WARWICK, R.I. – A child’s swing twists forlornly in the breeze beneath the behemoth maple tree that shades our home. It’s become a symbol of our sad coronavirus exile.
A year and a half ago, we moved from what we thought was our forever home steps from Cape Cod Bay to Rhode Island, just so we could be close to our two young grandsons. They used to be an hour and 10 minutes’ drive from us. Now we’re 12 minutes away.
Empty nesters now, we gladly and giddily bought a bigger house than we needed, complete with a fenced-in yard and the swing.
But my wife´s immune system was trashed by a nasty bout with Lyme disease, and we realized in the first days of the pandemic that we’d have to take extra precautions. Immunocompromised people and those aged 60 and older are among those most at risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19. It’s a harsh and unforgiving demographic.
Until very recently, the best we could do since early March was to pull down our masks and make funny faces at the boys from the sidewalk during furtive drive-bys past their home. Anything more and we risked infecting or becoming infected.
Love had brought us all closer, until love forced us to stay apart.
We seldom saw each other until mid-June, when both families quarantined specially for a weekend reunion that could include hugs and horseplay on the lawn and a sleepover with the boys. I bought 3 1/2-year-old Parker a net, and we walked to a nearby cove to catch minnows. I shared a raspberry Popsicle with 1 1/2-year-old Cedar, who finally said my name in a glorious staccato burst: “Papa! Papa! Papa!”
We pushed both in the swing. Everyone giggled. Our hearts were full. It was the face time we’d ached for, and it was bliss – a brief respite from a long and wrenching separation.
“I missed you, Papa,” Parker murmured that evening as we snuggled together on the sofa to watch cartoons.
But our grandchildren’s day care has finally reopened, with masks and as much social distancing as can reasonably be managed with a roomful of wriggling preschoolers. Our daughter and son-in-law, both haggard after three months of attempting to work from home while juggling child care, were hesitant to re-enroll the boys. Life, though, must be lived, and its normal cadences and rhythms need to be reclaimed when it’s reasonably safe to do so.
And therein lies our dilemma.
Our grandsons need to be in day care, but their return there – with all the attendant exposure to a vast network of other families whose infection could be telegraphed to us – is fraught with risk.
It’s a morbid calculation that millions of Americans like us are having to make as our states steadily reopen their economies. Patio dining or takeout? Home hair coloring or masked salon visit? Quick grandson fix or resumed quarantine?
COVID-19 hasn’t gone anywhere, so – for the most part – neither have we. We’re back to masked drive-bys, separation, and a silenced swing. And it hurts.
There is hope, though, of sustained togetherness. Of sharing daily life in real time, the way we’d imagined it when we left the Cape. Of getting back into the swing of things.
In the meantime, we’re taking our cues from Cedar, still a toddler, and making some baby steps: We’re planning a few days in August when both families can reunite at the seashore.
We’ll all have to quarantine for it. Again. But it will be worth it.
Virus Diary, an occasional feature, showcases the coronavirus pandemic through the eyes of Associated Press journalists around the world. William J. Kole is the New England editor for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/billkole