Tuesday: Hello, Covid
It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, parent-teacher conference day at North’s school. I was in between my second conference (French) and the third (Foundation of Tech) when I got a text from Beth informing me that while I was gone, North, who’d woken that morning with a cough, headache, stuffiness, slight fever, and dizziness, had tested positive for covid. It sounds kind of obvious in retrospect, but I was surprised. After two years and eight months of dodging this virus, I guess I was feeling we were invincible, even though my mom got it in the spring, and my sister’s whole family got it earlier this month.
Two days earlier we had let North leave the house without adult supervision for the first time since they got back from the hospital. They’d had brunch at a crowded diner with several friends. It was an exception to our no-eating-inside-restaurants policy, though we don’t know for sure that’s where they got it. Given that the incubation period is two to fourteen days, the second most likely option seems like the school play, which we attended about a week and a half before they started to feel ill. And I suppose there was the cat café, and we did go see a movie (Ticket to Paradise), but neither the café nor the theater had very many people in it. Ironically, they’d been around people less than usual during the two weeks before they got sick, first on a closed hospital unit and then at home.
I wondered whether I should bail on the rest of my conferences, being an official close contact of someone with covid. That might have been the ethical thing to do, but I was already there and masked, and given that North’s been out of school for several weeks, I really wanted to touch base with each of their teachers to explain what’s going on and discuss various possible paths forward for North academically. It seemed important, and the conferences were less than fifteen minutes each, so I went through with it.
When I got home, Beth said, “I feel like the degree of difficulty of our lives just keeps getting higher,” elaborating that we were like the proverbial frogs being slowly boiled in a pot. There were a few reasons this was bad timing for our family’s first bout with covid. (Is there such a thing as good timing for it?)
- We were supposed to have an in-person intake interview at one of the partial hospitalization programs to which we’ve applied the following morning.
- We were leaving our annual Thanksgiving-at-the-beach trip immediately after the interview.
- The next day was also Beth’s birthday.
Beth called the hospital and to our surprise, they said we could do the interview virtually, so that was a relief. After a brief discussion, we decided we would go ahead with the beach trip. It usually involves Christmas shopping on Black Friday at the shops in downtown Rehoboth and we’d have to skip that, but I said it would be worth it to me to go if all we did was hang out at the house, have Thanksgiving dinner, order takeout the other nights, and take walks on the beach. That was what our first pandemic Thanksgiving trip to the beach was like anyway. (On our very first pandemic beach trip North was paralyzed, and we didn’t cancel then either. We are hardy travelers.)
There were risks, of course. Driving there would mean several hours of close contact with North and if Beth got sick in Rehoboth, then the drive home would be difficult or we could even get stuck there, but if you know how we feel as a family about the beach (me most of all), you’re probably not surprised that we went.
So many of you have shared your covid experiences on your blogs or on Facebook that we’ve had a range of models for whether or how to isolate infected family members from non-infected ones. We didn’t even discuss isolating from North. Given their current situation, it didn’t seem like a good course of action. We began masking when we were in the same room with them, but we weren’t avoiding them, and most of the time we even ate together inside, so that made the decision to spend a few hours in a car together slightly more rational.
After that was decided and after we’d filled out some pre-interview forms to scan and send to the hospital, I made Beth’s birthday cake, a chocolate cake with coffee frosting I’ve made many, many times. You’d think I’d remember the recipe well enough that I wouldn’t almost forget to add the egg, actually forget the vanilla, and accidentally turn the frosting into a glaze by halving all the ingredients except the coffee, but you’d be wrong. What can I say? I haven’t been sleeping well and I’ve had a lot on my mind. It was comforting to make it anyway, because it smelled good baking and there were batter and frosting bowls to lick, and it made the stressful day seem more festive.
Wednesday: Happy Birthday, Dear Beth
The next morning while we were packing for the trip prior to the interview, Beth got a call from the hospital informing us it was cancelled because that health care visits can’t happen over Zoom across state lines. The hospital is in Virginia and we’re in Maryland. Later I remembered we’ve run up against this rule before while travelling. I guess there’s some sort of exception for D.C. because we’ve had a lot of virtual meetings with providers in the District. This was quite frustrating. We couldn’t get a new appointment until the second week of December, and we won’t even be on the wait list until we have the interview. But there was nothing we could do about it.
We hit the road around eleven and arrived in Rehoboth around three-thirty, with a stop for a lunch of drive-through Taco Bell and Dairy Queen eaten at the tables outside the DQ near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. We masked in the car and kept the windows partially down. It was a warm day—it got up to sixty degrees—so that wasn’t a hardship.
Near the end of the drive, Beth got a call from another partial hospitalization program where we’d been waiting for an intake interview since North got out of the psychiatric unit almost two weeks earlier. It’s in Annapolis, but they are opening a new location in Prince George’s County, which is closer to us than Annapolis, and they wanted to know if we’d like to interview for that location. Beth said yes. They’re supposed to call back by Monday to arrange it. So, on that front, it was one step back, one step forward. Because the facility is new, we’re hoping there will be less of a wait there.
We got to the house, a two-story yellow frame cottage with pale blue shutters, a living room and kitchen on the first floor and three small bedrooms on the upper floor, a narrow staircase between them, and a screened porch in front. We settled in, unpacking food and clothes, making up the beds, and deciding on our order of Japanese takeout for dinner. I was on the beach by five to see the sunset. When I got back Beth left to get the food and we ate her birthday dinner around the kitchen table.
After dinner, she opened presents. There was imported Spanish drinking chocolate powder from North, three fancy chocolate bars from Noah (one from Colombia, one from India, and one from Tanzania), and a bottle of French olive oil from me. It was all very international. Beth’s a fan of good chocolate and olive oil, so she was happy. Next, we ate cake and ice cream, and watched A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, and The Mayflower Voyagers.
Before bed, we took a walk down to the beach to see the stars. We could see Orion’s belt and one of the dippers– we weren’t sure which one. Beth stayed on the boardwalk while North and I went down to the sand. While we were separated, my sister’s family called Beth on her cell and sang “Happy Birthday” to her and let her know her present was on the way.
As we were going to bed, I asked Beth how her birthday had been, and she said it was “a wild ride,” but that it ended well. In my card I’d written (before North came down with covid), “I hope it’s better than getting deloused, or getting your gallbladder out, or getting a flat tire.” I suppose this one will go down as one of Beth’s many memorable birthdays.
Thanksgiving started for me at 4:49. Remember how I said I’m not sleeping well? I stayed in bed until six, trying to get back to sleep, and then I relocated to the living room couch so the light from my cell and laptop where I was reading Facebook and blogs wouldn’t wake Beth. Around 6:45, I decided that as long as I was up, I might as well see the sunrise on the beach, which was only a five-minute walk away.
I used to watch the sun rise on the beach more often, when the kids were younger, and we all used wake at ungodly earlier hours. Well, I can’t exactly say I’m thankful for my recent insomnia, even on a day dedicated to gratitude, but… I was genuinely grateful that morning to see the orange ball of the sun rising over the ocean, touching the beach grass with faint light, putting touches of pink in the sky, painting the wet sand silver with streaks of gold, and making a big, ruffly, clear jellyfish I found at the waterline seem to glow from within.
I walked on the beach until the dawn colors had all drained away from the sky and the sand, went back to the house, ate breakfast, and made a batch of low-sugar cranberry sauce before anyone else was up. Everyone cooked a little throughout the day. Beth made the mushroom gravy and finished the broccoli-cheese casserole that North started. (North felt well enough to cook at first and then got dizzy and had to go lie down.) I made the basting sauce for the tofu roast and Beth made mashed potatoes. We’ve pared down our traditional feast a little over the past couple years since I got diagnosed with diabetes. I stopped making the brandied sweet potatoes because I was the only one who liked them, and we longer make breadcrumb stuffing because the roast comes stuffed with wild rice and Noah was the one who liked the original stuffing best.
Late in the morning, we all made our traditional turkey table decorations from apples, toothpicks, raisins, dried cranberries, and olives. “Will you make these with your kids?” I asked North.
“Yes,” they said. “Will you make them with them?”
“Yes,” I said. It was a cheering vision of the future.
Beth and I had lunch out on the screened porch—leftover Japanese, crackers, cheese, nuts, and fruit. Then we all had overlapping naps. I didn’t manage to fall asleep, but I came close, and it was nice to rest. North slept most of the afternoon. We’d hoped to take our Christmas card photos on the beach that afternoon, but they weren’t up for it. After my nap, I put the roast in the oven and went for another walk on the beach and boardwalk. When I came back to baste it again, Beth went for a walk of her own.
We ate a little after six and everything was delicious. Before we ate, we offered thanks for North being out of the hospital, for being together, for the fact that though we wished Noah was with us that the reason he wasn’t was that he was studying in Australia, something he’d wanted to do for years, and for the vaccines and boosters that kept North’s case of covid mild and that had protected me and Beth so far.
Speaking of Noah, at seven we had a Zoom call with him. It’s only the third time we’ve done it since he’s been abroad. The first time, with me and Beth, was to let him know North had been hospitalized and the second, with all four of us, was the last night North was in the hospital. He’d been trying to call them at the hospital and between the fifteen-hour time difference, difficulties with his changing between domestic and international SIM cards, and the fact that all the kids on the unit shared one phone and it was usually in use, he had not managed it until we linked him into one of our pre-scheduled Zoom calls.
We asked him if he’d done anything for Thanksgiving and he said no. It reminded me of studying in Spain the fall of my junior year of college and how it’s strange to be abroad on this very American holiday. My celebration that year consisted of a sweet potato boiled on a hot plate in a dorm room. We also found out his last school assignment is due the first week of December and he has two whole weeks of free time before he comes home. Beth and I both urged him to travel. He’s already planning a trip to the Great Barrier Reef, but he hasn’t explored much outside the town where he’s living, so it seems like a good opportunity to see more of the country where he’s been living since September. He mentioned in a puzzled way that a lot of the international students have been taking trips to New Zealand and Bali and missing class to do it.
It was good to talk to him. It was the first time I’ve been to Rehoboth without him since before he was born—in fact I think the last time we went without him might have been the trip when we brought printouts of sperm donor profiles to pick out his. It was also the first time we haven’t been together on Thanksgiving, so I was missing him a lot.
After the call, we watched an episode of Gilmore Girls, and then North and I walked to the beach again to look at the stars. There were seabirds resting on the waves, visible only as white spots bobbing up and down in the distance or occasionally taking flight and streaking across the dark sky.
(Not So) Black Friday
I managed to sleep until 5:30 the next morning, a slight improvement. Because my daybreak walk at the beach had been so rewarding the previous morning, I decided to do it again. It was cloudy and drizzling so there really was no sunrise to watch, but I never regret a walk on the beach.
I came home, made myself breakfast, and then left again to go pick up a few books I’d pre-ordered from Browse-About before North got sick. I double-masked and was in and out in a few minutes, resisting the temptation to stay and shop a little. On the way home, I detoured to the beach. It was high tide and an extensive network of little pools and channels of water had formed all over the sand. It was very cool, but I had to wend my way carefully to avoid getting stranded somewhere that would soon be covered by an incoming wave.
There was a family on the beach with preschool-aged twins running around, one in a ladybug rain slicker and one in a bee slicker. The hoods of their jackets had antennae. They were adorable and made me miss my little ones, who are not so little now.
When I got back home, Beth drove out to Route 1 in Black Friday traffic to get Grandpa Mac takeout for North. They’d slept all morning, so it was their first meal of the day. (Then Beth drove back when the order was wrong to get a replacement. This is a testament to Beth’s love for North.) I blogged and read and did laundry so we could bring home mostly clean clothes. It felt odd, not to be busy on the day I usually either start or get serious about my Christmas shopping.
In the late afternoon we had our Christmas card photo shoot on the beach. North and left ahead of Beth and went to the boardwalk where we purchased a frozen custard for North. We all met up and took pictures on the sand and jetties. While Beth and I had our backs to the ocean a rogue wave caught us by surprise and we both got our feet soaked. North took a series of photos of us running out of the ocean. I am considering using one of them on the card. After all, we haven’t had a picture-perfect year.
Beth and North went back to the house while I went to Grotto’s and ordered a pizza and mozzarella sticks for pickup. While they cooked, I went back to the beach to watch the sunset turn a bank of clouds in the northern part of the sky vivid pink and color the water and sand with swirls of pink, gold, and blue. I brought the pizza back home and after an hour or so, I heated it up and we had an early dinner before heading back to the boardwalk for the holiday sing-along and Christmas tree lighting.
When we reached downtown, Beth went to get soft pretzel bites for North while North and I found a place to sit away from the crowds near the bandstand. We found a bench on the boardwalk where we could hear the singing and see the tree but without standing shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of celebrants. We noticed someone was flying a drone near the tree, presumably to get an overhead view when the lights came on.
Although the other people sitting on boardwalk benches and passing by weren’t singing, we did. The first song was “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” and for a half an hour, there was a series of mainly secular Christmas songs like “Jingle Bells,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” At seven sharp, the lights on the tree flashed on, just as they always do. The sameness of this event is deeply satisfying.
On the way home, Beth confirmed that the orange light North and I had been seeing in the sky over the ocean the past two nights was in fact a planet—Mars. We marveled that you could see its color from so very far away.
That night before bed, because I’d had a sore throat all day and I was getting stuffy, I took a covid test. To my surprise, it was negative.
Saturday: Goodbye, Beach
Another morning, another early waking, this time around 5:40, another lovely sunrise on the beach, which I enjoyed along with parents with kids, people with dogs, walkers, runners, and people camped out on the sand wrapped in blankets watching the fiery sun hover at the horizon over the ocean. It’s quite the perq if you have to be up before dawn.
I came home and had breakfast and we packed up the house. Even though he’s busy with end-of-semester projects, Noah texted me the pictures of himself wearing a green t-shirt and standing on an Australian beach that I’d requested. We’ll juxtapose one with our beach photos on the Christmas card.
We stayed in Rehoboth for about an hour after we vacated the house. Beth took her daily walk and North and I had a slower ramble along the beach and boardwalk, with a long rest on a boardwalk bench. It was a wild ride getting to the beach, but once we got there it was actually a sedate couple of days, with more naps and less bustling about in shops than we usually have on Thanksgiving weekend, but I’m glad we went, and I hope it will prove restorative.
Note: Beth and I both tested positive for covid on Sunday morning.