Until this past weekend, I hadn’t been out in “public” in about seven weeks, other than hikes in our local regional park and my runs down the sidewalk, during which I cross the street to avoid oncoming pedestrians and pretty much steer clear of all other humans. I honestly haven’t really missed going out in public all that much mainly because of germaphobia and fear. I used to really enjoy grocery shopping and went faithfully to Trader Joe’s every Sunday, stocking up according to my meal plan for the week, sipping my hot coffee sample as I navigated the aisles, smiling to passing shoppers, fully enjoying my weekly hunting-gathering outing. Now I thankfully send Loren off to the grocery store in my stead armed with a detailed list organized by aisle as I watch a little more of my control over our lives slip away.
Friday evening Loren and I decided it was time to get out of the house on Saturday, as in actually getting in the car and driving a few minutes somewhere beyond our local hiking excursion spot. “Where should we go, maybe the beach?” Loren asked as we watched Seinfeld for the 3,000th time late night after the kids were finally asleep. We happily decided on Ocean Beach in San Francisco. And then for some reason, most likely my frazzled state after a full work-week and overstimulation from the kids’ loud screaming all day while I was trying to lead several conference calls, I barely slept Friday night. I tossed and turned, some terrible pop song stuck in my head, wired and worrying about everything and nothing at all simultaneously.
When I finally dragged myself out of bed Saturday morning, I pulled up an article about Bay Area beaches during shelter-in-place, saw numerous people in a photo walking down Ocean Beach, and called it off. “We can’t go there. Too many people!” I grumpily sipped my tea. “Maybe we should scale it back. Just get in the car and drive to Berkeley and see what trouble we can get into,” I said to Loren. “Sounds like a plan,” he said.
As we were discussing these plans, Everett started to whine. “I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go anywhere. I’m scared,” he whimpered, actual tears starting to well up. He continued this lament the entire time we were getting ready to go. I asked him what he was feeling scared about and he said, “the coronavirus.” This was the first time he had ever expressed any concern about the virus verbally. I have known about his anxiety throughout this time simply by observing his behavior on off days when he says he is “bored,” or “sad,” because of course he is. So am I. But this was new. Crouching down I said, “You know Mommy and Daddy would never let you get too close to someone else and that we are doing all the right things. We know not to go anywhere that we shouldn’t go. Just trust me, ok?” He continued to resist but we managed to coax him into the car with hugs and his stuffed owl.
Once in the car, the thick, dark angst that had been building up in all of us for days, weeks, started to lift. We put all four windows down and felt the wind blasting us awake, and River shouted when he saw the BART as we got on the highway. “Train! I see a train!” He has seen the BART many times before, but it had been so long, maybe he didn’t even remember. Once we reached the tunnel that connects the greater East Bay to the Bay Area, where you drive from warmer weather to cooler passing under the hills, we were all energized and bouncing in our seats. “Here comes the tunnel!” Loren shouted. “3, 2, 1,” we all counted. And as we flew into the shady tunnel beneath the hills, the ventilation fans spinning above us, the whooshing of the other cars speeding past, we all screamed and shouted. In that moment, I felt for the first time in so many days, a little bit free.
In Berkeley we parked at the Marina and navigated putting on masks, getting scooters out of the car, and crossing the path that snakes along the waterfront, mindful to stay six feet away from others which is never easy with a toddler and an active five-year-old. Finally free of the passersby, Everett and I climbed down the rocks along the shoreline as River took off on his tricycle with Loren. We stood looking out at the Bay and the San Francisco skyline in the distance with fog sliding over the tallest buildings and mostly swallowing the Golden Gate bridge except for the very top of a tower that peeked through. We discussed barnacles and tides and why barnacles don’t die when they are dry, and I tried to relax the muscles in my stomach and breathe deeply, to smell the briny water and the moisture rising from the bay. So many times lately I have had to will myself to take deeper breaths. After several, my blood pressure began to drop.
As I stood on the rocks watching Everett explore, I thought about our upcoming partial re-entry. The boys will be going back to day care soon, and the house will be quiet during the day. I can already picture myself sitting on conference calls hearing the echoes of their feet pounding across the hardwood floor, their shouts to me for “Milk!” and “Mommy snacks!,” their arguments, and their stolen whispered kisses while I work. They’ll be reunited with their best friends and favorite teachers, and a significant element of normalcy will be restored in our lives. I know this is the best thing for them and for us, and that they will be safe, and we will too. I trust our childcare provider completely. But my heartbeat quickens when I think about pulling up to school on the first day, putting on my ill-fitting mask, and walking them inside to a world complete with masked teachers and smaller class sizes. Even in normalcy, in some ways things won’t be as they were before. At least not yet.