Remembering what was my last day of normalcy

My day began as a casual Monday morning visit with some of the other preschool moms. It was March 16, 2020, and we lingered around a bit after drop-off to catch up from the weekend. After a quick conversation we all parted ways, as we normally did, to run errands during the two-hour gap while our children were in classes.

As we arrived back at the preschool and started trickling in with some of us arriving earlier than others, we started sharing the chatter we were hearing from out-of-town friends, family members, and our brief experiences with the panic that was ensuing at area grocery stores.

“They (the government) are talking about closing the border. Where’s your husband? Will he be able to get back to the States?” one of the mom’s asked me. I remember gazing at her in disbelief of the questions she was asking me.

My husband is an over-the-road commercial car hauler. He was only six weeks into starting his new career at that time.

“You should prepare to have a 30-day supply of food in your home because they’re going to close the grocery stores and the government is considering a nationwide lockdown,” said another mom whose husband had a friend working for Homeland Security and they were advised to stock up.

As I was wrangling my then 2-year-old while we waited for my daughter’s class to dismiss, I attempted to process what I was hearing.

My mother was on vacation in Florida . She was enjoying the sunshine, poolside, when I called her from the parking lot.

I recall her asking, “Is the whole world shutting down and I am just over here living in a bubble?”

Floridians were not panicking. I tried not to overreact because – on that day – I didn’t fully understand how COVID-19 would later impact our lives and those around us.

I replied, “Just enjoy the sun while you can.”

Another preschool mom went on to tell me she heard domestic travel would come to a halt and planes were going to be grounded.

The only other major, nationwide, catastrophe I had experienced to that point was the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Except, in 2001, I was a teenager and could rely on my parents to make any major decisions that pertained to my safety. This time, although significantly different, I was tasked with making those decisions for both myself, and my children, and that was frightening.

Aside from a limited toilet paper supply at their local Publix, I knew my mother, my aunts’, and my then 94-year-old grandmother would be fine if they just had to extend their stay in the sunshine state another week or two until things settled down.

I started to get scared. I, briefly, was very concerned the United States government might consider closing the New York borders because our state was “infected.” I didn’t know if there would be federal assistance or if the government would choose to “quarantine” New York and just leave us to fend for ourselves.

I didn’t know if people would lose their ability to act in a humanitarian manner anymore if the virus couldn’t be contained.

It was a lonely and unfamiliar feeling during a time when my children needed to see that even though school was now closed, they could no longer play with their friends, and we couldn’t see our family members, that we were going to prevail as long as we just washed our hands, sanitized, social distanced and wore our masks like we were being told.

Too many movies, right?

Those next 10 days are now a blur. My husband, classified as an essential worker, made it home safely over the border and he was never in any harm. He took a voluntary two-week layoff due to being routed to a New Jersey port, which at that time, was near the largest hotspot in the country. He then worked, sporadically, for eight weeks receiving the PPP loan through his company until the auto industry began to recover.

My mother was laid off, indefinitely, from her position in the food and beverage industry, which she had maintained for more than 30 years, prior to returning home from her vacation. My father-in-law was also laid off, among many of our other friends and family members.

Due to the uncertainty, the unknown, and the risk to our loved ones, we didn’t see our family members for the next 64 days.

We finished the 2020 school year and participated in remote learning for our preschooler, while I worked remotely from home, and my husband took advantage of home improvement projects to occupy his time during those first few weeks home.

It wasn’t until May 18 when we celebrated my daughter’s drive-thru graduation from preschool that our children saw their grandparents, our parents. On the side of Route 78, we pulled over in a rocky clearing to meet each other prior to our grand entrance into the parking lot of the preschool. My mother-in-law, a 62-year-old recent stroke survivor, embraced our children in a roadside hug as tears streamed down her cheeks and mask. They were elated, and we felt relief.

Whether it’s the right or wrong way of explaining this pandemic to our children, we’ve reiterated the phrase “there’s a lot of germs going around right now, and we don’t want to get each other sick.”

At that moment, during their hug on the side of the road, COVID-19 didn’t exist for a few moments. It was at that time we decided seeing our family and our friends was worth the risk, even if it means taking precautions while visiting. Although we’d lost two months of memories and the usual shared belly laughs, we didn’t want to lose any more time.

We’ve been fortunate so far that those people in our lives who have contracted the virus, have only experienced mild-to-moderate symptoms and have mostly recovered without incident.

Although we’re living each day with a mask and school looks differently this year, we’re often sporting our family-friendly, tie-dye “Be Kind” masks with the attempt that those words can become just as contagious as this harassing virus that has gravely upset all of our lives.

Kori Sciandra is the special projects writer for The Daily News.

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