Journal of Our Plague Year: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 34

It’s been a year now. It was kind of hard for me to pinpoint the date on which I’d say the covid era started for us as a family. Was it the Friday in early March when Noah came home for spring break, a stay we thought would last a week, but which has stretched out to over a year (and will last five months more, assuming he goes back in August)? Or was the first inkling five days later, when Ithaca announced it was extending spring break for a week and then conducting classes online for two weeks after that? Or was it North’s last day of in-person classes at their middle school a couple days later? They remember telling their friends, as they all cleaned out their lockers that Friday in mid-March, that they might not be coming back to the building ever and no one believed them. But they were right. (They were virtually promoted from eighth grade in June.)

I think the real beginning for us was the first weekday with the four of all at home together in what’s been our normal configuration ever since then. That was Monday, March 16. This was the day I chose to count from when I was doing my quarantine reports at forty, eighty, and one hundred sixty days, so it seemed the best choice for an anniversary. (I actually meant to do a three hundred and twenty-day report, but I forgot, so here we are with a year-in-review post instead.)

Here’s what I had to say about covid just before our year at home started. 

How has our year been? We’ve been very fortunate. Beth and I have been able to work from home, we haven’t lost any income, and the kids have been able to take their classes online. None of us got the virus. North has faced a lot of health challenges, however, starting in July and these are not completely resolved, but they are much, much better. North experimented a lot in the kitchen, learning to make Mushroom Wellington and many new kinds of desserts. (My favorite was the toffee.) Noah developed a new hobby (drone photography) that’s been a lot of fun for him. We took five road trips, all of them just moving our pod of four from one place to another, not visiting anyone. We haven’t seen anyone from our extended families since 2019, and we miss them dearly.

I coped by reading a lot of books about pandemics, mostly about bubonic plague, but one about polio. I started with Albert Camus’ The Plague in the spring, moved on to Philip Roth’s Nemesis in the summer, read Geraldine Brook’s Year of Wonders this winter and I’m currently reading Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year. I have a couple more on my list, though I imagine I’ll stop or at least give it a break if covid’s done before I am.

Meanwhile, here’s our covid year in review:

March: Our second weekday all at home together, Ithaca announced it was going online for the rest of the semester. A week later North turned fourteen and the Billie Eilish concert that was supposed to be their main present was cancelled so we had a virtual concert at home, with videos, glow sticks, and a concession stand. North had a slow motion birthday party, with guests coming one at a time for a visit on the porch and a slice of cake. The Tidal Basin was closed to visitors when the cherry blossoms bloomed, so we saw them at the more spacious National Arboretum instead. Near the end of the month, I got my first refund for summer camp, the first of several. It felt like a harbinger of things to come and it certainly was.

April: We started wearing homemade cloth masks that first North and then Beth made. I took a lot of pictures of flowers on my daily walk and came up with names for neighbors I don’t know (e.g. Red and Blue Plaid Pajama Bottoms Man). We made masks for our Easter eggs. We started playing a lot of games. At first it was mostly Cards Against Humanity, by summer it was Clue, and eventually Beth, Noah, and I established a running date to play Settlers of Cataan. (It started off every other week, but now it’s about once a month.)

May: We made a May Pole and danced around it. Noah turned nineteen and got a drone. Over the spring and early summer we took to visiting parks in Maryland so he could fly it. We went almost every weekend at first and continued less frequently through fall and early winter. (I think his last flight was in January, but I expect we’ll go more frequently again when the weather warms up and his semester ends.) Our school district announced the rest of the year would be virtual. I turned fifty-three. North organized a one-day pop-up café in our house. The adults served the kids at lunch and the kids served the adults at dinner. There was a car accident in front of our house and a car crashed through our fence. George Floyd was murdered by police, leading to nationwide protests that lasted throughout the summer.

June: North was promoted from middle school and shaved their head to mark the occasion. They organized a Pride-themed family scavenger hunt. (We had to find little pieces of paper in all the colors of the rainbow.) We went to two Black Lives Matter protests. I thought we’d go to more, but events overtook us in July. The death toll for covid reached 100,000.

July: Our cat Matthew died, after developing circulatory problems that paralyzed his back legs. North attended a two-week outdoor drama camp (their only camp that didn’t cancel) and played Frederick and one of the Major’s daughters in a revue of songs and scenes from Pirates of Penzance. We drove to Ithaca to collect Noah’s belongings in the middle of the month. We visited a lot of waterfalls and lakes. While we were swimming in one of these lakes, in a freaky echo of what happened to Matthew, North lost control of their legs. We drove back to Maryland and they were admitted to Children’s National Medical Center, in what would be their first of three hospitalizations between July and September. Shortly after the first one, we left for Rehoboth and spent a week figuring out how to navigate the beach, boardwalk, and (a nearly empty) Funland in a wheelchair, and how to get a partly-paralyzed kid into the surf in an inflatable ring. By the end of the month, North had learned to stand with support in physical therapy.

August: I had a friend over for a backyard visit for the first time during covid times, and served iced tea made with mint from my herb garden. Once I did it I realized how much I’d needed it and I had another friend over soon after. North learned to stand unsupported and to walk with a walker. This was encouraging, but around this same time, they started having frequent seizures, dozens in a day. We ended up in the ER when they had one that lasted an hour and a half. North was admitted to the hospital for a second time for an overnight EEG, which determined their seizures were non-epileptic in nature. They were diagnosed with Functional Neurological Disorder, which means their symptoms have no organic cause but are a somatization of stress. Shortly before the fall semester was supposed to start, Ithaca announced it would stay online until the spring.

September: Both kids resumed school online. North’s first week of school was interrupted with a new medical problem, the inability to urinate without a catheter, and they were hospitalized again. They had several MRIs to determine if anything was impinging on their urethra, but they seized during the first two and they needed to have a sedated one. By the end of the month, North’s walking had returned to almost normal. They had several friends over at the same time for a backyard/front porch half-birthday party.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg died and we were heartbroken. We finally got the fence (where the car crashed through it) fixed and then the kids and I painted it. The death toll for covid reached 200,000.

October: North had a final MRI, of their brain, as a precaution to rule out any possible physical cause for their continuing neurological symptoms. As expected, there was none. We got the columns, steps, and floor of our porch painted pale green. Noah helped a local filmmaker shoot and edit a short movie called Hugo Cabret’s Big Fix and when we went to the outdoor showing we got to hear the filmmaker, director, and actors gush about his skills and work ethic. There was no Halloween parade or costume contest, but we put out candy for trick-or-treaters on a table in front of the house and North was able to navigate Zoë’s neighborhood with a walker and the two of them were able to find enough candy from neighbors who’d also put out offerings.

November: North spontaneously regained the ability to urinate on their own and developed some verbal and facial tics. Joe Biden won the Presidential election and we rejoiced. Ithaca announced it would re-open for the spring semester, but Noah opted to spend it at home because three of the four classes he wanted to take were online, the cafeterias were operating on a grab-n-go basis, and his best friend wasn’t going back. His decision made sense, but it also made me sad he’s lost so much of his college experience to this virus. North stopped shaving their head, but decided to start wearing their hair covered when in public as part of their observation of modest paganism (so you can’t see that after four and a half months, it’s grown long enough to curl a little). We spent Thanksgiving week in Rehoboth and celebrated Beth’s fifty-fourth birthday there. There was no holiday sing-along, but I spent a lot of time on the beach and Noah used his drone to take the holiday card photo from the air

December: I wrote my one thousandth voter turnout postcard since September 2018. The last batch was for the Senate runoffs in Georgia. We made gingerbread, pizzelles, and buckeyes and delivered some of them to friends’ houses and served some to friends who came to visit on the porch. We spent Christmas at Blackwater Falls State Park, where we enjoyed many walks in the woods. The death toll for covid reached 300,000.

January: Noah took a winter term class in Philosophy and Cinema. It was fun watching some of the movies with him. The Democrats flipped the Senate and there was an attempted coup in which rioters tried to prevent Congress from certifying the results of the Presidential election. A week later, the President was impeached for a second time, for inciting the riot. We spent MLK weekend in Ocean City, where we walked on the beach and boardwalk and went to Assateague to see the wild ponies. Joe Biden was inaugurated and we rejoiced. The death toll for covid reached 400,000.

February: Sadly but predictably, the ex-President was not convicted. We got each other record amounts of chocolate for Valentine’s Day. Our school district announced plans for a slow reopening, with different groups of students returning from early March to mid or late April, (depending on how well the early phases go). Ninth graders are near the end of the line, so if all goes as planned and we decide to send them, North should be back in school (four days out of every ten) by mid-April. The death toll for covid reached 500,000, but vaccinations started to pick up speed. We decided to gamble on renting a beach house that can sleep ten for a week in mid-July. We hope to see both our mothers, my sister, brother-in-law, and niece there. We might even meet my mother’s boyfriend.

March: A year later, we are still all in the house together every day. It’s not a big house and sometimes it feels cramped and crowded, but sometimes it feels cozy. Over the past year, we’ve played a lot of games, watched a lot of movies and television, and baked a lot in this house. It’s been a safe harbor. There are reasons for hope, both for our family and the country. North’s physical symptoms are much better. Their seizures are infrequent now. It’s been over three weeks since I’ve seen one. They still have the tics and chronic pain, so they use forearm crutches when they leave the house, but they’ve recently started exercising daily on our stationary bike. We don’t know how much longer the pandemic will last. 533,463 Americans have died of covid, but 109,081,860 doses of the vaccine have been administered. There’s real leadership in the White House. The end isn’t right around the corner, but it’s imaginable now.

How was your year?