her frustration at being pushed to make a decision not at her own pace.

“Yeah. I guess so. I’ll just get these today.” I could tell she was internally processing all the things we’ve been working on teaching her and I was proud. Just a few years ago, we weren’t able to leave a Target without her tantrumming over being told no to a purchase request. Now, she can bring her own money, prioritize her purchases, and leave happy with her decision.

My husband and I checked out first, spending too much money on not very much, like underwear and shampoo, but also scoring a few containers of that amazing Target trail mix with chocolate. Charlotte was next and I pumped sanitizer onto her hands as she stepped away from the checkout area. Finally, Caroline placed her pack of pencils on the conveyor belt. She methodically and cautiously pulled the money  from her wallet and gathered her small bag with a satisfied smile. I pumped sanitizer onto her hands as we left.

I walked slightly ahead of Caroline, who moves at a slower pace. My mind was on dinner plans and getting home before anything frozen thawed on this hot summer day. I stopped to look both ways before stepping off of the sidewalk and heard someone shouting. A young woman passed me and Caroline. She made eye contact with me and I’d tried to eye smile at her, as I’m now practicing since nobody can see my mouth behind my mask. Now, I realized she was shouting at me. Or rather at Caroline who had just taken off her mask.. “Put on your mask! What’s wrong with you!” I turned toward the woman as her words lashed in our direction and echoed across the parking lot. A few passersby had stopped to watch the interaction. The young woman, two dozen paces from us, stood firm, her feet planted in a power stance, her arms waving, and her eyes blazing above her mask. “There’s a pandemic happening! Put on a mask! What is wrong with people?”

Disinterested in escalating the situation and concerned for Caroline, I grabbed her hand, put my head down, and walked swiftly toward the car.  My masked face was hot and turning red. I was so embarrassed. Caroline started crying. As we drove home, I wondered if that woman had taken a photo of us. I couldn’t recall if she had her device in hand. Were Caroline and I about to go viral? Would the world soon see me as just another angry Karen, pushing her privileged agenda over the safety of others?

We barely left the house for three months, we still wear masks and we socially distance. Asking if the kids have their masks and sanitizer is now as routine as reminding them to go to the bathroom before we leave. I’m frustrated when I see people in public not wearing a mask or wearing it tucked under their nose.  To the woman I encountered yesterday at Target, I am sorry and I apologize for not doing my job as a parent by ensuring my child followed masking protocol. I should have been walking alongside her and caught her unmasking. I know you are upset and scared and maybe someone you know or love has been a victim of COVID and all you wanted to do was go to Target and buy underwear and trail mix without worrying you’d be infected because of some stupid Karen and her kid. We learned our lesson and, next time we go out, we will do better.

If I had the chance to meet her, I would share Caroline’s story with her and tell her how proud we are to have her as our daughter and watch her overcome things, like her ability to wear a mask despite her sensory challenges. I would apologize. If she were still listening, I’d challenge her. I’d ask her if she had ever been shamed as a child when she made a mistake and I’d ask her how she felt in that moment. I’d ask if it changed her behavior and I’d ask her if she carried that shame long after it took place, having forgotten what action precipitated the shaming, but not the feeling of being told you are less than.

It was a teachable moment for me. It reminded me that our actions speak loudly and make a lasting impact, for better and worse.

The Urge to Document

For months I have felt the urge to document what is going on in my life during COVID19. At this point I have been collecting material but have not found time to organize it or process it. I’m curious if others have had the same experience?

I’ve been recording audio of my family several times a week. Sometimes this takes the form of an audio journal/monologue. Other times I record conversations.

I have been taking daily walks around Oneonta; starting July 1 I’ve been posting one photo per walk on Facebook. Here is the gallery link: https://www.facebook.com/mfrphoto/media_set?set=a.10111168596849267&type=3

The NYTimes today had an excellent article about documenting this year:

Museums are working overtime to collect artifacts and ephemera from the pandemic and the racial justice movement — and they need your help. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/style/museums-coronavirus-protests-2020.html

FRIDAY TAKEOUT UNMASKED

My family started a new tradition shortly after the Governor declared a state of emergency in New York.  To support our local businesses, break the monotony of being at home all day, avoid preparing dinner, consume delicious food, and establish an event to look forward to, we decided to order from a different restaurant on Fridays.   At this point of the pandemic, we were instructed to stay home and social distance.   COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations were increasing at an alarming rate in New York City.  Cases were confirmed in Otsego County. Consequently, we ordered our food online and requested contact-less delivery.  One of the first restaurants we ordered from serves Jamaican-American food.  It was slated to have its grand opening on the day the Governor ordered businesses closed.  Luckily for us as connoisseurs of Jamaican food, the owners decided to transition to the take-out model.  When the owner delivered the food to the house, I was on my front porch.  She and I maintained a distance of at least six feet as she gently rested our food at the top of the stairs to my porch.  She was grateful for the business and I was grateful for the delicious food.

We continued this pattern of contact-free delivery of our Friday meal until early May when we saw signs that the COVID-19 situation was improving.   At this point in the pandemic, COVID-19 hospitalization and death rates were slowing down in New York.  We were now required to wear masks in public when social distancing was impossible.  Our next-door neighbor had closed his Japanese restaurant in March and promised to open only when he felt the pandemic was under control. We were happy when he announced in late April that he was reopening his restaurant for takeout. To celebrate the opening of our neighbor’s restaurant, we decided to order our Friday meal from him.  We were feeling braver and decided to venture to the restaurant and pick up our food order.  We walked to the restaurant. We wore our masks. We picked up our food from our neighbor. He met all customers at the front door.  He was thrilled to see us. He wore a mask and gloves.  He placed hand sanitizer on the pick-up table for his customers.  He prominently displayed a sign about the benefits of wearing masks and good hygiene.  He gave us our food. We returned home and enjoyed our delicious meal. 

We continued our Friday tradition into June. On one Friday, as our region entered phase three of reopening, we became even bolder.  We decided to order from a restaurant we had never previously ordered from or dined at in pre-pandemic days.   We had heard good things about it.  We followed the usual pattern: order online, go to the restaurant, wear mask, get food.  As I approached the restaurant, I noticed a sign on the door indicating that customers entering the restaurant must wear masks. No problem.  We were wearing our masks.   We entered the building. There were two staff and one customer in the restaurant.  Ironically, none of them was wearing a mask.  I greeted the staff.  The person behind the bar looked uncomfortable and confused.  “May I help you?” he asked. The question was distinctly unfriendly.  “I am here to pick up my food order,” I said in a friendly and polite manner.  My response appeared to confuse him even more.  “What did you order?”  I told him.  More confusion.  What was the problem?  My mask?  The sign on the door specifically stated that anyone entering the restaurant must wear a mask. I was wearing a plain white mask on this evening, not the other one I kept at home that declared my allegiance to the Toronto Raptors.  Was it my brown skin? My curly black hair?  My brightly colored dress?  One of my daughter’s health care providers once informed me that the yellow fleece I was wearing was “rather bright” and the comment was not meant to be complimentary.  Was it because I was not a regular? Was it my Canadian accent which still has traces of a Jamaican inflection that he could not quite place?  Many years ago, a SUNY Oneonta faculty member once asked me if I was from Long Island.  I thought that was an odd question, but I digress.  Did the man behind the counter think I was a fugitive from downstate? An outsider?   Still looking dubious, he moved to the kitchen to ask the chef about my order.  The chef emerged from the kitchen with the meals I had ordered and passed them on to the waitress.  She started fiddling with the cash register.  “I already paid,” I said, keeping my tone even and still friendly.  My husband tried to make small talk with her but his attempts did not break the tension in the room.  The waitress confirmed my payment, gave us our food, and we left.

“Is it just me, or was that really uncomfortable?” I asked my husband when we were safely in our car. “Nope,” he replied, “That was definitely unwelcoming.”  “It’s a good thing you were with me,” I responded.  Once an outsider, always an outsider, despite living in Oneonta for almost twenty years, I thought to myself.  Well, at least we had our food, though unfortunately it turned out to be like the service, unpleasant.  “Next week, we ought to order dinner from the Indian restaurant,” my husband suggested.  “Yes,” I agreed.  The food is delicious, the staff is friendly, and they wear their masks. 

Hindsight 2020

Below are a few more of my diary entries from the beginning of the pandemic. There’s a lot I’d like to comment on now that I’m looking back on it:

March 25th. 2020

Roughly day nine of self-isolation, I would have had my 8am film class today, followed by Environmental Sustainability at 9am, with a break in classes after usually to go eat, shower/ get ready for the day, then a 12pm video production class. Usually I’d study for the after noon and have dinner with my friends at 7pm and spent the night with Ryan until I went to sleep.

Ryan had an overnight shift last night but a few hours before he had to leave for it, the White House announced anyone who’s left the NYC area within the last 14 days, (this includes Ryan) must self-quarantine for two weeks. So Ryan had to decide whether or not to go in. He’s been working with the public for a few weeks now and only worked after close for the last three days so he decided to go in. The new rule also effects whether or not I can get my things from my dorm when I’m scheduled to on Saturday.

We also found out that my friend Jonathan’s friend has tested positive for COVID, I had seen Jonathan the weekend Ryan came to visit and Jonathan had seen his friend the day before so now I’m hyper aware of  every time I sneeze.

I’ve been way busier with schoolwork than I was expecting, I’m taking a trip to target today I think, after classes, I’m really looking forward to leaving the house. Were taking gloves and hand sanitizer with us just in case.

March 28th, 2020

I picked up my things from my dorm today, the most excitement we’ve had in a few weeks honestly, and the farthest I’ve been from my house in about a month. I got to see Ryan; I’d be lying if I said there weren’t any tears. I don’t know when I’m going t get to see him again after today, it could be months. That’s the worst part of all this, not knowing when it’ll end, no count down it seems endless and its only going to get worse before it gets better.

I’m happy to have my clothes back, I’d been wearing the same three outfits for the past three weeks, not that I have anything to dress up for, but a nice mix of sweatpants and leggings couldn’t hurt. It has been a week since people have been moving their stuff out of their dorms, my friends across the hall have all moved their things out except for Kiara, it’s a ghost town on campus, everyone’s keeping their distance, getting in and out as fast as we can.

Classes have been going on for about a week now, most professors are keeping us organized and I appreciate that this was thrown on all of us at the same time, one of my classes was video production which was nearly all hands on so I haven’t got anything from that class yet, not sure if I might have to drop it. Schools been keeping me busy and were almost out of March, I’ve stopped watching the news, its helped a lot, nothings getting better.

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There’s so much about this I can’t even believe I wrote looking back, there were so many things I was going to have to worry about besides the variety of clothes I had at home, people were literally dying by the thousands and my biggest concern was my wardrobe, that mind set changed pretty quickly. Also, this was the last time I saw Ryan in person for another two and a half months, even writing that I never could’ve imagined we’d be three and a half months in and still where we are. no one could have predicted this.

Looking back – (Three-ish months later)

I’ve recently been reminded of the diary entries that I wrote at the very beginning of quarantine and I’d like to share them here, maybe some hindsight can help us all find a silver lining in all of this.

March 24th, 2020

Although this is my first entry, I am roughly a week and one day into self quarantine with my family. I’ve been home from school now two and a half weeks, a week and a half longer than anyone was expecting.

When I left for spring break on March 5th a world pandemic was nowhere on my mind, nowhere in the news, it was not a possibility. As the week went on the world seemed to change overnight. I left on Friday, by Monday schools were closing, the news was on 24/7, but it still felt temporary, a news story that would pass in a week leaving nothing but some examples of the worst and the best of humanity and a few new memes. By Friday it was practically at my doorstep. The number of cases, especially in New York, have been rising by the hundreds and SUNY schools are officially closed. This was not going away any time soon.

No one was prepared for this, especially my friends from school, other than me and my sister we all live no closer than an hour or two from each other. We knew we’d have to leave for summer, but we still had so much to do. Formals to go to, birthdays to celebrate and for a few of us graduation was around the corner. My few of my friends have all decided to face time once a week to keep in touch, but were still so lonely stuck at home.

I’m away from my boyfriend too. We had a pretty great set up living a dorm away from each other at school but Albany and Staten Island are a bit farther apart. The weekend before everything really shut down he came to visit, just in case he couldn’t by Monday.

He spent three days here, he tried his first New York City bagel and loved it (of course) and I got to show him my high school and he met more of my family it was an amazing weekend, he left Monday, I have no idea when ill get to see him again.

Monday was definitely my worst day, I couldn’t look at social media, any news I just wanted to shut out everything “COVID” “virus” “pandemic” I am incredibly overstimulated i need school to start back up because I cannot take much more of this.

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I’ll continue to add some of my older entries that still feel relevant, this entry feels like it was written in a different decade, so much has happened since.

Zoom – a new household term

Before March 16, I had not heard of Zoom, but since then, it has become a word we use frequently in our household. Between my daughter’s Zoom classes for school and dance, my Zoom meetings for work, and my husband joining in Zoom calls with friends and family, we are all too familiar with it. It just strikes me that something I didn’t think of pre-pandemic or a term I even referred to, is so common now. I even find myself thinking after a Zoom call with friends in other states or countries, “Why didn’t we do this before?” Sure, we were all busier and didn’t need to think of ways to stay in touch virtually like we have had to do in quarantine. However, I am now finding it a fun way of having a group gathering with distant friends and family and bringing people together. Since being in quarantine, there is a group of us who went to college together in Ohio, who now Zoom once a month and have reconnected after 20 years! Some live in Canada, Florida, etc. but for that hour each month, it is like we are all sitting around in someone’s living room sharing stories, laughs and our feelings about quarantine. I know for some, having to have Zoom meetings and Zoom classes may not be something that brings up such positive thoughts, but there is this other aspect to Zoom which has made quarantine in our household more bearable.

What Would they think

Recently, I’ve been missing a dear friend of mine who passed away over a year ago and listening to his music on youtube. I enjoy listening to his voice at the beginning when he introduces his songs and explains what he’s done. I’ll share one of his videos. He was a very private person, which is why you only ever see part of his face, so he is probably rolling over in his grave right now as I share this video.

Jim was a talented musician, and was a child of the 60’s if you couldn’t tell from his paisley shirt. We worked together for several years before I took the position I am currently in at SUNY Oneonta. We used to have late night chats as we closed the library about anything and everything, although we usually ended up circling back around to our mutual love of the Beatles and Tolkien.

We carried on conversing, even after I moved, until his sudden and very unexpected death in January of 2019. As I was listening to his music the other day, I began to wonder what he would have thought of the situation we are currently living in. I can imagine some of his frustrations and some of the unexpected joys he would have ultimately found in the stay-at-home orders.

I’m sure that in one of my “down” moments during this past semester, I would have written him an e-mail complaining about something and he would have ultimately come back with something wise, poignant, and witty to make me rethink my view on the matter in only the way that Jim could.

Thinking about Jim made me also wonder what other members of my family would have thought about this situation. My one grandfather, a social butterfly if there ever was one, would have somehow come up with every excuse possible to visit my parents and other people to have someone to talk to. He was a big cooker, so I’m sure he would have been annoyed with people stock-piling, even though he would be doing it himself as well. I’m sure I would have also heard him complain and use his favorite phrase of “them people” to refer to something. “Them people” was always the phrase he used to refer vaguely to anyone or anything. You could never be quite sure who “them people” were because it was his catch-all answer for any question. Media, healthcare workers, grocers, bank tellers….they were all “them people” at some point in a grandpa story.

I also wonder what my husband’s parents would have thought of the situation. I never had the privilege to meet them since they both passed before I met my husband. I often wonder what they would have thought of me, but especially now that my British husband has started a life with me here in America. While both of my parents are immune-compromised and live in WNY, I at least still have the potential to go see them if need be. What would my husband and I have done if his parents were still alive and then got sick with the coronavirus a whole ocean away?

I’m sure some people would think that these thoughts are all an exercise in futility. Why worry or wonder on things that can never come to pass? Yet, I find it oddly comforting and fun to imagine different conversations playing out with deceased loved ones in my head or out loud with other family members. It provides a weird connection to normalcy.