In Your Neighborhood

Two weeks in quarantine in New York City

A grandmother shares her experiences at the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic

Photo by Laurie Garrett, courtesy of her Twitter feed.

The sun sets over New York City on April 3, the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, in an image captured by reporter Laurie Garrett.

By Toby Simon
Posted 4/6/20
A grandparent spends two weeks in quarantine with her grandkids in New York City, the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, and shares how laughter and silliness can be an important antidote in a time of darkness.
What are the best ways to reach out in a virtual world under quarantine and establish connections and enhance community engagement? How many people are taking up gardening, growing vegetables and herbs and flowers as a way of coping with social and physical distancing? How will the pandemic redefine the relationships of families and rituals of reunions and weddings?
One of the more encouraging signs, as noted on an expedition of necessity to have an MRI conducted, was the fact that the osprey pair have returned to Hundred Acre Cove in Barrington, having traveled from the Southern hemisphere to arrive back in Rhode Island the last week in March, a sure way of telling time in a disrupted universe. What guides them on their journey is still a matter of conjecture. Some scientists believe that is the osprey’s ability to perceive the growing amount of light in the sky as the Earth shifts its axis.
In a time of great darkness, the return of the osprey is a hopeful sign, more hopeful than any words of elected officials can speak, reminding us that the world outside of us continues to persist, offering us a rebirth of wonder.

PROVIDENCE – I am reluctant to write this piece. Like everyone I know, as we watch the news each day, we feel overwhelmed and anxious. It is truly horrific, each and every day.

It is also infuriating that the Trump administration was briefed extensively in January 2017 on pandemic preparedness and policies. And his administration chose to ignore the Obama briefing and a year later, dismantled the very offices charged to manage a global health crisis.

Listening to Gov. Cuomo’s daily briefings makes me extra nervous about family and friends in New York City, especially my daughter, son-in-law, step grandson and their two little girls. Our younger granddaughter Shirley, who just turned two, has a serious underlying medical condition so the need to protect her is a top priority.

In a New York state of mind

My reluctance to write about my time in New York City is because I had an enjoyable albeit exhausting time while quarantined with my daughter and her family. There was a lot of laughter and silliness in a time of darkness.

It’s not like COVID-19 wasn’t on our minds: the only sound from the streets were ambulance sirens in an otherwise vibrant, noisy and busy neighborhood. Each day brought bad news about people in our world who were sick. Or worse.

Yet with little ones, you need to be in the moment constantly, ready to spring in to action. Some days that meant turning the couch into a pirate ship at 6:45 am. The pace is nonstop until bedtime. From 8-10 p.m. I read COVID-19 updates and talked with friends. Then I slept like a baby.

Extended family
Like all working couples with very young children, neither my daughter nor her husband has the luxury of being at home with their little ones during this isolation and dropping everything in order to manage their young kids’ needs.

I’m fortunate that I can drive to New York to help with childcare. My guess is that many other grandparents have done similarly if they are able – and those whose grandkids are too far away fervently wish they could help out.

We fell in to a new routine and schedule, prepared each morning at breakfast: art projects, Cosmic Kids Yoga, Mystery Science, music programs, ABC Mouse, obstacle courses on the terrace, painting, baking, bubble baths, nightly dance parties.

And Telephone. The game where you whisper a sentence or phrase in one person’s ear and that person whispers it to the next person. Each night after dinner and before participating in the nightly ritual of going to the terrace to clap in appreciation for the health care and other workers, we played a few rounds of Telephone. Let me just say you’ve never played that game until you play it with a five-year-old.

Like many school kids, Ray’s pre-K class did Zoom sessions each day so the kids could see each other. Her teacher sent daily emails to the class. She even gave the parents her cell phone number and encouraged them to send videos of the kids. Shirley’s early intervention physical therapy was done via Face Time with me doing the exercises with her.

Social, not emotional distancing

A new “friend” appears. Early on in the quarantine, my daughter noticed a young woman sitting on the fire escape in the building opposite their apartment. She was drinking coffee and having a smoke. The girls could see her from their kitchen window.

She appeared every day although she wasn’t on a regular schedule, so when she showed up, there was great excitement. On my first day there, I decided we should find out her name, so I opened the window and we introduced ourselves. Valerie is from Spain and she took as much delight in waving and saying good morning to the little girls as they did. We worried when Valerie didn’t appear for two days but she came back and we inquired. [She’s trying to quit smoking so she didn’t come out on the fire escape].

Under quarantine

The quarantine is definitely challenging in a big city. Although going on to a terrace is providing fresh air, it’s not the same as time in a park that so many New York City kids thrive on. Many live in extremely small apartments with no outdoor space. And for little ones who really love everything about school, this is a tough adjustment. One day Ray threw herself on to the couch and wailed: “I wanna go back to school. I miss my friends.”

Ray turned five while I was there. A week earlier, my daughter Lizzie explained to her that this year, because of the virus, we would have to postpone her birthday party.

It is important to mention that the day after Ray turned four, she began to talk about her fifth birthday and what kind of a party she wanted. Like, she talked about it almost every day. Her mom Lizzie was worried about her reaction to the news. There weren’t tears but rather a look of shock and disbelief. But when Ray learned that we would have a special family party for her, she quickly recovered.

The morning of Ray’s birthday began with a family Zoom session, complete with a wonderful video Uncle Ben made of her first five years. A treasure hunt followed in which her dad read each clue and Ray had to figure out where to go in their apartment to find a birthday treasure. After clue number three, Ray shouted out to us: “This is the best birthday ever. I’m the luckiest girl in the world.” Sigh.

Laughter is good medicine and there was an abundance of it. I’m so grateful for the COVID-19 distraction my NYC quarantine provided.

Back in Rhode Island
I’m back in Rhode Island now and self-quarantining, per Gov. Gina Raimondo’s orders. Face Time with all the grandkids is the highlight of our day. This Sunday we will celebrate our grandson Zach’s ninth birthday, Zoom style. Wishing and hoping that when his big brother Cam turns 11 at the end of May, we might actually be able to celebrate together in the same room.

Toby Simon is a frequent contributor to ConvergenceRI.

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