In late March, I contracted coronavirus and spent the subsequent 22 days entirely within the confines of our small Manhattan apartment. I did not write about it then and cannot bring myself to write about it now–there is not yet enough daylight between. No one has been untouched by the circumstances in which we are living; I am one of the luckier ones. I share this today because I feel the need to asterisk my posts on the subject of coronavirus, many of which have been spiriting in tone because I have needed to cheerlead myself, and some of which have been self-indulgent, because I have been experiencing the full range of emotions over the illness and have occasionally needed that kind of blood-letting. But I remain — sharply — aware of my blessings. Not a day passes where I do not think about the thousands of people dying, grieving loved ones, losing their jobs or homes, shuttering their businesses, or feeling lost and alone. If I write about quarantine in a way that feels abstracted from the lived suffering of so many or seems determined to look for silver linings where there are none: well, it is because I am writing my way out of a darkness.
A few weeks into quarantine, our super informed us that ours was one of four or five units (out of dozens) left occupied in our building. An informal survey of my Manhattanite friends revealed that more than half had fled the city to spend time with family or rent houses upstate or out East. Three sets of friends with young children moved away permanently. So to the readers who have asked whether recent events have prompted us to re-evaluate our decision to live in New York City: yes.
Yet here we are, with no immediate intentions to leave. I’m not sure whether our outlook would be the same were it not for the proximity of Central Park, which has become an extension of our daily living space. We sojourn there for an hour or two after lunch, grateful for its sparsity, at least in some of the corners we have claimed for ourselves in recent weeks. I took the picture above earlier this week, struck by its lucid conjuring of the essence of childhood: my little scavenger with bare feet and bird-like eyes, seeking treasure in the grass, or maybe dodging a worm, or — doing something else perfectly suited to a three-year-old’s self-directed curiosity. You would never know she was standing just a few yards from Central Park West, with the blare of sirens and honk of horns her routine and unremarkable soundtrack.
If there is anything positive I can say about coronavirus, it is that it has reminded me that life finds a way. Babies are born, lovers are married, and still my three-year-old will come home in the afternoon with twigs in her hair and stories of the bee that crawled into her pink shoe.
“But mama said ‘Shoo, bee,'” she explained matter-of-factly to her father, recounting the incident upon return home, her attentiveness to this nothing of a story catching me off-guard and leaving me unexpectedly swallowing, hard, in the hallway of our apartment, the purity and narrowness of her thoughts stirring — or maybe relaxing — something in me. So too when I find myself tripped up by her incessant interrogation: “But what does a drain do?” and “Why is that car white?”, as I fumble with my mask. Her precociousness–her unflustered toddlerness–momentarily blots out the intensity of these times.
Life finds a way.
And so Mr. Magpie and I talk at length about what we want, what might be best for our children and our careers, and how to reconcile all of that with not only the presence of coronavirus but the lumbering reality of logistics. It is an incalculable math problem. How to weigh, for example, the impossible privilege of dining out at Prune (currently and possibly forever closed) and dropping by the Met and enjoying a largely pedestrian life where the pediatrician is one block (one block!!! one block!!!) away and nearly anything in this incredibly cultured and diverse city is at our fingertips, with the uncertainty around when this damned virus will die down and our current lust for a square of hedge-lined backyard, preferably visible from a squat window over a farmhouse sink, from which I can watch my two babies play in the grass while the sun sets? Is it the times speaking or am I just at that stage of life where space matters more? How often do we truly take advantage of the city anyhow? How much more would we value it if we committed to a couple of visits each year while living elsewhere? Would we visit after all? Would we find ourselves those insufferable urbanites mourning the lack of delivery options, never quite “over” our brief stint in NYC? It feels impossible to imagine moving of our own volition versus following our careers, but are we at one of those times in life, and possibly in history, where “the impossible” is prudent?
Recent life experiences have left me circumspect when contemplating the unknown. I find myself grittier — better able to fare life’s inevitable dips and twists — but cautious, especially when I find myself inclined to do something based on near-term pain.
And so we sit in this city, in our tight quarters, soaking in the small pleasures where we can find them, clinging to one another.
All to say: at 34, I wrote that life had taught me that it was OK not to have everything figured out. Specifically:
“In my 20s, I didn’t quite know who I was, but I believed I could do or be anything; I was amorphous, evolving — but the world around me felt crisp, knowable, navigable. In my 30s, I know who I am with a kind of true blue certainty (I am somebody!!!), but feel less convinced of my agency, less confident in my grasp on the world. It’s as if I went from being far-sighted to near-sighted; I didn’t know what I didn’t know in my 20s, and now I know what I don’t know — and so my conviction in the shape of things has shifted, shrunk, concentrated in on only the small world around me, the narrow sphere in which I know that 1+1=2. The mathematics beyond skew.”
At nearly 36, I write to let you know that I still don’t know — and in fact know less? — but that it’s still OK. After all, the mathematics in my own home still computes. Tomorrow morning, my daughter will spring straight out of bed at 6:02 a.m., pad into my bedroom, and let me know “the sun is coming up, mama”–and we’ll do it all over again.
+OBSESSED with these retro-looking, child-friendly tumblers. I feel like I had something similar to these growing up — they evoke the best kind of nostalgia!
+I bought myself one of these elegant Smythson planners (<<on sale for nearly 50% off!) when expecting mini — such a lovely treat to organize lists of questions, baby names, baby gear, to-dos, etc! Great gift for a close friend expecting…
+Ever since a reader commented on these eye treatment pads, they’ve been on my mind. Ordering…
+Talk about the sun still rising — can you believe Martha Stewart wakes up to this magic daily?!
+CUTE white top — 65% off!
+Emory currently loves this series of books — we have a bunch of them!
+I know I’ve mentioned this a lot, but these onesies are the absolute best. So soft and hold up to infinity washings. Our current routine is lunch, park, bath, and then I usually put Hill in one of these onesies for his afternoon nap. So soft and breathable! (And is there anything cuter than a little baby in a classic white onesie?!)
+Hill now curls up with a DeBuci baby teddy bear (hand-stitched with his name!) at naptime.