To My Sons: About Life In A Pandemic

Standard

I believe we are in week 5 almost 6 of the stay-at-home exercise. It wasn’t actually an order until late March or April where we live. I do know that the concerns about COVID19 and “social distancing” protocols and chatter were newly and effectively implanted in our psyches about three before Governor Northam, also a physician, made the order effective until June 10, 2020.

Everyone was a suspected carrier. We knew so little (and still really don’t know a lot) about the virus, but we did know that it was super contagious, spread through air (coughing and sneezing and droplets) and while not really super deadly to those without underlying health issues (“co-morbidities”), we had to be aware of our fellow citizens, and do our best to not spread the disease. China was a mess.

We were being constantly reminded to frequently wash our hands and not touch our faces and if we did touch our faces, we were asked to wash our hands afterward. If you didn’t have water, what about hand sanitizer? If you didn’t have hand sanitizer, don’t touch ANYTHING until you can wash or clean them. For 20 seconds. To sing “happy birthday” as we did. I remember thinking frequently “is this an Orwellian novel come to life…?” I always washed my hands after using the bathroom, but I touched my face a lot. Still do. But less.

The two weekends before things really slowed down here we had two events at the house: one was an impromptu dinner party in very early March after a cold and windy DC United soccer match wherein your father invited good friends to attend instead of myself and you guys suffering through the event. Just about everyone had a date who arrived with them or came soon after.

People brought wine and fruit or bread. We were glad to do something spontaneous for once. That’s where we shine, actually, in the spontaneous things.

We cooked three pounds of ground turkey, I cut up the veggies, opened the salsa, scooped out the sour cream, and we made tacos and taco salads for whomever desired it. That evening goes down as one of my favorite non-family relations at my dinner table ever in recent memory. You all were at the table and we had a great time.

There we were: 13 of us taking up every possible seat at our massive dining room table. I didn’t take pictures with my camera; but I have stills in my mind from that night. I remember where people sat and how they looked in the light of the candles and the laughter. The conversation flowed, everyone was very new to each other (except to our family) and we really had a great time. We discussed the virus, but we didn’t focus on it. It was almost like we were rebelling. We were going to get together, dammit.

Around 11pm, people needed to go but didn’t want to; but it was time. So we said our good nights. This was in the days of “elbow bumps” or awkward hellos from across the room.

There was reluctance in me to comply; I didn’t want to not hug the people I knew and not be a gracious host to those who were better known to your father. I am a hugger. So we asked first and hugged when we could. Everyone hugged. We were in this together.

But things had begun to change rapidly in just 36 hours. Dr. Fauci was now a household name and press briefings about the virus were daily if not the talking heads on various news networks. People were beginning to hoard toilet paper and hand sanitizer. I know this will surprise you (sarcasm): because I try to be a better parent than my own parents, we have things like band-aids and Kleenex tissue in our house. So, in that vein, I actually myself in late February placed an online order for more oregano oil and elderberry syrup to help with immunities; a two-pack (HEY — it’s the only way it came) of household cleaner with bleach; and a four-pack (again, sold this way) of Lysol spray. Face masks became a thing. We were all sensing the clouds rolling in: it was becoming a constant thing on the news and in social media that we were being asked to not socialize in groups of larger than 10 at this point. We were complying… we were just at 10 depending on whether my middle son was sitting with us or flowing back to the house for a few moments.

It was fine. Really. It was. Honest. RIGHT?!?

At the same time we were outside at the fire pit, our middle son Donovan invited his four of his friends over. They all gathered in our kitchen. I remember one of my new friends joking as she came back from using the bathroom “there is a bunch of cool teenagers in your kitchen and I feel really old and dorky now” and I remember thinking to myself, “you are so young (half my age), I feel old and dorky now.”

I also remember thinking, “is this safe?” My son hadn’t seen his friends in a few weeks — he was super busy with his sound engineering work and certification studies. So it was unusual that they’d be over, especially on a Sunday night, but there it was. School the next day had been cancelled so it was all cool. I also remember thinking — Donovan’s work and studio buddies just came back from NYC like a week ago. Is he safe?

True to form, 11pm rolled around again and it was time to depart. We all gathered in our kitchen — about 15 of us now and we were definitely not 6’ apart because the space is small and I recall us all nervously looking at the younger set and saying, “you all are too close to us! >awkward laugh, are you sick?< Ha ha … naw, just joshing it’s all good … >please move over there….<” (but there was polite unease). We were all cool but after about a minute of forced socializing proving that none of us had a cough or a fever, the younger troop took off for the tv in the basement and left us to fan out a little upstairs.

Elsewhere in the country, NYC Mayor Bill DiBlasio had asked New Yorkers to not go to restaurants and use carry out and delivery instead. People in NYC were getting sick with the virus at exponential rates. Face masks and PPE, other essential gear for medical personnel were becoming scarcer and scarcer. National debates about the seriousness of this virus were not really a thing yet. That said, New York was beginning its lockdown and other large metropolitan cities were paying attention. Wuhan had been locked down for weeks now — people were literally quarantining in their homes to slow the spread and little did we know … soon, we would be too. #flattenthecurve was becoming a thing on social media. It was a new form of patriotism and coolness. And if you broke the protocol, you were basically an asshole.

It was very strange. That morning we had gone to a St. Patrick’s Day brunch (the same day the New York Times published its OpEd, “Please Don’t Go To Brunch Today [Gathering in groups right now is selfish and puts the lives of others at risk]” with T&J and kids. Oops. I didn’t see that OpEd until after I got home… AFTER we went to their house after for a few hours to spend some more time together in a known environment (I think because we had this sense that it was going to be the last time for a while that we’d see each other… with each passing hour, things felt more grim).

That was the same day I shipped to my doctor friend in Dallas two unopened boxes of N95 masks and three unopened boxes of child-size masks that we had in our basement. Let me explain: they were provided by a dear friend who worked as a DHS consultant during the aftermath of 9/11 and H1N1 virus and he wanted to make sure we would be ok; when he gave them to us he said, “this didn’t happen and you don’t know how they got here.”

Mmmmk. But they were in our basement for years. We used a few last year when cleaning out your grandparent’s house on St. George — you remember that place. The mask wasn’t such a bad idea then, was it?

So between brunch and the after-party at T’s, your dad and I ran around town trying to ship these masks. I finally recalled there is a stand-alone FedEx box outside the yoga studio. So OFF we went. THEYHAVETOGETOTDALLASOR’K’WILLDIE was in my mind. I felt a little like Lorraine Bracco in “Goodfellas” when she is driving with Ray Liotta and that DEA helicopter is following them all over town. Except I wasn’t hiding or distributing or using cocaine and we weren’t being surveilled. So, there’s that.

But the urgency was there. Time was compressing. I had a sense that we were going to start to live very differently soon. In fact, a small part of me was hopeful for it. I was tired and I remember saying a few weeks before all of this had happened, that I needed a break. I had recently gotten over an ass-whooping, nasty case of vertigo that started on February 20 (I rolled over in bed that morning and immediately felt like I’d fallen out of bed and landed on my face and then I threw up a couple times). While I felt really shitty and unbalanced and was largely incapacitated — people had to drive me places and I couldn’t teach yoga, much less walk well, for about a week. I consulted my Dallas doctor friend and she suggested a shot of decadron (a steroid) on in my ass to help the inflammation, but that didn’t happen for a few days (my GP here of course loved it when I started out by saying, “I have a friend in ER medicine and …” but I had been super dizzy for almost four days at this point and she agreed it was time for steroids.

But during that time when I was convalescing, I remember feeling better, mentally. I remember feeling as though I really needed the break and that I needed and wanted more. Incidentally, it was during those days of vertigo that I ordered the oregano oil and Lysol because I really didn’t know wtf was going on with my immunity. I had never had this and I had no symptoms. My ear didn’t even hurt, but I was being treated for water in ear drum and a latent sinus infection.

The shot worked and I was largely feeling more normal. When people asked, I said I was feeling 80 percent better 80 percent of the time. Bending over, looking at my feet and demonstrating some yoga poses was still out of the question though. I had to be careful and driving was not a challenge, but not much fun either. It was hard to drive a car like Nigel and be ok with taking turns at 7 miles an hour. First-world spoils.

The next event at our home was the following weekend. The orders had not yet been issued, but the schools here had closed for a couple days as parents were keeping their kids home. Plans were in the works to begin distance learning training for the faculty the following week and so things were beginning to feel a little compressed. I recall uneasiness about it all. I wasn’t in the mood necessarily to just hug people now. I knew the people I knew, and I trusted them and I knew they were in good health, but … the paranoia does start to kick in. Things were more tense and less glib.

I remember one of you giving me a hard time about talking about it — even mentioning it around the world; that to you it was no big deal and that things were greatly blown out of proportion. That China is a mess because China doesn’t care about its people.

I care about our people. So I brought a can of Lysol to the yoga studio and asked people to wipe down their yoga blocks and hand weights, and rubber straps, and bungee cords, and mats, and knobs, and faucets, and handles, and the remote for the lights, and the light switches, and the keypad to get into the studio, and the heating system, and and and and… I own it: I was spinning.

But it wasn’t just me. I was feeling the vibe; I was open to it too. I had been working for months to open my intuition — with my therapist, with healers, meditation and other interests. I had felt so blocked after my father died — I was all reactive and angry and closed off.

So I was in a feeling mode. Things had begun to change here. And by “here” I mean America. This was when cruises were reporting cases of the virus; New York City was also growing because a man from a cruise attended an event in NYC suburbs and that spread it there. I believe the nursing home cases in Kirkland, WA, were also blooming (I’m trying to write this without consulting The Google and go by memory, so I could be off by a few days, but things were starting to ramp up).

Sometime after the vertigo and before the DC United game, Dad and I went to dinner with T&J at a small and adorable French restaurant in Occoquan. In their bathrooms they had red toilet seats (mmmk) and also a really cool idea: instead of using paper towels which are such a waste and environmentally backwards, they had a wicker basket filled with white cotton washcloths to use after washing hands. The receiving hamper was beside the door so you could use the towel to dry your hands, open the door with it and then toss it as you left the restroom.

I LOVED THAT IDEA, so I borrowed it and used it here at home, but because the after- soccer game dinner crowd was a spontaneous gig, I didn’t have the time to set all that up. But I was concerned about everyone’s health, so I set up the single paper hand towels for peoples’ use and hid the household drying towel under the sink.

For the fire-pit weekend, we were ready: because Connor and I went to Costco and bought a 24-pack of new white cotton washcloths to put to use here. I wanted to be socially correct and medically “forward”; I wanted to be aware but not a jerk. I set them up on the sink counter and put the receiving basket on the floor in the corner.

This is how it is here now.

I had taught a vinyasa class that morning (my advanced vinyasa classes are pretty inventive and aggressive); I remember now as I write this that someone in the studio community had brought in a bottle of Purell a week before. That morning, someone else brought a container of disinfectant wipes, gesturing to the bottles of essential oil -based spray cleaner we’d been using for years, “that spray is good and it’s helpful for regular stuff, but it ain’t gonna cut it with this crap going on out there, so here’s my contribution. I ordered them over the summer and they come in packs of four, so here’s one for the studio…”

So it wasn’t just me. And we weren’t being unbalanced; but we were trying to be cool about protecting ourselves while demonstrating community care in the name of everyone. And I think this is is how it’s been largely managed from a social norm aspect: if you wash your hands, and wear your mask, you’re helping NOT shed your biomes to other people… but you’re also practicing self-preservation. So we get to be selfish under the guise of altruism.

Whatever… I’m good.

After that vinyasa I could feel that I was still in need of a workout; the stress was climbing in me. Increasingly, my sleep was disrupted. I was feeling more anxious because I didn’t know when would be a good time for me to say to my employers, “you know… this yoga stuff is pretty hands-on at times and we definitely have our mats closer than six feet apart, and there are definitely more than ten of us in many of my classes, so … should we call the ball?” In fact, a studio owner where I work was also wracked with concern and she didn’t know what to do — yoga and meditation, fitness, community, and stress release is our business, and during the early days of this pandemic, we needed to serve ourselves and others more than anything. There were no orders — yet — but there were rumors and people including the studio owner, wanted to do the right thing. But what WAS that right thing?!

Gaaaaahhhh… too much to think about, so many layers. I hit our basement for an interval training workout on the treadmill. It worked. I cut it close to the arrival time of our guests, but my workouts are my medicine and my habits are established: if I say I need another one, I know I need another one; no one really asks. So I arrived from my shower to greet Dad’s friends and got to work being authentically cheerful, curious, and gracious.

That was the last time I taught yoga at the studio. Saturday March 14.

Having another gathering was a much needed distraction. I was excited to meet new people, three people from your father’s work at LA., and hear about their lives. After I worked out, I tossed homemade pesto on tagliatelle with grilled chicken. Water, ginger ale, wine, bourbons were poured and tasted (it was like that). I made my current favorite beverage, an Aperol Spritz. It was a nice time; this group was familiar with each other and instead of having that difficult and awkwardness (when one cluster joins another cluster it can be weird), it all blended well. Everyone had a great time and yet again, 11 rolled around and off they went.

Apparently it went so well that the next night, they came back. I really liked our new friends and we all got along so well; I felt an instant kinship with the young women. To keep things a little more COVID19-aware, they joined us after their own dinners and we all sat by the fire pit out back (that was the intention of the previous evening but it got to be too late so we didn’t) and they just came over to get out of their houses. I felt a little like we were being “bad” — going against the grain. Even though nothing yet had been put into effect, I felt like we were flying under the radar.

It was a really nice night. Clear, cool but not cold and a light breeze. We were also joined by a new person: Connor’s girlfriend had an internship in D.C. for the spring semester and one of her coworkers, an Australian, was now sort of in limbo about things — the internship had effectively ended onsite and while she had to go back to Australia, she also needed to bunk somewhere while they figured out her travel. San Francisco was becoming a bit of a hot zone, and she’d likely have to fly out of there, but nothing was certain. Flights were being cancelled left and right, some countries had begun banning flights to / from other areas of the world… as such, she ended up staying with E a few days before heading home. So naturally, she and E joined us that evening at the fire pit as well. She enjoyed it so much — s’mores, casual conversation, a fellow ex-pat amongst the group (Dad’s boss), optimistic people, and the dogs — that she asked E if we could do it again the next night. That warmed my heart.

The next day, I was due to teach at the studio at 10:45am. Hours earlier, that class was cancelled. Our studio owner made the call to cancel the class based a combination of mounting internal and social pressure to do the right thing, people dropping out of the classes, and instructors having to draw lines for their own health and safety.

That afternoon, I met with my studio owner and we put together an outdoor class for whoever wanted to come by the next day, St. Patrick’s Day. The weather was pretty nice, and warmer than usual for that time of year. Everyone really enjoyed the practice and it was important to do for all of us: we needed something close to normal in the ever-mounting situation.

Three days after that outdoor class, we switched to online classes. The weather was unpredictable and some people were still concerned about their health or the health of their families. The whole “six feet apart” thing was new to us and some people were too close. So we started with Facebook Live videos which was utterly baffling for me, personally. The first classes were held at the studio for about two weeks and then the hammer came down from Northam: no more fun of any kind. Everyone must stay home for at least two weeks. No nonessential travel.

We had to cancel our housecleaning crew. I sent them some money to help support them, but I can’t keep doing that. My paychecks are smaller. So now I clean our house but not your rooms. I won’t make your beds. I won’t vacuum your carpets. But I’ll clean the bathrooms, kitchen and communal areas of the house. Except for the basement teen zone. Not mine. This has been going on for six weeks. I don’t mind it so much. I clean deeper than the crew does and I come to appreciate my home. I see how lucky I am. We have a beautiful home. We have many blessings.

Then what felt like three days (but was probably a week or two) later, we were on double secret probation: Dean Wormer had spoken and he had put down his foot, “and that foot is me.”

So we had to start broadcasting from home. I immediately hated it. The technology wasn’t hard to grasp, but the concept of staring and remembering to smile and thank people and be gracious and to recite what I’m doing when I’m doing WHILE I was ALONE, all of this, into my iPad and TALKING to it, hoping and praying that someone was out there, someone was watching and talking back to their iPad or whatever and joining in the practice was just too much.

I felt like a crazy person. Like I was seven years old and interviewing my teddy bears and the CREEPY Vogue baby doll that smelled like talcum powder my mother kept giving me (even though I’d destroyed two of them because I didn’t like that their eyes opened and closed and that their hard plastic legs had dimpled knees and toes and sewn into a soft bodice) in my bedroom. Hoping that someone would rescue me from it.

In the meantime, people had started making their own face masks. I began to feel like an asshole for not wearing one when going to get the mail or walk the dogs. Even after a while, I felt like the face masks were some sort of delineator: if I don’t wear one, I’m an infidel. If I do, I’m not. Sometimes, to be quite honest, I just forgot. Or it wasn’t in the car.


After a couple weeks of the Facebook Live videos, at the studio, we decided to switch to Zoom. I’m so glad we did. The community aspect is really so important; and I have been able to correct peoples’ form and see where things could get dicey if I didn’t intervene. The people participating feel safer because I can see them and I feel better knowing I’m connecting and making a difference.

We have all brought each other into our homes. They see what books I’m reading or how I live and I see theirs. Sometimes our pets come in and participate. Rooney has been a yoga star the last few weeks and it’s been very funny. People enjoy seeing them and I think it must be so nice for people — especially those who live alone — to have quiet moments on the mat with their faithful friend nearby.

Warriors 2. He’s a lover not a Warrior.


The country club had switched to virtual classes via Zoom almost instantly after this whole thing came down. I was not teaching for about a week between St. Patrick’s Day (my busiest day at the club) and that was helpful because I could see other people and they could see me and they were doing what I was proposing when I said it. So I didn’t feel quite so weird then.

Then the announcement came from GMU: Connor’s classes would all be online in a few weeks and his spring break would extend for another week. Then another week later: no commencement ceremonies on campus in May. Then a few days later, no events on GMU grounds until further notice. Then more: UVA, W&M, VPI, JMU, CNU, VCU, Virginia State… no more classes on campus until who knows when.

He wasn’t so bummed out about not going back to campus, but he was bummed out that he wouldn’t have a ceremony to speak of and some of his classes he really liked attending. Going to online only meant that professors wouldn’t necessarily be lecturing anymore; apparently they are too good to stare into a camera and hope someone is listening. So the experience is more passive for him and his fellow graduation candidates.


Somewhere between the new washcloth hand-drying system and three weeks ago, our 14-year-old washing machine died. We were desperate. Dad and I went to Best Buy and bought one that could be delivered ASAP. But we also knew that we had to get a good one and Dad didn’t like the idea of going cheap, so we bought one and it was delivered and our lives could resume normalcy in the beginning throes of this global awareness.

Then Hollywood spoke: Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson were COVID19 positive. And other people, of course, but Tom and Rita were the first to share it.

Two days after we had our fire-pit night, E’s Australian friend had solid plans to fly back home. We wouldn’t be seeing her again (perhaps never) and she was lovely.

This is the age of instant media and super fast sharing. It’s not all bleak and not everyone is dropping like flies, but things are changing and it’s a sad state of affairs for people who’ve lost loved ones to this virus and for those whose lives are ruined because of the financial fallout of all the stay-at-home orders, and other reasons. We have been through this before as a nation, or at least something similar. But what we haven’t ever experienced is a massive pandemic AND financial destruction. This will take some time to unknot.

Numerous stares are deciding to “reopen” their stores and businesses, but it seems that for some: tattoo parlors, hair salons, nail salons, it feels like it’s more of a test of the most vulnerable canary in a coal mine: “Hmm… let’s see if these people who we consider nonessential can reopen their businesses and they don’t die then we will open more…”

Domestic violence rates are calls for help are up 15% these days. People are trapped home with people they don’t feel safe around. Alcoholism is up; Dad couldn’t find acid reducing medicine at Costco (but then we learned it was recalled for cancer concerns), so we bought another type. Included among most states “essential” businesses are liquor stores and hardware stores. People are improving their homes (we got our deck washed and Dad resealed it this week), but restaurants are closed. We’ve participated in weekly happy hour food from the country club and that’s been a nice change.

It has also been a correction —of lots of things— of politics, of consumerism, of mindlessness, of carelessness, of business-first mentalities amongst people, of destroying the environment.

We’ve played Monopoly, Clue, and the current repeat favorite: Mexican Train Dominoes with Tequila Tastings. At Monopoly, I crushed everyone (hotels on Park Place, Boardwalk, Baltic and Mediterranean. It was a fast death for everyone after that. We tried another game after that one, but it was not ideal… so maybe again soon.

We’ve watched movies, played corn hole, held dance parties. We are blessed.

When in Mexico, drink Milagro. Just so you know, I received that bottle as a gift on my 50th birthday and I’m 52 right now. So I can truthfully say we didn’t drink much of it until the pandemic.



We have participated in a number of family-only Zoom happy hours and game nights. Ian’s ability to figure out all the technology to allow theses things to feel seamless has been amazing. When we switched to home-based / virtual classes Ian and I set up our DSLR to be my webcam. I thought it was a great idea — we did this so we could project the image the camera captures onto a large flatscreen behind the camera. The only issue was that the lens was too narrow.

So I went went to the camera store around the corner and bought a wide-angle lens. From there, he did all the wiring and it was awesome.


Until Zoom changed their software and my DSLR could no longer connect. Now that wide-angle is useless for this endeavor, but I shall trudge on. Hand sanitizer and toilet paper has returned to the shelves but you can’t buy more than one pack per visit.

Ian made Connor a birthday cake in the midst of all this new normal. He has been baking a lot: several loaves of banana bread (which met their demise too soon).

It is glorious, but suffering under its own weight. A chocolate cake covered by mint frosting under chocolate ganache.

And so here we are. The day after Connor’s birthday. The country’s still divided politically and Biden is running for President. I can only support him because I know he will surround himself with adults and intelligent independent thinkers. I don’t want another four years of Trump and people who think just like he does. The nation will not survive it. But I’m also really not thrilled with creepy Grampa Smell My Hair for president.

Thanks for reading.

About Grass Oil by Molly Field

follow me on twitter @mollyfieldtweet. i'm working on a memoir and i've written two books thus unpublished because i'm a scaredy cat. i hail from a Eugene O'Neill play and an Augusten Burroughs novel but i'm a married, sober straight mom. i write about parenting, mindfulness, irony, personal growth and other mysteries vividly with a bit of humor. "Grass Oil" comes from my son's description of dinner i made one night. the content of the blog is random, simple, funny and clever. stop by, it would be nice to get to know you. :)

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