I saw my twenty-month-old grandson in real life on Friday for the first time since March 7th. He’s going back to day care on Monday and that will mean indefinite separation. Greater contact with the outside world for him and his parents means too much risk for my immune-compromised husband, even if New York City begins to open up. So we decided to have an outdoor, socially-distant rendezvous before then.
It was, at the start, awkward. We met in my local sliver of Riverside Park, at the plaza housing the Joan of Arc statue dedicated in 1915 to commemorate Franco/American friendship. Friday was only the second day that really felt like summer here; the temperature climbed into the high 70s/low 80s by late afternoon. That’s why we chose that meeting day and time.
My daughter had arrived first, still flushed from her jog to the Upper West Side of Manhattan from her home in the Bronx. She and I chatted, six feet apart and wearing our masks. Next my husband “Papa Dan” arrived. At last Vince came into view, walking at toddler pace with his daddy. They climbed the plaza steps hand-in-hand as he stared up at the statue, unaware of his camouflaged grandparents.
I so wanted to pick him up and snuggle him after so long! But I kept my six foot social distance. For one thing, he looked as if he was not at all sure where he was, or who he was with. Masked Nana, wearing sunglasses that hid her eyes, was not immediately recognizable. For another, he was clearly agog at giant St. Joan astride her mighty steed, her sword raised on high.
“Hi Vince, I brought you a present,” I said.
He scanned my face as I propped my sunglasses on the crown of my head and pulled down my mask to reveal my features, wondering if he had forgotten that I existed outside of the phone. We used to spend at least one day a week together before this coronavirus quarantine. He was holding his cards close to the vest, his expression poker-faced.
“Go on, open it!”
His mother helped him to extricate the blue Brio airplane and its accessories.
“Nana! airplane!” he said, hoisting it over his head, spinning around and then rolling it toward me on the concrete knee wall I was sitting on.
Now I knew we were good. I was real to him again, and not just that lady in the phone. I repositioned my mask and glasses.
We FaceTime every morning. He sits in his high chair facing the kitchen counter where his mother’s phone is propped against the wall. I am in my kitchen, preparing my first fix of caffeine after having taken the dog out, my phone propped against the wall, too. His parents joke that 8am “Nana TV” gives them a breather to get their own coffee and breakfast in relative peace before the chaos of the day begins.
Vince tells me what he is eating, I show him what the kitties are eating, he watches me make my coffee as he stuffs ungodly quantities of eggs, waffles, toast, bagels, cereal, whatever into his mouth with chubby fingers. We say “Cheers!” as he hoists up his sippy cup of water and I take that first morning swig of perfectly brewed New Orleans style French Roast.
Then we make faces at each other, prompting him to squeal “Nana! Nana!” while he motions for his mama to come and look. Once he is “all done, down,” his mother cleans him up and hands him her phone.
He races to his play area while I get a roller coaster view of his shirt, the ceiling, his nose, objects whizzing by. Then he shows me his toys, builds a tower of Brio vehicles, takes me to the window to look out at the crane maneuvering building materials into the mid-rise affordable senior housing project being constructed across the street.
Sometimes he accidentally hits the pause button and I go dark. “Mama, mama! Nana down!” he yells.
And that’s a perfect metaphor for this whole “New York Pause” thing. It has made me periodically go dark — “Nana down” indeed.
Like everyone else, I’ve had to create a new life for myself, a new routine, a new set of expectations for my life going forward. Things aren’t going to “go back to normal” any time soon, if ever.
I’ll have to enjoy my virtual rides on Vince’s airplane because I won’t be getting on a real one any time soon. I’m also going to be experiencing much of the world beyond my apartment inside his mama’s phone as she and Vince take me places and show me things that are too risky for me to experience by myself.
I’m finding goals and challenges where I can. My gym rat days will not be reprised for a very long time. I really, really miss heavy deadlifting, but I’ve purchased enough equipment to maintain most of my strength if I use a little creativity.
I’m also using this time outside of the yoga studio to work on aspects of my practice that don’t usually come up in group classes, like fancy arm balance transitions. I’ve restarted my handstand and forearm practice.
God knows when we will ever eat out again. I order wine by the case from the store two blocks away. I’m baking all of our bread, making pasta and yogurt, keeping the freezer stocked with homemade meals in case one of us gets sick.
We have our groceries delivered from two local markets, with the occasional fill-in from Amazon. I don’t always get the produce I would have picked out. Sometimes things are just not available. Where I would make substitutions, I can’t trust a random personal shopper to do the same; it’s just a minor inconvenience, all things considered.
But then there is my writing. I have felt very blocked. I kept thinking that once my routine came back, my memoir muscle would flex again. Mind you, I’ve written two lengthy personal essays and a few blog posts since all of this started, but until this week I’ve walked warily past the cart that holds the research notebooks, file folders filled with chapter first drafts and peer critiques, the works of admired authors and my guilt-inducing completion calendar.
And then came Mother’s Day. My book is about the meaning for me of my mother’s death when I was just two, not much older than Vince. I don’t remember her. Her story was buried along with her. Scrolling through Instagram on my phone, I saw numerous photos of mothers and their daughters. My own daughter had posted photos of the two of us hours after she was born and of my mother holding me as a tiny infant.
My usual sangfroid evaporated, my chest heaved, my eyes burned — but not from COVID-19. I took this physical manifestation of distress as a sign that I needed to let go of something, to feel something big, to make a change. And then I understood. What was I waiting for? Life goes on — or worse — it doesn’t.
It was time to once gain be the me that was on that quest to write about my mother, not the one on pause, not “Nana down.” No one else was going to finish this book, unravel this mystery. It was time to get back to work, time to stop spending so much time living in the virtual reality of New York Pause, time to stop living inside my phone, time to channel a little bit of St. Joan’s courage and fight on.
I may not be living my best life, but I’m determined to live quarantine life as best I can for as long as I need to. I’m resolved to press the “forward” button on my work in progress rather continuing to let “New York Pause” paralyze me. So far, so good. I’ll let you know how it goes.