What Covid Has Cost Us


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I haven’t written here for weeks.

I lost my voice a while ago. Covid took it, and I had no idea how to get it back.

I’ve been enormously lucky, and I know that. As the United States passes the point of half a million deaths from this terrible new disease, I am one of the few who can say that I have not lost anyone close to me. Yes, my family has been hit by the virus, and we have had our terrified days of wondering how badly our loved ones will suffer, but to date we have not lost a family member.

We are lucky.

I know that.

But as we come closer, day by day, to the end of this seemingly endless stretch of pandemic days, I am ever more aware of all that we have individually and collectively lost. As that faint light at the end of our universal tunnel grows incrementally closer, I find it harder and harder to look away from all that has been stolen from us.

I will turn 65 years old in three short weeks. I’ll be able to get my vaccination, and within six more weeks, I’ll be essentially free of the fear that has gripped the world for the past year.

I can’t wait for that moment. I am truthfully breathless at the thought of being so free, finally, and so able to once again embrace my life.

But this “almost there” feeling has somehow catapulted me right back to the early fears of this terrible global disaster. And I can’t stop thinking of all that we’ve lost, and all that we now have a duty to mourn.

I am so sad tonight.

My heart is breaking at the thought of all the birthdays I didn’t get to celebrate last year. It hurts to think about the weddings that didn’t ever happen, including the wedding of my youngest child to his wonderful, beautiful, much loved partner. I was so ready to dance and laugh and celebrate with them last summer, but it didn’t happen because of Covid.

I cry when I stop to realize that my newest grandchild is approaching a year old, but has never even once been held by the aunts, uncles, grandparents and great-grandparents who love him so much. He is already saying words, crawling around the house and feeding himself, but the people who should know him best have yet to even kiss his forehead.

I dream every night of earlier times. I dream of my now grown sons, and of the feel of their arms around me. Sometimes I dream of them as children, when I could fold them against my body and know that I was keeping them safe. Sometimes I dream of them as men, and how I loved to rest my head against their strong shoulders, knowing that they were happy and strong.

A year.

It’s been an entire year without those hugs. A full year without one shared dinner. Without a single morning of waking up in the same space. It has been 12 long, painful, difficult, exhausting months of wondering what would happen to us next. Week after week after week of Covid data and conflicting news reports and promises of better days.

For an entire year, everyone on this small blue planet has been waiting for some good news. We are united in our uncertainty and we share a common sense of loss.

We miss our lives. We miss driving to work, and having lunch with colleagues. We miss live concerts and dancing together in courtyards and fields. We miss holidays and forced family togetherness. We miss crowding around the table and bumping elbows with cousins. We miss our friends. We miss hugs and kissing cheeks and holding babies and holding hands and holding ourselves together with our shared laughter.

We’re still here. And there is a light at the end of this terrible tunnel. We think that someday all of this may become a memory.

But we need to grieve for now. We need to cry. We need to mourn the births that we were unable to celebrate and the deaths that we could not honor. We need to look at each other, every single human one of us, and we need to let out a cry to the universe about all that we won’t ever be able to regain.

We have lost a year. It won’t come back. There will be no second chance to live these months.

We’re coming up on a year.

And I am just so very very sad.

Merry Christmas!


Now take off those rose colored glasses.

After everything we’ve been through in the past year, it sure is tempting to feel sorry for ourselves. Christmas without family is just plain sad. No family parties. No traditional family foods. No swap gifts or big family photos. For the first time in 35 years, we don’t have even one of our children under our roof of Christmas morning.

Not one measly kid.

Boo-hoo, poor us!

In the face of our pitiful pandemic celebrations, it’s easy to look back at every Christmas of the past through the lens of perfection. Compared to this year, it seems like every single holiday of my life was filled with fresh snow, happy children, and perfectly cooked meals shared with smiling loved ones.

Oh, and tastefully decorated trees, too.

When I look back on all the years of Christmas, I’m sure that I looked exactly like this lovely blond woman wrapped in her white furs and yuletide evergreens. I can clearly remember the sweet ringing of silver bells as our horse carried us over the snow……..

But naturally, that’s all bull pucky.

So as I sit here listening the rain pouring down on my snowless roof, in my completely quiet house, I am thinking back on Christmases past.

And you know what I am remembering?

Some of them were pretty bad!

For example, I remember the year when we put up our very first full sized fresh tree. Our daughter was three years old, and this was the first time we were living in a house instead of a cramped apartment or my parents basement.

We spent more money than we had on a beautiful tree, took hours to decorate it perfectly, and stand it in our window. And two hours later our sweet little girl was covered in hives. Dear Lord, was she allergic to the tree??? We called the doctor, who said, “I don’t know.”

So out went the tree, and off to the store went my husband. He came back with one of the only fake trees left. It was a gorgeous pretend blue spruce and it cost three times what the overpriced real tree had cost.

But we set it up, and we went on to use if for about 20 years.

THAT was a tough Christmas.

Then there was the year when we took that same fake tree out of the basement closet and dragged it upstairs to the living room. As we unwrapped the tarp, we found the branches filled with bits of fiberglass insulation, pieces of cloth and dozens of bird seeds.

The mice, it seemed, had been nesting all year in our tree. When we opened the cardboard boxes containing all of our ornaments, we found that they were full of mouse poop and seed shells, too. As the Mother of three very young kids, I reacted with typical mother serenity.

I put EVERY washable ornament in the bathtub and filled it with hot water and bleach. I soaked the crap out of those things. I threw away a bunch of stuff, sprayed bleach water on a bunch of stuff and vacuumed that poor tree to within an inch of it’s life. The kids cried. I cried.

Eventually the tree went up and we lit multiple candles to cover the smell of bleach.

Good times, good times.

One Christmas we all had strep throat. Well, four out of five of us did, anyway. Dad had his tonsils out as a kid, so he was healthy. But I was as sick as a dog, and so were all three of the kids. We skipped the extended family Christmas Eve gathering at my parent’s house, because we were all feverish, sick and aching. As I recall, we were all asleep by 7pm. We got up to open Santa’s gifts, but everyone was wrapped in a blanket and shivering again by 9 am.

I distinctly remember that Christmas dinner that year was Cream of Wheat cereal.

And I will never forget the year that we finally retired the old fake spruce. That extravagant expenditure ended up being the bargain of the century, because it lasted for so many years. But when it’s plastic needles started to fall off and it’s branches were mostly bent out of shape, we decided it was time to go for a real tree.

That was the year I convinced my now college aged sons to help me cut down a local pine. See, we basically live in a freakin’ pine forest. It seemed silly to pay for a tree. It was also the middle of the big recession, around 2009, and most of the homes in our neighborhood were empty. The pines were beginning to crowd onto lawns.

So, environmentally conscious woman that I am, I grabbed a hand saw and headed out with my strong young sons. And off we went. We found a nice healthy white pine growing along the road, and down it came.

It was only after we tried to hang ornaments on it that we realized white pines are WAY to weak and floppy to be Christmas trees.

That year was our “Charlie Brown’s Tree” year. We had to tie the damn thing to a hook we stuck in the wall.

So you can see that not every Christmas in my life was perfect. I’m going to guess that a lot of yours weren’t so perfect either.

But you know what?

These are some of our favorite stories now. These are the stories that make us laugh and appreciate each other and share a common warm memory.

So I’m thinking that one day, in the not so distant future, we’ll be laughing at our Zoom dinners, our distanced visits and our Christmas texts.

It’s time to take off those rose colored glasses and start appreciating what we still have right now.

Merry Christmas. Happy Hannukah. Festive Solstice to you all.

Thinking of Teachers Tonight


I’m thinking about America’s teachers this evening. I was a teacher for more than 30 years, so I know what our teachers are doing tonight.

They’re planning, organizing, writing out lessons for tomorrow and the days after. They’re thinking about certain kids right now, wondering how last night went for them, or worrying about the best way to teach them that tricky math concept.

I know how hard teachers work.

Twelve years ago tonight, I was at my dining room table, working on lessons for the next day. I remember grouping my students to make a fun cooperative science lesson. Like thousands of other teachers, I was headed into the upcoming week thinking about behavior plans, IEP meetings and the holidays on the horizon.

Tonight my heart is reaching out to all of the teachers across the country.

Twelve years ago tomorrow was a normal school day for me. December 14, 2012 was sunny and not too cold in my part of the world. I arrived in my classroom like normal, greeted my kids and went through a typical school morning. We had morning meeting, we did our math lessons, we laughed and worked and counted the days until vacation.

Then my students went off to lunch, and I finished up with my regular classroom chores. I think I went to the office to copy some worksheets, then grabbed my inter-office mail. I remember that I was sitting at my desk, with a half eaten sandwich in my hand. I checked my phone and saw a text from my husband.

“Did you hear the news this morning? There was a shooting at a school. It’s awful. Are you OK?”

My heart sank, of course, but I thought that maybe one person had shot another at a high school or college. Terrible, but not that unusual. I opened my computer and checked the news.

How can I describe the feeling that swept over me as I read about the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School? How can I even begin to process the horror that came with reading about twenty tiny bodies slaughtered in cold blood and torn to bits in their kindergarten classroom? I remember being numb. I remember going to the window of my classroom, a room that was probably almost identical to the one where some of my colleagues were murdered just hours ago. I looked out onto the playground. I wanted to find “my” kids and bring them inside. I was more afraid at that moment than I can ever remember being. I wanted to get my kids back into our room, lock the door, pull down the shades and keep them safe.

My principal came, making sure that every teacher had heard the news, offering support and explaining what had happened. He convinced me that my students were OK, and to let them finish their recess.

I stood at the window, repeatedly counting their heads in the recess crowd. I was shaking when they came back inside.

I know how teachers feel when something threatens their students. I do. I knew it before that day, but I know it more deeply now.

But it was in the weeks that followed Sandy Hook and the horrific slaughter of innocents when my sorrow came to a head. That was when I came to realize that our society considers the lives of teachers to be expendable.

Yes, I know.

That sounds like hyperbole.

But I was there in the classroom after the Newtown massacre. I heard all the discussions about arming teachers. I heard people talking casually about the fact that laws limiting guns would be wrong, but leaving kids and teachers as targets would be just fine.

When I expressed the fact that as a teacher I was trained to nurture and protect, but not to kill, I was called a coward. I was told that if I wasn’t willing to take a life to protect my students, I shouldn’t have my job. I was told this more than once.

I was told that I should have a plan for attacking and resisting a shooter. I reorganized my room so I’d have a tall bookshelf to push over on someone if I had to.

It was the most demoralizing, heartbreaking period of my long teaching career.

My country and its leaders showed me in those dark days and weeks that the rights of angry men to carry weapons of war was more important than my right to teach in safety. Even worse, those so-called “gun rights” were more important than the right of every innocent child to live through a day in public school.

Well.

I guess having lived through the Newtown horror and the complete lack of any reaction from American leaders, I should not be at all surprised to see teachers working every single day in the face of the worst pandemic in a century.

Every day I read in the news that I should not visit my children over Christmas. I should absolutely not share a meal with them, or with my mother or my siblings. I am told by the best experts in the country that I should absolutely not eat indoors in a restaurant. It’s not safe, I’m told, to travel to visit family this year. Danger, danger, danger, they say. You must stay safe. No spending a day with your grandchildren!

But teachers must be in their classrooms. In spite of the crumbling conditions of thousands of school building, teachers must be in classrooms with kids. Although kids are eating in their classrooms (for safety), teachers shouldn’t stop at a restaurant for dinner. Everyone, we have been told since last March, everyone must stay at least 6 feet apart! In the grocery store we stand on circles to keep us apart. We “social distance” when stopping for gas.

But in classrooms? Three feet apart is fine, for reasons that defy logic. Teachers can’t be within 6 feet of their adult offspring, but its fine to be 3 feet from their students.

I shouldn’t be surprised to see that the United States is more than willing to sacrifice its kids and its teachers so that moms and dads can be free to work and keep the wheels of capitalism turning. I shouldn’t be surprised.

But I should be royally pissed off.

In fact, I’ve been royally pissed off since December 14, 2012.

I Refuse to Cancel Christmas!


One tiny microscopic virus is not going to rob me of the joy of Christmas. No how, no way. I know my rights as an American.

I refuse to skip my Christmas festivities.

But you know what?

I am going to postpone them.

My husband and I aren’t putting up a tree this year. Without any family or friends around to see them, why drag the boxes of ornaments out of the attic? Why move the furniture and untangle the lights? Everything can just stay all snug in the attic for now.

Instead of hanging lights and baking cookies, this year I’m spending my time planning. I’m making lists of names, designing decorations, planning a menu.

Because next summer, I am going to throw the biggest freakin’ party in the history of parties. Not since Bilbo Baggins threw his big eleventy-first birthday party has there been such an outrageously festive event.

I plan to have this event somewhere outdoors, just so everyone can fit. But there will be an indoor venue there, too, because it’s been way too long since we’ve been able to gather indoors and be all squashed together.

My giant celebration will include the introduction of my newest grandchild, little Max, because so many of our family and friends have yet to meet him. It will also be a birthday party, because he’ll have turned one year old in April. And while we’re giving gifts and eating cake, we’ll also celebrate the birthdays of Max’s older siblings, his parents, his grandfathers and grandmothers and all of his aunts and uncles.

The day will include a fabulous wedding, too, since my son and his partner had to postpone their plans for last August. We’ll have tons of champagne, piles of appetizers and live music by every band we haven’t been able to see in the past year. There’ll be toasts, and dancing and reunions of old friends along with the exchanging of vows.

The main food of the day will be turkey with all the trimmings. I mean the whole shebang; stuffing, dressing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beans and squash and fifteen kinds of pie. I can hardly wait to start cooking!

To set the mood for the day, there will be lots of sparkling decorations all over the venue. We’ll choose a place with some nice big pine trees, and we’ll wrap some of them in colored lights and hang red, green and gold balls on them. Maybe everyone will bring a gift to swap!!!

Every fifteen minutes, a bell will ring, and everyone will hug the person next to them. The hugs will be long and fervent and filled with affection and joy. People will kiss each other on the cheeks, or even on the lips, if you can imagine such a thing. There will be a lot of shouting and laughing while large groups of guests stand less than two feet from each other.

At least ten times during the party, everyone will throw an arm around someone’s shoulder while we all sing loudly. This will happen mostly in the indoor part of the event space, of course, so that we can achieve maximum mingling of breath.

And just to make the party a truly exciting and unique event, I’m going to ask everyone who attends to wear a costume and carry around a plastic pumpkin! Oooh, I have a great idea…..I’ll give out little candy bars as wedding favors!

At midnight, fireworks will be sent into the night sky and everyone will clap, cheer, wave various and sundry flags and shout “Happy New World!”

Naturally, before the party winds down near dawn, everyone will go out into the grassy field next to the giant dance floor/stage. As the sun rises, all of the kids will hunt for colored eggs and hidden candy. Then we’ll all have a big brunch on the lawn.

I can’t wait.

I’m thinking of calling it “Postpone-a-palooza.”

You want to come?