#8: On repeat

Pandemic time means having to make the same hard choice over and over again

October 18, 2020 • Day 220

I think the defining quality of this pandemic life is how time has not only lost all meaning but seems to be in a loop. Every day is the same, more or less, and we keep facing the same choices, making the same mistakes, seeing the same glimmers of hope that turn out to be mirages.

Back in the spring, right before the lockdowns — or “lockdowns,” here in the U.S., which never properly locked down — many parents here in our NJ suburb decided, as we did, to pull their kids out of school before the district finally saw the writing on the wall and sent everyone home. Schools were supposed to be closed for a couple of weeks, then through May, then until the fall.

In late summer, with the new school year coming up fast, the school district — wanting to protect students and staff but also wanting to get kids back into schools — polled parents, asking us to decide whether to opt in to a “hybrid” program (2 half days per week in the classroom, the rest of the time online) or choose all-virtual school.

On the local Facebook groups, there was a very vocal contingent of parents who were not only eager to send kids back into the classroom but angry at the district for not offering more hours back in in-person school. Some of this was concern that kids weren’t going to get enough attention and support and fall behind, but a lot of it was concern about having to work from home without free childcare.

Anyway, this ended up being moot: after Covid infection rates surged in the Sun Belt and Midwest, NJ allowed schools to delay in-person school and our school district kicked the can down the road, saying they’d plan to start hybrid school in November.

Now it’s October. The district is again asking us to decide whether to send our kids back into school buildings — into enclosed spaces with an unknown number of other human beings — which raises a host of questions: Is it safe? Can we trust 6-year-olds to stay masked, distant, and hand-washed for 4 whole hours? Where did they find the money to fix the ventilation problems that scuttled this plan last time? And why is this our decision to make?

Speaking of fallacies: I’m pretty tired of hearing about other parents say they plan to send kids to school “while they still can,” taking it as a given that the schools will be forced to close again, but before they do they want their kids to get a few weeks of social exposure. Folks don’t seem to connect the dots, that sending people into classrooms (or dining out, or having “socially distant” parties) while infection and testing rates are low is a sure way to make those rates go up, necessitating harsher measures — and ensuring more suffering and death — than if they just cooled it on the socialization.

We’ve been stressing over having to once again opt out of in-person school, resenting that we have to be the bad guys who keep our daughter home and safe without any support from her school administrators or teachers — who for their part are (unwisely!) starting to get the kids excited about returning to classrooms in “a few weeks.”

The pandemic isn’t over just because we’re over it. It is just as bad an idea to send kids into classrooms today as it was on March 11, the first day we kept our daughter home, because nothing has changed to make things any safer. Of course we will not be opting into the hybrid thing, and we’re tired of being asked. We should not have to keep deciding to be safe during a pandemic.

So we were very reassured yesterday when we found someone else who is quietly on our side of the safety “debate.” We ran into one of June’s classmates and his parents in the park, which led to an impromptu playdate and parent meetup in our backyard. Their family is doing all the same things we are to stay safe and are also planning to opt-out of hybrid school (if it even happens, which we all doubt it will). It was hugely validating to find out that someone else had looked at the same facts and reached the same conclusions.

As far as I know, when parents were polled in August to decide whether to opt into hybrid learning, the majority of us chose all-virtual school. For all we hear from what I call the “pro-normalcy” side on local Facebook groups, the data suggest that most people around here do still fear Covid, and are acting accordingly. That too is reassuring: as isolating as it feels to keep being asked if we will continue to stay hunkered down, sometimes we do get reassurance that we’re not the crazy ones.

Since I took up so much of your time about in-person school decision drama, I’ll leave you with some bullets:

  • As promised, new iPhones were announced on Tuesday. All four of them look great. I ordered an iPhone 12 Pro in graphite; it arrives on Friday. The silly amount of stage time Apple gave to 5G notwithstanding, I predict MagSafe is gonna be the killer feature of these iPhones. Fucking magnets! How do they work?!

  • Me and Jody’s last big NYC outing before Covid was to see David Byrne’s American Utopia live on Broadway. It was phenomenal, easily the best concert I’ve ever seen. Byrne and co. plan to bring it back late next year, post-pandemic (god willing). In the meantime, HBO just debuted a filmed performance of the show directed by Spike Lee (streamable on HBO Max) which is also very very good.

  • For family movie time this weekend I picked, god help us, Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace. It’s ridiculous that that movie is now more than 20 years old. Some of the visual effects show their age — ILM has gotten way better at rendering water and skin since the 90s — but a lot of them hold up. Jake Lloyd is still a distractingly bad actor, but overall the movie is not that bad. I’m way less mad about having watched it than The Rise of Skywalker!

  • BTW, while fresh-popped popcorn is the best thing for family movie time, Trader Joe’s Maple & Sea Salt Kettle Corn is also a very good choice.

Drinking: I got nothing

This is the week I finally break my promise to give you a new cocktail recipe in every newsletter. (I’m out of ideas, and also maraschino liqueur.) I did drink some things this week, but they were old standbys (Revolver), takeout cocktails from restaurants (support your local bars, if they’re doing takeout!), or just whiskey in a cup. Tonight I’m tired and just had mint tea.

But in lieu of a recipe I will offer you some alcohol-related reading from the excellent web publication Punch:

And, for coffee drinkers: it’s Otoño Blend season!

See you next week,