View online edition


Week 4

Musings about past pandemics and coping.

Fran LoBiondo
by Fran LoBiondo

Fran LoBiondoHere we are in Coronavirus Shutdown: Week 4.

We have puzzles, paints, crayons, coloring books, books, balls and some toys.

They entertain our Greg, who is autistic, for short spans of time, but there are more hours to fill up in a day.

Last week, I asked my daughter to stay with her brother while I went out to a physical therapy session.

Usually she has some fun with him, so when I came home, I asked her how it went.

“Greg was so bored, he watched me assemble a shoe rack.”

If this home isolation drags on, we need a plan. Or perhaps not. If this shutdown becomes the new normal, I will be isolating in the loony bin. I won’t be forced to watch the daily newscasts about the end of the world there, either.

We have a plan to paint the upstairs bathroom. We haven’t gotten past the picking of the paint, but seriously, there’s no hurry. We have time.

There’s a new, spiffy-looking hummingbird feeder hanging from the elm tree in our backyard. Therese’s idea, of course. She still has some youthful creativity and enthusiasm for the future. I dream of watching those tiny, shiny birds flying to our sunlit feeder. No luck so far, which is normal. The hummers need to have a chance to find the new feeder in their neighborhood.

But I take heart that the feeder is still there, having weathered a few windy days and nights without falling off the tree and rolling down the street. The trees are blooming out for spring, and that is heartening, too.

At least we can get out and walk, if we stay six feet away from others and don’t sneeze or cough.

We were not alive to see the last pandemics—polio with people strapped into iron lungs, the influenza that ravaged post-WWII America. Death was a fact of life, especially in the crowded cities.

Our own grandparents lived in New York, where people were dying like flies, and fresh air was deemed a preventative to contracting disease so families slept with windows open. We have a picture of our Irish grandparents and their four children on a trip to Jones Beach. The children were burnished and smiling in their swimsuits, but it was clearly a penance for their parents, who wore street clothes. They both squinted in the sun, looking decidedly pale and uncomfortable. I never met them, but I can guess that swim trunks and lira swimsuits were not part of their wardrobes.

Nevertheless, they believed in fresh air at all costs, and even kept the kids home sometimes when the school windows were closed tight all winter.

My mother, too, was liberal with the days off. If we were healthy but felt we needed a mental health break, we were allowed to take one.

As long as we didn’t fake sick. In those cases, she was willing to taking my screaming brother by the seat of his pants and plant him firmly on the bus in front of the other kids. Other moms were too intimidated for such displays, but our mom had six kids and was ready to take on any nuns who called on her at home to discuss her methods.

So, today is Tax Day. Pre-COVID 19, people who didn’t do their taxes by now had to finish them and get them in the mail by midnight or request an extension. Twice, I got my forms filled out in the nick of time. That happened when my innate procrastination got the best of me. It was bad to miss a deadline, and I never did it again.

Greg has been well-behaved, but he has to spend every Monday re-clarifying why he can’t go to his program. When he wakes up Tuesday, he’s a dream.

I am trying to stay calm and carry on, but if I allow myself to think about the coming months, my hands shake. “It’s just stress.’’ That was Mom’s answer to any malady, even when I had brain cancer.

This shutdown is not as stressful as that, but it does leave me reluctant to look ahead.

We are still getting updates from our Brooklyn family. And clearly we are missing some of our grandson’s developing speech.

“Do you know what Ben said the other day,” my son said in an outraged voice. “He said in a stern voice, (not unlike mine), ‘What did I just say!’ ”

Ha! Take that, Daddy.

Life Sentences