We are social distancing. Just not the way I thought we would be.
I think it was twenty-four hours ago, but it has probably been more. We lost a day. On Friday afternoon, Eli and I drove to our local Wal-Mart. He was mad at me because of something I said the day before. We stood in the frozen food section talking it through until a person strolled up and Eli impatiently said,
“Mom, let’s keep this moving.”
Until that moment I had not noticed the empty shelves and carts filled with items such as twelve bottles of Lysol disinfecting spray, shrink wrapped thick pieces of beef, and Velveeta Macaroni and Cheese. I will assume that Eli also saw the cart filled with Velveeta Macaroni and Cheese, because he said something like,
“Mom, I really want some Velveeta.”
I was like, “you might as well; it is the end of the world.”
Once convinced I would actually buy him “synthetic cheese,” Eli proclaimed, “Mom, the Velveeta is not in the refrigerator section.” I laughed and said something like, “Oh, so you are going like 1980s Apocalypse?”
I felt some relief and resolve when he laughed in response.
We asked the kind, short-haired Wal-Mart lady, who was taking inventory, if she could help us find the Velveeta. Is it really cheese? She stood up, put both of her hands in the air and said,
“See where I am standing.”
We looked at where she was standing and acknowledged her. She responded, now pointing with both arms,
“It is on the other side of where we are.”
We thanked her and commented about the empty-shelf-Armageddon-situation. Somberly, she replied,
“This all makes me want to cry.”
Compassionately, we thanked her and said, “hey, hang in there. We are in this together.”
I am not sure the world is going to end tomorrow. Nevertheless, she was correct. The Velveeta was on the other side and on a shelf. It is one of the things still left (or at least left on Friday). Eli laughed again and said,
“This stuff is expensive, or I would have bought it myself the other day.”
I laughed too and said, “Good thing your mom loves you and wants to keep you safe during the end of the world.”
At that, Eli’s mood improved and he laughed too. I was hopeful that his positive mood shift signaled that he had forgiven my blunder, or at least, was on his way. And before we could pick up the next items, we noticed what turned out to be a brother and sister cleaning out every last box of pasta. I eavesdropped into their conversation as I watched them pack their arms full of boxes of Barilla pasta,
“I can’t believe her. She is nuts. Mom asked us to buy all the pasta. This is insane.”
I looked at them. They looked back at me.
“Our mom is crazy. I am so sorry.”
“I get it.” I said.
I couldn’t help myself and I wanted to help them (even if they didn’t want my help).
As they walked away I asked, “Hey, can I have one of those boxes?”
The girl sweetly turned around and said, “Here. You want two? My mom won’t miss it.”
“Sure. Thank you.”
She handed me the boxes. I told her I really didn’t need the pasta, and we talked about the end of the world.
Then, Eli and I both acknowledged feeling overwhelmed and marginally freaked out. I took one more run through the store in hopes of finding hand soap and Clorox Wipes (I know. Foolish).
We stood in the check-out line shocked at it all. Neither one of us realized it was so insane until we stepped into Wal-Mart. It was almost our turn to check out when a woman approached me. She said something about how she needed one dollar and that if I gave her one dollar now so she could pay that we could go to customer service and she would give me my dollar back. I handed her a dollar and said, “It’s ok. You keep it.”
As we drove home, Eli said, “Mom, that was traumatic.” Honestly, it kind of was.
And it was only going to get crazier.
See, Dave and I were booked to fly to New Zealand on Friday. Kyle is studying at NYU’s Sydney center. He has been having a hard time, and has been counting on us to meet him during his spring break. Nevertheless, with borders shutting down and schools closing, we were not certain if we should really go. Kyle was panicked. He continued to be pulled in all sorts of directions. I just kept having a feeling that I needed to be there with him long enough for him to catch his breath. I wanted to show him that he did not have to quit or settle just because other people want him to settle. I wanted him to see that we believe in him so much that we would travel halfway around the world. Dave and I want Kyle to know he is worth it.
I know. It sounds a little crazy. What we moms do for our kids. Anyway, I think we are a little nuts. I also worry about Kyle. I am also a person who totally follows her gut. My gut kept telling me to press forward, which was all fine and good until my mom called.
It was 5:24pm, Friday, March 13. Dave and I were leaving for the airport at 6:15pm. Eli is planning to meet us in Sydney next week. (I know. I know. That probably will not happen.)
“Beth. Did you hear?”
“Hi Mom. Did I hear what?”
“Governor Herbert closed all schools across the state starting Monday.”
“What? Wait. Mom. I can’t talk. I need to go. I have to call you back.”
Eli was already packed. We only had minutes to decide. I wrangled Dave into our room for a pow wow.
“Hey, WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?”
We decided to tell Eli he needed to get ready to go. Ok. In truth, I asked Dave to tell him. Remember, it was only minutes ago that Eli and I made peace.
Within minutes, Dave was back in the room looking forlorn.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“Eli is beside himself.”
Dave and I panic-talked for then next three minutes. We were about to cancel the trip. In fact, earlier in the day, Kyle told us he wanted to come home. We almost canceled the trip then. I cannot explain my weird mom feelings, because instead of canceling, we pressed forward. And I felt totally calm.
I was on the fence regarding Eli. It was 6:00pm.
I went into the kitchen where Eli and I talked. I was like,
“Eli, I don’t have time to say everything perfectly. I don’t want to piss you off. I probably will. I think you can stay home, but I need you to keep it together. And by keep it together, I mean, not how you think you should, but how I want you to keep it together. No excuses. No, “I don’t feel like it.” We don’t have time to throw down. We just need to decide. Can you keep it together with a good attitude?”
“Yes.” Eli calmly said.
Then I looked him in the eye and said, “Oh, and no girls in your bedroom—for real. And no girlfriends spending the night.”
I could feel Eli’s relief. We have a great network in place. I also think this is a good adulting opportunity for Eli. Again, I was weirdly calm.
I asked Eli if he was ok.
“He said, I need to go downstairs for a minute and decompress. That was a lot.”
I totally agreed.
By 6:24pm our Lyft arrived. Eli gave me the best, lift-your-mom-off-the-ground hug. We reminded him we may be back home in an hour, or we may be quarantined in another country. I told Eli I loved him. We all agreed to take it in stride. I told him I loved him again. Then he obliged to take some pictures, gave me another big hug, and has been checking in regularly ever since.
Friday’s Lyft driver is a mother of five. Her oldest is nine. She assured us her car was Lysoled and that she wipes her car down with Clorox Wipes after every ride. We talked about schools being closed, about homeschooling and the end of the world.
The airport was way more crowded than I expected. Every service worker was wearing latex gloves. Our ticket agent was extremely careful about our hands not touching her hands. Our first flight was delayed, which was potentially going to make us miss our flight to New Zealand. Luckily, the 6pm flight to San Francisco hadn’t left yet, having been delayed by 90 minutes, and was boarding as we walked by the gate, so we asked if we could get on that flight. It was only half full.
Somehow we found ourselves in half empty airport lounges, staring at people wearing masks on their faces and pulling them down to eat, and making jokes with people in bathrooms concerning all the bloodied hands from all the extra handwashing. A woman even asked me if I had seen the “Terminator Wash your hands Coronavirus” meme. I have not and will have to find it. About half the people were wiping down their airplane seats. I Clorox-wiped my phone like fifty-seven times. I don’t understand all the people who wear their face masks around their necks. And I have mad respect for the folks who used their elbows to open the airplane bathroom doors. United Airlines somehow managed to get my gluten free meal. (I only get it about 30% of the time so that was like a total coronavirus-bonus). The flight was uneventful. A nice New Zealand woman explained the New Zealand food import restrictions. (Don’t leave fruit in your bag, or they’ll hit you with a $400 fine). And I didn’t even mind know-it-all budget-Kylo-Ren and his know-it-all girlfriend who were seated behind us, correcting me, Dave, the nice New Zealand lady, and each other while the plane was loading.
By the time we landed in Auckland, we were inundated with news. First, we heard misinformation about New Zealand’s borders being closed. Then we heard that all people arriving in New Zealand will have to self quarantine for the next fourteen days. I asked a staff member at the immigration line and she set me straight. We both laughed a sigh of relief when I realized that Kyle would arrive before the quarantine deadline.
“You all are fine.” She said.
“But what about my son? He doesn’t arrive until 2:30PM.” I respond.
“He is good. He arrives 9 hours before the self quarantine requirement begins.”
I thanked her. We laughed again. I thanked her again. We did not touch because no one is touching. In the past I probably would have given her a high five. I texted Kyle, who was about to get on his flight to Queenstown from Sydney. As I texted him, Dave and I walked about to the New Zealand immigration agent, who asked me to put my phone away. Then she gave us the third, fourth and fifth degree about where we had been in the past 15 days, and where we’d been in the United States. When we asked if we were visiting New Zealand “on holiday,” she gave us a disapproving look. We explained our mission to help our son, and she softened somewhat, but still eyed us as suspicious disease vectors. Finally she stamped our passports and let us in.
After washing my hands like six more times, and using hand sanitizer at least four more times, we exited customs and searched for the domestic terminal. Luckily, Mia, a nice New Zealander who had been sitting near us on our flight, walked us literally like one half a mile from International flights to Domestic flights, and we made it to our next flight. What a gift. In all this world-is-ending chaos, the flight from Auckland to Queenstown is heavenly. It took my breath away. We flew so close to the mountain tops. I felt calm. I felt loved.
Alas, Dave and I are so jetlagged. When we landed in Queenstown we were bitchy tired. My phone lit up.
“Where are you? I hope Sydney and not NZ. What was travel like? What are your plans? I bet Kyle will be or was so relieved to see you. How can we help Eli?”
That is when I thought I should look up the news and see what was going on. I did and I also got some clarification. Then I responded to my texts.
“We are in New Zealand. All is well. We have talked to officials. It’s actually quite bustling here. The restrictions go into effect until midnight tonight. Kyle will be here in 2 hours. So starting midnight is when the self quarantine for arriving people begins. News is a little crazy. I am guessing this is what you are referring to? We made it under the deadline and do not have to self-quarantine.” I texted back.
“Yes the quarantine was what I was referring to.”
I paused and thought of my sweet mom. I’d better let her know we are ok. I tried to call her. She did not answer so I called Eli. I filled Eli in and counseled him regarding how to share this information with Wawa (my mom). Eli is super cool and grown up. (Eli, we are very proud of you!) He also took my mom to buy toilet paper today. Unfortunately, they were not able to find any. (Anyway, I am also sure he would love dinner while we are away. Thank you kind souls.)
Then Dave and I retrieved our luggage, rented our car, then we both melted down in the rental car lot when we saw the unsanitary condition of the car we were assigned. We exchanged our dirty car that had a booger on the touch screen (true story). Yes. Of course we washed our hands like seven more times.
We made our way to the Countdown grocery store. Dave hummed to himself, “It’s the final countdown!” (*note Dave’s awesome edit here.) They still had toilet paper in stock. There were people shopping and they were calm.
We made it back in time to find Kyle waiting outside for us. We hugged hard and then Kyle showed us the “Wuhan foot shake.” In the past few hours we have learned that anyone arriving in Australia after midnight tonight will have to self quarantine for fourteen days. All of Kyle’s belongings are currently in Sydney. He could go home. It is possible that school will have the students self quarantine for fourteen days and then go back to regular classes. I am proud of him for sticking it out this far. I know he has a lot of voices in his head pulling him all the directions. I don’t want to make this choice for him. I want to create a space where he can finish his assignments, get some rest and clear his head. I am amazed by both of my sons. They are rad. And yes, you can tell us we are crazy. You would not be the first. Alas, before you get all judge-y, I would gently caution you to first ask us why? Or talk to us. Or walk try walking in our shoes and we sincerely promise to do the same for you. I know there is always more to it. Like my grandma used to say,
“Bethy, you just don’t know what is going on in their hearts.”
Great advice! (Man, I miss my grandma. She would totally have the toilet paper situation under control.)
We will keep you updated. If we get trapped in New Zealand, will you guys keep in eye on Eli? He is amazing and very self-sufficient. I just want him to know how much his mama loves him too.
PS We went to the grocery store later on. The toilet paper section was substantially more depleted since it had been this morning: nearly sold out. I compulsively grabbed a package. Dave protested. He even went as far as to pull me aside and demand that “we have a serious talk.” Then insisting that there is no way the toilet paper will fit into our luggage. Well, after our “serious talk,” and after resisting the urge to bluff and say that I was getting it for Kyle, I bought a four pack.