Social distancing and sheltering in place are essential tools in the war against COVID-19.
But sometimes life gets in the way. My life, at least. Mary’s, too.
That’s how a couple of 60-something grandparents living in an otherwise coronavirus-conscious home ended up caring for a sick 8-month-old granddaughter on a morning when her mom had to work and daycare wasn’t available.
When I mentioned this gesture of familial good will on social media, someone suggested that it was reckless. And with COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019) lurking about, that might be true, especially for those already in their golden years or approaching them on life’s trail.
Mary is 61. I’m 68, although I’ve been told that on warm spring days when the trout are rising I don’t look a day over 67. On other days, other numbers have been suggested.
But whatever my exact age, real or imagined, I’m now in the “elderly” class considered more vulnerable to COVID-19. Mary isn’t all that far behind.
So for us, tending sick babies isn’t exactly a Centers for Disease Control recommendation. That reality seemed more significant a few days after our baby care, when our granddaughter’s symptoms were diagnosed as respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.
RSV is a lot more worrisome for babies than it is for adults, even aging adults. Still, sick-baby daycare isn’t something we intend to make habitual. It’s just, well, grandparenting in a time of need.
The good news is, neither Mary nor I have any serious underlying medical conditions, other than my lifetime pattern of neurotically fabricated ailments. And such fictional bugs seem tame compared to the real thing these days.
COVID-19 is serious business. Most of us treat it as such. Venues are closed. Restaurants and coffee shops are sparsely peopled. Even masses have been canceled, which is a sad, surreal Lenten reality for a daily mass Catholic.
COVID concerns had me skipping YMCA workouts and library visits even before those life-enriching institutions were temporarily closed. And I continue to turn down enticing invitations for chats over steaming cups or coffee or chai tea at familiar downtown bistros.
Instead, I’m walking the dog and hiking with Mary, shopping quickly at odd hours and otherwise burrowing in at home, away from anything resembling a human collective.
Except, of course, for when duty calls. Grandparent and stepdad duty. The assignments come from Mary, who still has an almost-full-time job and considers my flexible schedule an invitation to errands.
So, I was first instructed to drop off a pot of home-made soup and other essentials for my stepdaughter, who got sick a few days after her daughter. I did as directed, making a quick handoff on the deck of her house, followed by a hasty departure.
Next, I dropped off a thermometer for a stepson who was sequestered at home awaiting the results of a coronavirus test. It was another brief encounter at the door: “Here you go. See you later.”
Then I dropped off a couple of boxes of books for a middle-school grandson who is racked with the tedium of days off from school without the benefits of hanging out with pals.
Most dangerous, perhaps, was the annual St. Patrick’s Day meal, with the traditional corned beef, cabbage, soda bread, black-and-pale ale, Irish coffee and the ridiculously delicious sticky coffee pudding cake.
The turnout of Mary’s fiercely loyal Irish clan was way down from normal, in large part because she disinvited anyone who was under the weather. Hugs and handshakes were prohibited, as was any favorable mention of the British government.
But we did break the 6-foot rule. So at evening’s end, Mary and I sanitized the affected areas of the house with the frenetic focus of over-caffeinated health-department inspectors.
Then I considered sheep-dipping myself in a tub of isopropyl alcohol, but settled for a flood of hand sanitizer, a long shower and an early bedtime.
Especially in these uncertain times, reckless grandparents need their sleep.
Kevin Woster writes a blog and offers radio commentary for South Dakota Public Broadcasting. He can be reached by emailing email@example.com.
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