Chaos. It’s always a possibility. The unexpected, just around the corner. People make wonderful plans. As time passes and the plans get closer, expectations increase for the great times ahead. And then, boom, all of that changes, when life simply happens, plans and anticipation be damned. I have an old friend who once told me he suspected that the great power in the universe was a mad cartoonist, drawing frame after frame of disruptive events, just to see how the little humans on earth would respond to the unpredictable twisty scenarios spooling out of his brain. As for me, I always thought that a few good jolts to the psyche were a good thing. Periodically, shaking people loose from their preoccupations, self-absorption and certainty could remind them how small their problems really are compared to the bigger picture, in addition to reminding them that control and expectations can disappear in a flash. In my mind, I imagined some entity with a finger on the earth’s gravity button, who’d occasionally move that finger, causing everyone to temporarily float up into space. All their best-laid plans just gone, poof!, as they drifted in space, if only for a tiny minute. Good practice for those times when the unforeseen just happens. The past week and a half or so has been like that for me and my family, as our plans got turned upside down, due to those unforeseen circumstances that pop up. What a crazy whirl it’s been.
For the past two years, I’ve been one of those lucky parents whose kids have lived right next to me. For over a decade, my daughter and her family have lived right across the street from my house. When my son was on his own, his career as a biologist took him around the world for a good portion of every year. Still, he always managed to spend big chunks of time at home. About a year after meeting his wife, they moved back to my city, his hometown, living here year-round while he was completing some post-doctoral work at the university in our community. In the meantime, they married and had a baby, all the while living right around the corner from his childhood home. However, after a long time hunting for jobs, they both landed positions which will take them west to Colorado. They accepted those positions, planning their departure for the third week in September. For us, this is the end of an era. My kid has been packing his bags since he left for college eighteen years ago. But this is the first time he packed a moving truck with all his possessions with no return date in the future.
I’ve always been grateful to have my family so close by, especially after Michael died. But I never really expected that we’d always live in the same town, an unusual occurrence by any stretch of the imagination in our mobile society. We’ve had a couple of months to get accustomed to the idea of the impending new reality. After their lease expired, my son and his family moved in with me. Next, he headed off to a conference in Brazil, eventually joining his Dutch wife and daughter in the Netherlands, where they’d gone to spend some time with her family prior to moving west. Meanwhile, the whole family here has been feeling wistful. We planned to make great memories during these last few weeks together. We figured that after my son and his family returned from Europe, we locals would all spend plenty of time together, enjoying each other’s company and sharing experiences before the big move. Ah, the best-laid plans…
On September 6th, I headed to Chicago’s O’Hare airport to retrieve my returning family. I’m no longer a fan of that one day round trip to my original hometown, (which is the way I still think of Chicago, despite having lived most of my life in a different city.) When we were young, Michael and I thought nothing of driving a few hours to one of our favorite pizza joints in the city for a quick meal before turning around to go back home. I get more tired on these one-day roundabout trips these days, especially with the construction and heavy traffic that are the hallmarks of Chicago. But I was eager to see my jet-lagged family so I could enjoy every last minute of time together before the move. I’d also agreed to help with the baby during the nights so they could recover quickly from their jet lag. We all had lots of things we wanted and needed to do. We got home on Wednesday evening. The next night, Thursday, despite still feeling fatigued, the whole family assembled for dinner. Then chaos reared its head. On Friday morning my daughter-in-law woke up feeling terrible. With trepidation she took a Covid test which unfortunately was clearly positive. Suddenly, we we were all masked in the house together, her in one bedroom, while my son and I split baby duty, wondering who might get sick next. In addition, my daughter’s family had all been exposed the night before. This was hardly the celebratory time we’d all hoped to share.
Rather than snuggling together we were all back to social distancing. Except for contact with the baby, who kept pulling our masks down to make sure the lower parts of our faces still existed, the rest of us were apart. Not a hug in sight.
Our biggest problem was a long-planned family outing to Wrigley Field the following Sunday, intended as a birthday celebration for my soon-to-be thirteen year old grandson, as well as an introduction to a professional baseball game for my European daughter-in-law. We’d been looking forward to that experience for several months. We didn’t want to blow all those expensive tickets. Finally on Sunday morning, those of us who were asymptomatic took Covid tests which were fortunately all negative. Five of us out of eight piled into the car and guiltily headed back to Chicago, with the blessing of my son’s sick wife who was feeling awful about exposing everyone to illness. As if she had any choice. Covid is still busy doing its thing, changing lives at will. Our little story is just another tiny sad tale in the Covid lexicon. I still remember reading about how many huge life events were cancelled during the pandemic, not to mention all the deaths, disruptions and the lasting effects still troubling so many who unfortunately contracted this virus. As always, I remind myself and anyone else who’ll listen, that perspective is everything.
About three/fourths of the way to the city, my daughter felt the baby’s head and realized she had a fever. She had one of the negative Covid tests of the morning but that fever was real. Thankfully, there was Tylenol in her diaper bag so when we arrived, she had a relieving dose and off we went to the game.
We stayed through the seventh inning stretch so my grandson could participate in singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” and then headed back home. My second roundabout trip in five days. Everyone was tired when we got back, reverting immediately back into the distancing routine. We were all sleeping in separate rooms as we muddled through the protocols. Meanwhile as my daughter-in-law began feeling better, the baby continued to get sicker, developing fevers and congestion but still negative for Covid. Then, the day after the ballgame my daughter began feeling ill. She tested herself and this time she was positive. And so the next cascade of testing began with her isolating from everyone at her house and mine, while the rest of her family hoped to avoid becoming the next victims. We had all been so close together on our trip to Chicago but somehow or other, both my son and I stayed healthy. There were a few amusing observations from my family about me during this chaotic time. My daughter-in-law told me she thought I must be a ninja because she never heard me coming upstairs or slipping into the baby’s room in the night. Actually my stealth can be attributed to my childhood, during which time my family mostly lived on the third floor of apartment buildings. My parents drilled us on walking quietly and talking softly so we would never disturb our downstairs neighbors. Any time I have people in my house I automatically revert to that behavior. My daughter, after hearing that I continued to remain asymptomatic and testing negative, informed me that she was sure I’d survive the zombie apocalypse, should it ever materialize. A ninja and a survivor. Albeit a very tired one in either category.
This precious couple of weeks turned out to be a time for snatching small opportunities for good times instead of following through on the more elaborate plans which dissolved in the sickness chaos. I managed to take my granddaughter to see her current favorite animal, ducks which inhabit a local basin. Our side of the street managed a little field trip to a favorite apple orchard where we had lunch, fed goats and got delicious doughnuts and cider. We got takeout from their favorite restaurants and I rustled up a few of my special meals, winding up with my family’s favorite, homemade matzo ball soup. Watching my granddaughter taste that for the first time was priceless.
We had an outdoor going-away party which was not attended by my daughter, just to be sure we were weren’t going to have a super-spreader event. By that time, my daughter-in-law was able to make delicious poached pears, the pears being ones I’d gathered from the tree in my yard. We all felt good about that.
With my daughter still masked as a precaution, we all got together to celebrate my oldest grandson’s thirteenth birthday. My son and I had an afternoon together for getting him some much needed wardrobe additions and new prescription glasses before he left town. As the baby’s sleep improved along with her health, we even managed to fit in a couple of movies and a television series in the few evenings we had when everyone felt better. All in all, we managed to eke out some good times before the time to leave was upon us.
And then the big rental truck was in the driveway, the mad packing happened and the time together was over. I shed some tears, as I knew I would. But mostly I’m hoping that the move will be a successful one for this little family. In about six weeks I’ll head out west for a visit, barring any unforeseen hitches in those plans. I know very well that life has to be lived day by day. When plans work out, I’m always glad. I’m also glad that when they don’t, everyone can still manage. What’s next?