Social Distancing Birthday in a Tropical Storm

Friday, July 10

Today, my younger daughter turns 17. Even as I type that, I can’t believe it.  Like most moms I think, I can remember everything about the day she was born, much of it in startling detail. When I was pregnant with her, I had horrific morning sickness – the kind that lasted pretty much all day, and for the entire pregnancy. Her birth was a scheduled C-section. I remember that morning being in the ready room for the operation and throwing up into a garbage pail. I can recall the voice of the nurse who told me, “Well, at least that will be gone in a couple of hours.”

I have 3 children. My eldest was born on Halloween, my youngest in February. Quarantining, social distancing, lockdown … in our area it all began in mid-March. So, this is the first of their birthday celebrations to be impacted by Coronavirus.

It was all planned out. She was to spend the day at the beach with one of her best friends, get home around 4 o’clock. At 7:30 pm, 2 adult relatives, 1 teenage cousin and 2 twenty-something cousins were coming over to share a birthday cake with us. Those parts, Sabrina knew about. She did not know about the surprise, drive-by birthday parade that was supposed to happen at 6 PM.  (Can I say I still can’t get used to the ‘drive-by’ being linked to a birthday and not a news story about a crime!) Sabrina’s boyfriend and his mother have been the point people in contacting friends via group chat to spread the word.

Our favorite local DJ was supposed to lead things off as first vehicle in the lineup. There are about 50 individually wrapped cupcakes hidden in the basement refrigerator, ready to be handed out to people who drove by. We had bags of ice hidden to go in a rolling cooler that is supposed to be parked in the driveway, so we can pass out water to anybody who comes by. A giant birthday sign was installed on the front lawn late last night. So, everything was planned as best as could be. Then somebody screwed up and invited Fay.

Tropical Storm Fay.

Obviously, the beach plans my daughter had were cancelled. In covert phone conversations worthy of a spy movie, my secret planners and I rescheduled the drive-by birthday parade from Friday evening to Saturday evening instead, the day after her birthday. Hopefully, most people will still be able to come by and they won’t need a rowboat.

This is not our first experience with a birthday in inclement weather. My son’s birthday is in early February, and several times it has been complicated by snowstorms. On October 31, 2012, we celebrated my daughter Amanda’s birthday in the blackout conditions that followed Hurricane Sandy. That was different. We could still go out, still get together with people without worrying about face masks and maintaining social distance.

Saturday, July 11

It can be harder than it seems to coordinate a drive-by birthday celebration. My daughter attends a private high school so the students are scattered all around Long Island and even parts of Queens County. Many would have to travel at least 45 minutes to just drive by the house and wave.  I know that if you live in a rural area, then that doesn’t seem like much of a drive. In our suburban area, it isn’t all that much either. But when most of the attendees cannot yet drive themselves, it gets complicated.  A person cannot get a learners permit until at least age16, and Motor Vehicle has been closed since March.

Some of her closest friends made it to pass by our house this evening for the rescheduled drive-by. They were able to enjoy music the DJ played from the back of his truck. My older daughter passed out cupcakes and bagged snacks.

My sister in law, her husband and their children were here last night for birthday cake, along with a close family friend and Sabrina’s boyfriend.  Looking around at everybody in face masks playing cards at the dining room table, or lounging around the living room, it looked like a gang of train robbers from days of old had gathered together. Ironically, it also somehow looked normal.

As a society, we accept many things intended to ensure public health. Schools require we vaccinate our children. There are mandates we wear seatbelts, wear helmets, obey traffic laws.  It shouldn’t be surprising that governors began to compel mask-wearing in certain situations. New York’s Governor Cuomo also signed an executive order enabling business owners to deny entrance to anyone not wearing a mask or other face-covering. The logic is simple: If you can deny entrance to someone not following clothing requirement, why can’t you do the same for masks?

It seems the signs everywhere may need to become No shirt, No shoes, No mask, No service. It’s something we’re a lot more likely to see with even greater frequency in our daily lives.

Since COVID-19 can spread without symptoms, face masks are among the most effective ways to reduce the spread of coronavirus. It is a good practice to take up for your own protection and to protect vulnerable populations. I have multiple sclerosis. My sister-in-law, her husband, and her daughter each have a situation that makes them vulnerable as well. So when we get together, face masks are a necessity because we are not all living in the same household, even though we are family.

The CDC recommends that even people who feel like they have recovered from COVID-19 should wear a face mask when they go back outdoors as a precaution.

Face masks are not a substitute for careful social distancing, self-quarantining if you have symptoms, and washing your hands frequently. But they are an important part of battling the pandemic.

 There is so much information out there about coronavirus because it has been worldwide – hence the pandemic label. Countries that fought it and “flattened the curve” effectively had some things in common:  they all advised their inhabitants to wear facemasks in public places, and they strongly recommended maintaining social and physical distance from anyone outside of their immediate family. A study I read about by researchers at the University of Cambridge, illustrated how important it is to use face masks. Researchers found that if 100 percent of people wore masks all the time in public, combined with lockdowns and social distancing measures, it could help absolutely halt the spread of the virus.

Wearing a mask, and seeing everyone else wearing a mask, is a constant reminder that we are living in the midst of a time of fear, illness, and death. It compels us to recognize the coronavirus pandemic everywhere we go.  It is scary to admit that everybody is vulnerable to some degree.

Sunday, July 12

One year ago today was Sabrina’s Sweet 16 party. I think back on that and am again struck by what a difference a year has made in every aspect of our lives.

I believe it was March 12 or March 13 that my kids came home from school and didn’t get to go back. None of these kids had any choice in their separation from school, sports, dance, extracurricular activities. Friends. There was no transitional period that allowed them time to adjust, as if preparing to graduate or go to college. When they said goodbye on what turned out to be the last day of the in person school year 2019/2020,  they did not know at the time to experience those moments together as moments of farewell that would last far longer than the 2 weeks people expected.

None of us know when this pandemic will end. We’re all desperate for the day when we can hold one another, greet one another, take leave of one another without gloves and masks and a social distance in between. I have read where experts warn we could be practicing social distancing in some form for years. I find I am simultaneously afraid that this surreal way of life will go on and on, and yet am also afraid the guidelines will be relaxed too soon. I already hear reports from my family and those I see, that some people are already not wearing masks when they should be. I think I saw that disregard referred to as ‘mask fatigue.’ People are tired of having to deal with it. Understandable. But how can we expect our kids to deal with it if adults will not?

 School, jobs and internships have all been put on hold. Our teenagers and young adults are on the front lines in many unrecognized ways.  Preparation of takeout food orders,  stocking of drugstore and grocery store shelves, delivery of food and other goods … much of that is being done by people in those age groups. While navigating milestones that are unique to teen and young adult years, they are coping with stressors that even history has not provided good guidance about. They’re worried about themselves, their families, each other.  They’re worried about their relationships, their educations, their futures. The questions in our household include :When and how will face-to-face school start again? Will there be college tours anytime this year? Will going away to college still be an option? Will there be internships? When will the Department of Motor Vehicles open up for learner’s permit test again?  The junior prom was cancelled, but will we have a senior prom next year? Will there be a senior trip next year? By the time we graduate, will there be an actual graduation ceremony again? Will life ever be normal again?

They are running a marathon that has no finish line. Playing in the game of life where home plate or the goal posts are constantly and unexpectedly being moved. And we, the parents or responsible adults, honestly do not have the answers. All we can do is reassure them that we are in this together, that even in the middle of the uncertainty and turmoil, love is constant. Whenever normal returns, in whatever modified form it takes, they will not be facing it alone. I guess out of all the life lessons we are learning, the most important is still to Love One Another.


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