MY MOM AND I LIVE TOGETHER. She’s 94 and I’m 69, which means we no longer have to work or participate much in society. When the stay-at-home order came down from our governor, we welcomed it as an excuse to stay home even more than usual. Our only disappointment was that our gym had closed. (Yes, at 94, my mom still goes to the gym.)
We did gain weight due to our main exercise of driving to a grocery store more often than necessary. To keep active between grocery runs, we no longer procrastinated deep-cleaning, wardrobe culling, window washing, wood-polishing, and downsizing books, gadgets, decorations, and old photos. I actually embraced unpleasant yard work like prepping flower beds, picking up twigs and raking leaves leftover from last autumn’s clean-up. The only Corona stress I experienced arose from the plunge in the stock market, which erased a good bit of money from my retirement accounts.
Worry arose from my four grandchildren, ranging from nine to thirteen years old. They all loved school, so when schools closed, their daily routines took an abrupt smack.
They complained with vigor. They couldn’t imagine how they would maintain their education, let alone their social relationships.
I lamented with them but encouraged them to check around the house for unfinished projects, read more books, do on-line learning, and help their parents. They did not like those suggestions. They felt bored and did not expect to alleviate that boredom in any way other than by a return to their daily routines. They expected schools to reopen after a week or two. The “count your blessings” lecture didn’t work.
We soon learned that schools would not reopen before the start of summer vacation. We foresaw the future, with our neighborhood swimming pools not opening, fast-food restaurants closed, community fairs and even the State Fair cancelled — our summer gone before it started.
“It’s not fair!”
What child has not uttered that sentiment at the slightest provocation? They are correct. It’s not fair, and therein lies a basic truth of the human condition. My grandkids are quick to call out infringements upon their development, but they remain oblivious to the grossest of injustices.
A few fretful weeks passed. My eleven-year-old’s computer crashed, and we could not fix it ourselves. The electronics stores were closed. He complained about his forced withdrawal from playing Roblox, on top of having to stay home. I worried about this kid. What mischief would he find?
I counseled them all to remain patient, to embrace boredom. “You don’t have to like it,” I said, “but you have to tolerate it.” They thought otherwise, so I dug into my previous study of Depth Psychology, as I often do when challenged. My responsibility as the eldest extended family member requires me to guide them through these kinds of situations.
I said, “When faced with restrictions to your desired way forward, you must look sideways. You must open yourself to new influences, new possibilities that would not have appeared had you not been obliged to change course.” They were not impressed.
Another week passed. One day, the Roblox grandson called to tell me that he had pulled all the weeds along the sides of their home. He sounded pleased with himself, saying, “Pulling the weeds felt good.” I tried not to show my surprise.
My other grandson, twelve, called to say he had begun studying the stock market in preparation for opening an investment account with the several hundred dollars he’d accumulated from birthdays and Christmases. He wanted my opinion on whether he should invest in airline stocks, because, “When the country opens up, people will start traveling again, and airlines will prosper.” He got the lecture on not investing dollars he cannot afford to lose.
My thirteen-year-old granddaughter’s iPhone crashed, and she cried with anxiety at not being able to text and talk with the friends she could no longer see at school. The next day, her mom told me that she’d cleaned out her closet and found a book and a blouse she’d misplaced.
The youngest, a nine-year-old granddaughter, turned her attention to the kitchen. Previously not inclined towards domestic interests, she now helped her mother with the cooking and texted me pictures of her culinary accomplishments. We had never guided the kids towards traditional gender roles, so I realized that kitchen work suddenly appeared to her as a new adventure.
Now, Wisconsin is mostly open, with the exception of swimming pools and summer fairs. The kids are riding their bikes more often, pulling more weeds, taking walks, helping their moms around their houses, and looking forward to resuming school in September. Mom and I still sit comfortably at home, no longer tardy to tackle yard and garden chores. As summer progresses, the Corona phenomenon becomes more politicized — a not entirely unforeseen development. We now talk with the grandchildren about wearing masks and examining our rights as American citizens to freely assemble. This discussion gives me a venue for instilling in them a sense of social responsibility versus the sense of entitlement they’d prefer to develop.
None of us have been sick with the coronavirus or any other affliction — so far. Their parents have not lost work. Our homes have remained secure. I remind my grandkids of these facts when they dip too deeply into the assault on their sense of fairness. They are too young to pay much attention to flourishing civil unrest and the failure of our government to apply appropriate measures to that as well as to the incorrigible virulence of the virus. They have yet to cringe on the precipice of situations that flame with injustice and insult.
This pandemic has fractured many American families, in terms of physical health, economic stability, death, or all three. “There but for the grace of God go I,” is a phrase that rests upon my lips more often these days. Every day of good health, nourishing food, and safety and security for me and my family is a blessing for which I am constantly thankful. I’m well aware of the possibility that I could be deprived — easily, quickly, unexpectedly — of that for which I am thankful.
My grandkids have learned that the world is not as reliable, comfortable, or secure as we’ve helped make it for them. I pray that their foundation remains intact and sufficient for their continued growth, and that they grow an attitude of gratitude that carries them into what is to come. They’ll be flattened by discomforts greater than this one before they reach my age, and they will look upon this period of “boredom” with appreciation rather than the irritation that goaded them initially. Corona pandemic, for them, is but a training exercise.
Greater lessons, more profound and far-reaching, remain available as we all cope with the pandemic. Covid-19 is neither the first nor the last infectious disease to terrify and decimate large groups of human beings. Until vaccines become available, the best and simplest measure of protection is called “quarantine.” Unfortunately, however, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Marie LaConte has written journals and personal essays since the days of the little locked diaries in which girls deposited their newly adolescent emotions. Now thankfully retired, she writes on her computer and indulges other passions such as photography, knitting, reading, cooking, and learning foreign languages.
Note: This essay is part of Writing Through Change, a series of posts and guest articles about life and writing in unsettled times.