Checking the News and Listening to Helicopters

What strange times. I’m sitting in my house in suburban Connecticut, just a short drive from New Rochelle, where a one-mile containment zone has just been declared and where the National Guard will arrive to distribute food and disinfect public spaces within the next few days. I can hear helicopters flying overhead. I can also hear sound of the lullaby my son’s nightlight plays. Simon’s napping--he’s home from school after a 24 hour stomach bug yesterday--and my daughter’s at kindergarten. I’ve just received an email written in bullet notes, but without the line breaks, from her school district that all non-essential school functions are cancelled effective immediately and lasting until at least the middle of April. The email doesn’t say, but makes clear, that it’s not a matter of if the district will close schools, but when.

A few times a day I catch what feels uncomfortably and repulsively close to excitement. Any news? Is it here yet?

My husband is a high school teacher in a different district and today the teachers there all went in at the regular time and the students had a three-hour delay so that the teachers could begin putting four weeks of lessons online. There are a lot of particulars about these lessons: they can’t be graded, they have to comprise a self-contained unit unrelated to the curriculum already in place. Once the schools do close, he’ll need to be available to students from 8am-12pm each day. 

I’m thinking about what to make for dinner--tacos with some ground beef I’ve just defrosted?--and about how much food I should buy when I go to the store tomorrow. Will I be able to go to the store tomorrow? My son still sucks his thumb. Maybe I should go after he’s in bed tonight. 

A group of my girlfriends are meeting for dinner. I’m exhausted. I haven’t been sleeping well and the weird oscillation between terror and teeth-gritting determination to focus on editing an article I have due on Friday is making me even more exhausted. Nick and I are sometimes at odds with one another because the way I like to respond to stress is to pretend to have no concerns at all while privately wondering if it is safe to open the pair of new running shoes I just ordered from Zappos.com and the way he likes to respond to stress is by attacking the unknown with the precision of a physicist. I’m fervently in favor of idly musing about what a good man Fred Rogers was and he in stocking up on dry goods and medicine, even though of course we both agree that Fred Rogers was a good man and that we should have extra food and medicine on hand (but not bottled water--why all the bottled water!?).

So although I want to see my friends in case I can’t see them for a long time, I’ve also been up since 4:45 this morning (just two days after Daylight Saving on top of it!) and I keep wondering if it’s prudent to go out to eat while waiting for a pandemic. 

While Simon naps, I’ve sent some pitches trying to place an essay about a book that’s coming out in April. The book is about anxiety in modern motherhood and I considered editing the pitch or the draft to somehow reflect the very specific anxiety I have waiting for the outbreak to get bad enough to close schools, but that felt crass, like trying to “peg” an essay about a thoughtful, researched book to a genuine public health crisis.

This feels like like waiting for a blizzard, or maybe even like waiting for Hurricane Sandy, except it’s unseasonably warm and there’s no threat of losing power. 

I could probably always have heard these helicopters I’d been listening more carefully since we live just a few blocks from a landing spot for marine rescues. Often when a helicopter flies low enough to rustle the trees (it’s possible that it’s just the wind rustling the trees, but the sound of the helicopters and the sight of swaying trees are very eerie together) I check the New York Times and actually catch myself wishing it were a little more sensationalist. Just update us with something! (Of course I know there are lots of more sensationalist sites I could visit and I’m abstaining partly out of unearned smugness and partly out of self-preservation). 

In wishing I hadn’t read The Road or Severance—Ling Ma’s dystopian novel about a virus that originates in China and essentially destroys life as we know it across the globe—(in January 2020 by some horrible luck of timing!) I keep thinking that someone should write a dystopian novel, maybe even a pandemic novel, where we humans prove ourselves to not just the way Locke instead of Hobbes saw humans but entirely good and altruistic by nature. But I can’t think of how I’d start that novel. 

This morning I checked the news. I made coffee and worked on my article. I read the news and I went for a run and I saw the full moon on one side of the harbor and the sun rising on the other. I read the news. I made breakfast and walked Thea to school. I played in the yard with Simon and couldn’t figure out how to make the Lego backhoe he wanted help with. He napped and I wrote those strange pitches, omitting the kind of cordial “I hope you’re well” I usually use since it seemed kind of like a stupid thing to write. I read the news. I wrote up a schedule for dividing working, parenting, and homeschooling duties if (or when) we’re all at home together. I read the news and listened to the helicopters and the sound of Simon’s nightlight playing Twinkle Twinkle while he napped.