Eight weeks ago, when the term “social distancing” was just beginning to infiltrate our national vocabulary, when the first wave of events was being cancelled out of an “abundance of caution,” when toilet paper memes were starting to make their way around social media, the two small girls of this house decided to play one of their favorite games: “hostipal.”
(Eight weeks? Wasn’t that about a decade ago?)
They set up wards in my room and theirs, filling beds and baby cradles with ailing stuffed animals. Katie bustled about in her white coat and issued firm commands to Abby, who bowed to her sister’s clearly superior expertise.
Their voices floated down the hall to me as I prepared lunch. It wasn’t until I walked down to their room to call them to the table that I realized what, exactly, they were doing.
As it turned out, several of their patients suffered from broken limbs. And, at a time when all the Charmin and Cottonelle and Quilted Northern had been snatched from store shelves, my resourceful girls were busily making casts out of toilet paper.
(If you do not live in a home with small children, you may not appreciate the magnitude of that last statement, so let me give you some perspective on quantity.
In December, we took a census of stuffed animals and dolls in our household. In total, we counted 48. Forty. Eight. And that doesn’t include those squirreled away under beds or behind the couch.
I’m not proud of that number. But I believe in facing the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it might be.
Add to this picture two girls who, when tackling a project, never use one item where three will do and, well, you get the idea.)
Katie had a birthday recently. Six years old. I know it’s a cliché, but clichés often become clichés because of the truth they hold: the days are long but the years are short. Where has the time gone?
Given the current situation, the doll-themed party she’d envisioned wasn’t an option, but we made do. In a reversal of the drive-by parties making the rounds on social media, we piled the kids into the car and meandered our way to a handful of friends’ and family’s homes. The girls waved and chattered away through the car window, thrilled to see faces they hadn’t seen (except through a screen) in weeks.
(Truth be told, I chattered away, too. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed seeing these people, missed having in-real-life conversations.)
As we were driving home, Katie let out a contented sigh.
“This is the best day ever.”
Our neighbors had to put their dog down last month.
(It seems unfair, somehow, that all the normal griefs and trials and difficulties still happen now, in the midst of a pandemic. They should be cancelled, too, along with everything else.)
Katie-dog was a sweet old dog, a treasured companion to her owners in their retirement. My Katie, on hearing the news, immediately sat down to make a card expressing her condolences. She drew a brown, four-legged creature with a tail and a smile and wrote in her sprawling capital letters, “I AM SORRY KATIE-DOG DIED.”
The next afternoon, Jonathan and the girls walked up the hill. They were careful; Linda stayed on the porch, waving. Steve came down the driveway to retrieve the cards before stepping back to maintain a proper distance.
Later, Linda texted me to say how much she appreciated the girls’ love.
“I’m so sad I couldn’t hug them,” she said. “Could you do that for me?”
On Easter Sunday, as is Palmer family tradition, we listened to a rousing rendition of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” We dressed up: the girls in the flowery dresses they’d chosen at Target the week before lockdowns were announced, Miles in a yellow checked button-down, Jonathan and I in bright spring colors.
We sat on our couch and sang songs declaring the risen Lord, knowing that our church family, spread throughout the county, was doing the same. The girls hunted for eggs. We took a walk as a family. For dinner, we had ham and potatoes and carrots and peas, just the five of us gathered around our dining room table.
It wasn’t the same as celebrations from the past, celebrations in which we worshipped with others, hearing the jubilant voices of those around us as we sang, celebrations that involved family gatherings and egg hunts at Grandma’s house.
Speaking of egg hunts: the girls thought we had hidden the eggs before they woke up. They were wrong. In a move that perhaps says something about who we are as parents, we didn’t immediately correct their mistake. As they searched the house for treats which were, unbeknownst to them, stashed in a bag in the pantry, Katie told us, “Grandma and Grandpa are way better at hiding eggs than you are. They know how to hide them where kids can find them.”
The writing has been laborious these past few months, the words recalcitrant.
I’ve gathered these stories, holding them in my hands, turning them this way and that, searching for a bigger picture hidden within the disparate pieces. I want meaning. I want a theme, some truth to tie it all together, but none has come.
This morning, as I read through them yet again, it occurred to me that perhaps the thread I’m seeking is as simple as this:
Things have changed, in ways both trivial and meaningful, from what they were just a few months ago. Our celebrations, our griefs, our normal everyday – they all look somewhat different here in this time of stay-at-home orders and social distancing. There is loss there, to be sure, and an uncertainty of what the future holds.
But life continues.
These are stories of what life looks like for us here and now, in this time and in this place. They are stories from lockdown, yes – but broader than that, they are stories from life, which, unlike all of the events and activities that once filled our calendars, is not on hold or cancelled.