The Passing Years, and How to Count Them


My family is enormously lucky because we live in a place that is green, and beautiful. Our house is surrounded by trees.

We’ve been in this house for 30 years. That seems so hard to believe. My husband Paul and I raised our three kids here. We’ve had two cats and five dogs at different times in this house.

Parts of the yard have been, at various times over the years, a baseball diamond, a hockey rink, a vegetable garden, a flower bed, a strawberry patch and a place to put the swings.

Now the kids are all grown up and on their own, and it’s time for us to start looking forward. In another ten or so years, we plan to sell this house and move someplace with less upkeep. It’s time.

With that thought in mind, we’re hiring someone to help clean up this huge yard and make things look neater and less overgrown. I have mixed feelings about it, isn’t that weird?

I walk around and I look at what is now a big rock buried in raspberry and blackberry vines. I remember thirty years ago, when that was the site of my first little garden. I planted “hens and chicks” and other succulents, thinking it would be a rock garden. I didn’t anticipate the encroachment of the woods. It didn’t occur to me that Mother Nature had her own plans.

The arborist is going to take down a tall, slender oak tree near our driveway. It is competing with other trees for sunlight and is now leaning toward our deck. It shades an entire section of lawn. Everything will look more open, more sunny, when it is gone.

But I remember one warm summer morning when that oak was about my height. I laid on the grass with our new puppy in my arms and looked at the sky through its leaves. That puppy is long gone now, crossed over the rainbow bridge in his old age. I look at that oak tree, and I remember his soft ears and his puppy smell. I don’t really want the tree to go. But it’s time.

There is a little grove of baby white pines that need to be taken out, too. They stand together, like a little family that has silently stepped out of the forest and into our yard. They silently watch the grass where my kids used to play “desert land.” They need to come down, but I will miss them.

I can count the passage of our family’s years by looking at the tree stumps that now stand in the yard. There’s the stump of a tree that once held a toddler’s swing. There is the stump of a pine that used to guard a squirrel nest.

Time passes, and we know we are aging. My mirror and my bones tell me that!

But I forget sometimes that this house and this yard are aging, too. It will be good to have it cleaned up, and to have the woods retreat back to where they belong.

Still, there is a little piece of me that wishes for something else. Perhaps it would be magic, I think, if we simply moved away and let the forest gently and slowly enfold the house where our children grew up. Let her cover it up and keep it safe, like a tender memory that can only be revisited in dreams.

Image: “Pine Tree and others” by scottc320 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Oh, Poor, Poor Me


Well, jeez.

I am so tired.

I haven’t been this tired since I was 17 years old and had to endure the horror of working for SEVEN HOURS on a Saturday. I did that every week for months on end. And at the end of every single “all day” shift, I dragged my exhausted butt home where I collapsed in a heap until Mom served dinner and I could replenish my health before heading out for a night of fun with my friends.

Yeah, the COVID lockdown has reminded me of one fascinating fact of life:

No matter how much work you do in a day, it will always feel like it’s too much.

Consider this: when I was a high school student, I went to school for six hours a day. I did a little bit of homework every night. (cough, cough…well, it felt like more at the time).

Because I came from a hard working family, my parents had “encouraged me” to get an after school job. I was forced to spend a full TWELVE HOURS a week slaving at the local grocery store.

I didn’t hate the job (#cuteboys) but I did feel unbelievably tired every Sunday. Phew, poor me. School, plus friends, plus job….I was just wiped out.

Then I went to college. Hahahahah. I still didn’t study very much ( I majored in Russian studies, so I happily avoided any classes that would have taxed either my interest or my brain.) I had a couple of part time jobs to help me pay tuition, but none were particularly difficult. Still, I was so often just plain TIRED. Wow. College classes, a commute, a job? I was sure that I would expire at any moment.

Then I graduated, attended grad school and got my MS degree. Now I had a REAL job. An actual professional, bring-the-paperwork-home job. Wow. So much stress! So much work!

This went on for a couple of years before I had my first child. And then I had a couple more.

By the time I was in my mid-thirties, I had a full time job, a long commute, three kids, a house to manage and seven dinners a week to produce on command.

THAT was tired. THAT was a hard row to hoe. At that point in my life, you could have shaken me awake at 3 Am and asked me about the contents of our cabinets. I’d have been able to tell you exactly which foods, meds, clothes and supplies were there and which were on the “list”.

Those were the years when I’d dream of cooking a pot of pasta sauce. In my dream, I would look over my shoulder and see that in addition to my three kids and a couple of their friends, two of my students had appeared. In the dream, I’d open another can of tomatoes and add some spices, and just keep stirring. Then I’d look back and see four more students and a couple of their parents at my table. I’d add more to the pot, and keep on stirring.

Those were my really hard working days.

And they are far behind me now. Now I’m retired. My kids are grown and gone. Most days find me without enough to fill the hours.

So here’s my question:
Why do I still feel like some days are just such hard work?

For example, today I woke up at 8, showered and dressed, had my breakfast and read the news. Then I wrote a short article for Medium. At 10 I had a half hour Zoom violin lesson with my lovely and supportive teacher. I practiced for another half hour.

Then I paid the bills (on line. Both bills). I did a load of laundry. My Instacart order of groceries was delivered, and I put all four bags of food away.

At 2, I went to the bank, and then to our local farmer’s market where I bought a few things. I came home, planted my new thyme, and did a little weeding.

So.

By 4, I hadn’t actually done any real work. Why did my day feel so…..full? Why did I feel as if I’d done a bunch of hard work?

I don’t know.

All I can tell you is that I suddenly understand my 17 year old self, and I recognize the feeling of having done SO. MUCH. WORK.

It’s kind of funny.

Anyway, it’s almost 8 PM. Time for me to head in for a good night’s sleep.

Dad Made Things


My Dad was a pretty typical father of the 50s, 60s and beyond. He went to work while Mom stayed at home with the six kids. He earned the money. He was the provider.

Dad came home every evening right around 6pm. Dinner was just about ready, and we were around the table. A drink was made, Dad took a sip, then settled down for dinner with the brood.

He was a good provider. He was a breadwinner.

But that isn’t what I remember tonight, as I think about Father’s Day and what my Dad meant to me.

What I remember about my Dad was that he made things.

Just for fun, just for a sense of creativity, my Dad made things.

When I was a very little girl, he made pancakes. He did it every Saturday morning while encouraging my Mom to sleep in a bit. Dad would get up with all of us, and he’d make batch after batch of pancakes. We’d eat them up while watching “The Little Rascals” on tv.

As I got older, Dad made things like shelves, and picture frames and other small wooden items. On the weekend, Dad would go down to his workshop in the garage, where he’d make step-stools and Confirmation Crosses and bookshelves.

After his retirement, Dad made more decorative items, just for fun. My parents had a beautiful in-ground pool, and Dad made planters for the flowers that Mom placed around the patio.

When my family was young, and settling into our first and only home, Dad helped my husband to build a shed to store the garden tools.

Dad isn’t here with us anymore. He went on to the next step back in 2008.

But tonight, as we prepare to celebrate Father’s Day without being able to hug our kids, I am thinking of my Dad and of his legacy of creation.

I’m thinking a lot about the fact that although I am his daughter, I don’t really take after my Dad. I don’t know how to hammer a nail or saw a board or make a shed. I’m not good at math, the way that he was. I don’t have Dad’s sense of detail and his ability to create logical, sequential plans. That skill is shared by my sister, but not by me.

That thought made me a little bit sad today.

Then I took a walk around my garden. And I thought a bit.

Maybe I’m stretching it, maybe I’m making it up, but it seems to me that in a different sense, I do share Dad’s ability to “make things.”

I have made a garden out of a yard that was once completely wild. Slowly, step by step, blossom by blossom, I have turned my wild property into a pretty, fragrant, welcoming space.

Making something out of nothing is perhaps a skill, or a desire, that I do share with my Dad.

Maybe the bread that I make from my own sourdough starter is a way for me to create something, too.

What I know is that I miss my Dad. I miss his smile, his humor, his hugs. I even miss his rigid sense of right and wrong. I miss his love. I miss the things that he made out of nothing.

So tomorrow morning I will walk in my garden. I’ll salute my Dad as I admire the coreopsis growing in the goose planter that he built. I’ll take a lawn chair out of the shed that he built in our yard.

And I’ll water the wild roses and irises and herbs that I have planted here in what was once a piece of woodland.

I’ll think of my Dad and I’ll treasure the small ways in which I am like him.

Tonight I Feel Safe


This is a silly comment, really. I live in a rural community. I am at home, in my nice house with my dear husband of 42 years. There’s barely any crime here. The COVID rate is very low.

But still.

I live in this world. I live in this crazy, out of control world. I am aware that going grocery shopping or getting a haircut can put me and those I love at risk. I try to stay safe. I order online and I wear my mask when the FedEx comes to the door with my case of wine.

We wash our hands. We disinfect. We are secure.

But I’m still afraid.

And I watch the news. I see the outbreaks of racial violence and the riots in the streets. Even though I live pretty much in the wilderness, I am worried about the wide world around me.

But a funny thing happened today. Something that has really caught me off guard and gotten me to thinking.

Here in North Central Massachusetts, the weather has been very dry, and pretty warm. Today, though, the warm jumped itself right up to hotter-than-hell.

I played outside with my two grandkids this morning, running through the sprinkler, jumping into the tiny blow-up pool, watering the herbs and flowers. We came in and had lunch, and the little guy went down for a well deserved nap.

As I sat in my living room with my granddaughter, the temperature really started to rise. The heat got worse, the humidity rose, the sweat popped up on both of our heads.

It was…..gross. We didn’t like it. Little Ellie and I were NOT HAPPY. So we did what happens pretty rarely in this part of the world.

We turned on the window AC unit in the living room.

We closed the living room and dining room windows, shut the skylight and let the machine do it’s magic.

Within an hour, the house was cool, we had stopped sweating, and Nonni’s three months of ignored hair growth had dried out a bit.

By dinner time, the kids had gone home with Mom and Dad and Papa and I made our dinner. In an unusual homage to the heat, I made the whole dinner indoors, instead of out on the grill. I saluted our AC unit as I did it.

We had dinner. We watched the news. We chatted about our day and did the dishes and got settled down to read our respective books.

All the while, that AC unit kept chugging. And we did not sweat or curse the heat.

Which brings me to this moment, tonight, as the sun sets on a gloriously beautiful summer day in New England.

I do not want to shut off my AC unit, even though the air outside has cooled. I do not want to open my windows, in spite of the sweet smells of wild rose and honeysuckle and peony that I know would come wafting in.

I do not want to touch the world outside of these four walls tonight. Instead, I want to stay safely wrapped in my faux safe air flow, pretending that the world of deadly viruses and deadly hatred cannot reach me while I sleep.

I know that I am only pretending.

Even so, I will go to bed tonight with the window units running.

Lily of the Valley


When I was about 8 years old, I discovered the huge swath of lily-of-the-valley. They were growing all along the driveway at my grandparent’s house.

The house was in a relatively urban town just outside of Boston. As I look back at it now, from the vantage point of my current rural life, it seems like a house in a big city.

But it was the home that my grandparents bought after leaving the inner city life of Boston during the Great Depression and the Second World War. For them, as immigrants from Sicily in the days of the Industrial Revolution, this house was like paradise. It had a porch, a yard, and even a garage.

I remember that the right side of the house, the side away from the driveway, had a fence to separate it from the neighbor’s. I remember that fence because it was lined with a row of lovely roses, each one carefully pruned and shaped, each a different shade of red or pink. They were gorgeous, all of them, and my grandfather was so proud of them. His bride, my Nana, was named Rose, and he grew them to show her his love.

But even more than the roses, I remember the blossoms that grew along the neglected driveway on the other side of the house. It was a long, narrow path, marking the border between the houses on that suburban street. My grandparents’ side of the drive was line with huge, towering, pines. They were spaced about 20 feet apart, and each had a strong, straight trunk. I thought of them as guardians when I was a child. I felt that each one watched over our Nana and Grampa and the home that held our family’s heart.

I loved those big trees.

And then one day, when I was about 9 or 10 years old, I wandered out to where the trees grew. It must have been early May. I found thousands and thousands of tiny, perfect, beautiful white blossoms, each one dangling along a thin green thread.

The smell of them was intoxicating. I had never in my life seen or smelled or even imagined anything so perfect. I remember that I picked one delicate stem, so carefully, and ran inside to my Nana.

“Nana! What is this? Where did it come from??”

She told me that it was called “Lily-of-the-valley” and that someone had planted a few of them at the edge of the driveway before she and Grampa had bought the house. She explained that they were a kind of “wild flower” and that they’d spread along the entire length of the drive, making a sweet carpet under those huge pines.

I was amazed, enchanted, captivated. “Lily-of-the-valley” was such a magical name! But where was the valley? I could only see the thin strip of land along the driveway. I saw no valley.

But I imagined one.

I created an imaginary valley full of grass and wildflowers and those gloriously fragrant bells of lilly.

For the next decade, at least, I went back to revel in the glorious magic of those little blossoms. I played along the drive when I was a girl. I imagined tiny fairies, dressed in silver gossamer, dancing under the lilies. As I got older, I’d pick a bouquet of those fragrant blooms, knowing that their magic was fleeting.

I remember holding my baby girl, my first born child, and showing her the rows and rows of beautiful lily-of-the-valley.

And when my Nana died, at the accomplished age of 99, I went to her house and I dug up some of those tender flowers. I brought them to my house, in a more rural part of Massachusetts, and I put those ten little shoots into the ground.

Flowers can be a legacy. These are surely a reminder and a marker of my Nana and her life.

My garden is now full of lily-of-the-valley. They burst into bloom at the same time as our lilacs, filling the air around our house with pure heaven.

And every time I walk along my walkway, I think of Nana. I think of those big pines, and of the fairies that I imagined making tiny houses under the arching stems of those lily-of-the-valley.

Yesterday I brought some shoots of those glorious flowers to my daughter, in the new home that she has made for her young family.

I love knowing that my Nana’s love, and her grace, and her natural strength and beauty, will pass through me to my daughter, and hopefully then to hers.

I lie in my bed tonight, breathing deeply, taking in the perfume of those magical blooms.

Life goes on, and on and never stops.

The lily-of-the-valley is my proof.

My Name is Karen. I’m Sorry.


I always used to describe myself as a warm, friendly teacher lady. I always thought I was “nice”. My students used to tell me that all the time! “You’re a nice teacher,” they’d say.

I believed them.

For years, my favorite things in life have involved cooking, sharing and eating good food and growing pretty flowers. I don’t like to make a fuss, or complain. If something is amiss with a restaurant order, I don’t send it back; I eat it and pretend it was fine.

I swear, I’ve always thought of myself as pretty likeable.

Welp, I’ve finally been set straight about my many character flaws, thanks to the miracle of social media.

In the past couple of months, Facebook has informed me that I, and all who share my unfortunate first name, are a bunch of nasty bitches. There’s even a Facebook Group dedicated to dissing us!

We are just AWFUL.

According to multiple posts, I’ve learned that Karens drive SUVs all over town. They are overly critical of their kids’ teachers, coaches and therapists. They believe they are entitled to all the good things in the world just because they are universally white, upper middle class, educated and suburban.

Karen’s complain. A lot. They complain on Snapchat and Instagram, which they apparently love. They post pictures of their expensive breeder-raised dogs when the groomer fails to get the face fluff just right. They post outraged images of their left pinky nail when the salon leaves a tiny ding.

They seem to enjoy being outraged.

Twitter has a hashtag called #KarenStrikesAgain. Holy horrifying!!

Twitter told me that, as a Karen, I’m a racist! I had no idea….I can’t think of a time when I did anything racist, but what do I know? I’m only a Karen. I don’t have any ability for self reflection.

Or so I’m told.

Look:

Yeesh. I cried for days after Tamir Rice was murdered. He was just about the age of my students. I wrote letters, I wrote blog posts, I was horrified.

I’m so sorry!

I didn’t know that as a Karen, I’m partially responsible for all of this racist violence.

I don’t want to waste my time trying to defend myself. I mean, I think we’ve all had enough of the hyper defensive reactions of the snowflake in the White House.

So I’ll just say this.

I apologize from the bottom of my heart for my self-centered privileged self. Even I don’t like Karens now that I know about us.

But look at this picture. Does this woman look like a person who would complain about a salon? Or a dog groomer? Does this look like the face of someone who thinks she’s better than you?

I think not!

She looks, if you ask me, a little ridiculous. (Although I did always like that sweater.) She looks like a person who would eat the cupcake after her grandson licked off the frosting. She looks like the owner of two mixed -breed mutts who she tosses in the bathtub when they get too grimy.

She looks, to me, like a nice lady who laughs at herself a lot.

So. I am herby announcing that I am changing my name. I think I look a lot like an Annie. I’ve always loved that name. No more Karen for me. I reject the entire persona!

Annie.

Annie Shiebler.

Nonni Annie.

It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

How the Virus Has Altered My Soul


“Morning Light on the Books” by cogdogblog is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

Here I sit, on Day 50 of my personal lockdown….quarantine….social isolation. It’s raining outside. Again. It’s nearly May, but it’s still very cold outside my window. The thermometer hasn’t touched 40 degrees yet.

I’m cooking.

I’ve been cooking for 50 days. Baking bread, desserts, bagels and high energy bars for my daughter, who is nursing a 10 pound newborn. Working on my vegetarian recipes in the face of some food shortages and in anticipation of more.

I’m OK. The initial feeling of terror has receded into the dull ache of constant worry. I’m not lonely because I’m with my husband of 43 years and I am able to see my daughter and her children who are part of my isolation crew. My children are healthy. My siblings and my Mom are OK at the moment.

It’s OK. Right now, its OK.

But I feel like someone other than the me I’ve known for 64 years. The sense of the surreal is no longer only about the world around me; now I feel surreal myself.

I can’t read.

I always been an avid reader. I love to read. I was the second grader who got into trouble for sneaking a book into the girl’s bathroom and forgetting to come back to class. I was the young woman who read every day on the subway, relying on an internal sense of time to help me recognize my stops. I was the woman who read a book while I was in labor, and read while I was nursing my kids. I have been known to read while making dinner, stirring the pasta, reading a paragraph, adding some salt, reading another paragraph.

I used to read National Geographic and professional journals while making middle-of-the-night bathroom visits.

I’m a reader.

So why can’t I read now?

I have started three different novels and have abandoned them all. When this all began, I was in the middle of a non-fiction book on American politics. I’ve barely turned a page since then. I have two magazines that I haven’t even opened.

It feels as if my mind has become a dragonfly. I drift across the surface of the lake, touching down briefly here and there, then flitting back into the air.

I can’t concentrate on the characters in my book, because my thoughts are flitting around too fast. Did I feed the dogs? I should start the marinade for the chicken. I hope my sons are holding up, working from home. Do they need anything? Is the baby sleeping better? And I can’t forget to turn the compost.

I’m also a writer. I process everything, usually, through writing. My many political rants, my deep feelings about my family, my days as an elementary school teacher. I write about it all, when the world is in its usual state.

But now that inner flitting dragonfly is keeping me from completing a thought. I have short stories started and set aside. I have articles on politics, history, food, family, all sitting silently in my Google Drive folder.

I don’t feel like me.

Some day, in a future that’s getting harder to imagine, life will feel normal again. We’ll go back to shopping, meeting friends for dinner, going to the beach and the mountains. When that happens, I hope that I can morph back into myself.

The woman who reads and writes and can hold an idea in her head for longer than a minute.

Until then, I think I’ll go online and make a bulk order for black beans and look up some Mexican food recipes.

I Still Love You, My Grown Children



It’s the night before Easter. I know, we aren’t exactly practicing Christians. We haven’t followed the whole Catholic thing for decades.

But this is the night before a holiday. It’s the night when I used to put out the pretty eggs that you all had colored the day before. I’d get the baskets ready, adding the eggs, and the jelly beans and the chocolate bunnies. Dad would make a huge arrow out of candy on the floor of the hallway, as if you didn’t know that you should come into the living room to find your treats.

He and I would spend an hour hiding chocolate eggs and jelly beans all around the house. In the morning, you three would get up, all excited. You’d find your baskets and hunt for candy. There would be laughs as one of you located a chocolate egg in a shoe or inside of a Kleenex box.

Breakfast would consist of candy, hard boiled colored eggs and a slice of cassatta, in keeping with our Sicilian tradition.

When you were little ones, we’d go to Grandma and Grampa’s house for a dinner of ham, and pasta and more candy. The cousins would all run around, the aunts and uncles would talk, laugh, argue about politics and drink wine.

I miss all of that.

I miss the morning hugs. The sweet pajama clad three of you with your baskets in your hands. I miss the big dinner.

Mostly I miss the feeling of joy and celebration.

Spring is the idea of renewal, rebirth, returned hope. Spring is the time of flowers and trees bursting into life. It’s when our gardens are still dreams and our thoughts are all about warm beach days and barbecues with friends.

Spring lets us ignore the truth of our lives for a bit. Easter is the definition of that forward looking hope.

This spring is so different, though. This Easter feels like something unknown.

We don’t know when or if there will be a rebirth. We are beginning to wonder if the true rebirth will come without humans. Will there be lambs, and chicks and baby birds and buds on trees, but no humans anywhere to be found?

We don’t know. We are living our lives in isolation now. Living in fear of an enemy we cannot see.

But it’s the night before Easter. My dear children, my adult children, I am sitting here tonight thinking about those Easter Baskets, and that candy and those hopeful springs.

I miss you.

I wish that you were here for some eggs and some cassatta. I wish that you were here for some ham, and some potatoes. And for some hugs and some laughs.

I love you all just as much as I did on your very first Easters.

Easter is about hope and renewal. It’s about a better future.

I miss you.

Happy spring. Happy renewal. Happy hope, my dears.

I still love you so.

Living in Suspended Animation


“amber mosquito” by Oregon State University is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

When I was very young, perhaps 11 years old, I went on a field trip to the Museum of Science in Boston. We saw all kinds of exciting wonders there, and I was enthralled.

But the exhibit that stuck in my mind all those years ago was a collection of ancient insects trapped in golden drops of amber.

I remember standing in front of the glass case, looking at the tiny, delicate wings of particularly beautiful little insect. Perfectly preserved and saved in time for us to examine tens of thousands of years after it had been caught.

I tried to imagine what it had been like for that little creature, moving through its everyday life, searching for food. Or simply enjoying a sunny moment on a tree branch. I pictured it sitting still, for just a tiny speck of time, not aware that a drop of tree sap was poised to drop from the branch right above it. Perhaps unaware as that drop first reached its head, still thinking of food or safety or procreation. And then, in the time it took for that tiny being to take a breath, it was encased in sticky sap. Unable to move forward or back, unable to escape.

Left to simply wait as the sap cooled, hardened, aged, turned into the gleaming jewel of amber that a wide eyed little girl was now examining.

For years after that trip, I wondered about that little winged insect. “What if the amber could melt away, and he could be alive again?”

What if.

I thought about that amber the other night, as I stood on my deck, looking out into the silent woods around me. Could something that was held in suspended animation, one wing lifted for flight, ever come back to the life it had known before?

I have now been inside my own house, except for my daily solitary dog walks, for 23 days. I am in suspended animation, like nearly every other human on this little blue gem of a planet.

I didn’t see it coming. Not until it was too late. On the last day that my grandchildren were here with me while their mom was at work, I had no idea that when I sent them home I would not see them again for weeks. I had no idea that we would first be told not to work, then not to socialize, and finally not to leave our homes.

The new coronavirus is our drop of sap. While we were all thinking about our next meal, our work deadlines, or our upcoming social events, it hung there above our heads. It wasn’t until it had dropped down onto us and encased us in its sticky depths that we realized we were caught.

Caught like that ancient fly, unable to escape, unable to save ourselves or those we love.

We are living in a state of suspended animation. All we can do is hope, and pray and trust in something bigger than ourselves.

All we can do is hope that this time the drop of amber will somehow melt, and we will all be free once again to embrace our boring, mundane, gloriously joyful lives.

Post-Apocalypse Thoughts


From a time before COVID-19

The economic crash of 2008 hit my small rural community pretty hard. By the Spring of 2009, our neighborhood held as many empty homes as full ones. As the summer came on, even more homes were foreclosed on or simply abandoned.

The woods behind our house began to seem wilder as the humans moved away, and there were entire days when I never heard a sound other than the calling of jays and the hammering of woodpeckers.

During those bleak months, I used to walk my dogs around the block, passing one empty house after another. Sometimes I’d look at the plants growing along the roadside, or at the ducks in the pond across the street, and I’d let my mind wander.

“What if something really terrible happened to the world, and hardly anyone was left?” I’d think. “Could I manage to feed my family with dandelion greens and fiddleheads? Could we learn how to trap birds, or kill ducks or turkeys for food?”

I always had a slightly romantic view of how things would be, of course, because this was just a daydream. All of my grown kids would somehow manage to make their way home, and we’d combine our skills and strengths to build a big garden in our yard. Maybe we’d raise chickens.

I was sure that I’d come through the trauma as a stoic, cheerful, no-nonsense kind of Mamma. I’d clean the fish and make the dinners and be happy to use the bit of power we could get from our solar generator to keep everything clean.

There was a gauzy haze over this dream, as I walked around the quiet streets.

I never thought anything would actually happen.

Now, in the midst of the pandemic of 2020, as we sit in isolation from each other and wonder what in the world will happen next, the reality of a global disaster seems far less romantic.

After about a month of worsening news and scarier headlines, I have come to an interesting conclusion.

I don’t want to forage for edible weeds in the woods. I don’t want to fight my neighbors for toilet paper or soap or cans of tomatoes.

The reality is that not only can my adult sons not move here with their partners, we can’t even get together to share a meal right now.

My daughter and her family live a mere half a mile away across those fertile woods. I’ve been caring for her children every work day for five years. But now, in the age of Covid19, we can’t be together at all. I haven’t seen them since the day that schools were closed, almost three weeks ago.

And I don’t know when I’ll see them again.

We are staying apart, staying away from all other humans, because my daughter is due any day to give birth to her third child. If I leave my house to go to the grocery store, there is a risk that I might bring the virus back and could contaminate Kate and her children.

Because she sees her doctor at our local hospital once a week now, she is afraid that she might contaminate her father and I. So we simply stay apart. In our own little self-isolation pockets.

We’re all living in fear. And we’re all dealing with a total lack of control. Nobody on this entire earth knows what is coming next. Will the virus sputter out in the summer? Will it roar back in the fall? Will a vaccine be found, or a treatment?

Or will millions die? Will the economy of the world totally collapse, based as it is on a continuing flow of commerce?

Will schools ever reopen? Will governments implode into chaos? The truth is, we just don’t know.

Once, a few short years ago, those thoughts were just a way to pass the time as the dogs sniffed the fallen leaves.

Now they are right in front of me. And I am discovering that I am not the hearty pioneer woman I always imagined I’d be. Instead, I’m just another scared and overwhelmed old woman who desperately misses the touch of her children and grandchildren, and who has no desire to harvest cattails for dinner.