“New York Pause” Doesn’t Have to Mean That I Don’t Have a “Real Life” and Only Exist in Virtual Reality

I saw my twenty-month-old grandson in real life on Friday for the first time since March 7th. He’s going back to day care on Monday and that will mean indefinite separation.  Greater contact with the outside world for him and his parents means too much risk for my immune-compromised husband, even if New York City begins to open up. So we decided to have an outdoor, socially-distant rendezvous before then.

It was, at the start, awkward. We met in my local sliver of Riverside Park, at the plaza housing the Joan of Arc statue dedicated in 1915 to commemorate Franco/American friendship. Friday was only the second day that really felt like summer here; the temperature climbed into the high 70s/low 80s by late afternoon. That’s why we chose that meeting day and time.

My daughter had arrived first, still flushed from her jog to the Upper West Side of Manhattan from her home in the Bronx. She and I chatted, six feet apart and wearing our masks. Next my husband “Papa Dan” arrived. At last Vince came into viewwalking at toddler pace with his daddy. They climbed the plaza steps hand-in-hand as he stared up at the statue, unaware of his camouflaged grandparents. 

I so wanted to pick him up and snuggle him after so long! But I kept my six foot social distance. For one thing, he looked as if he was not at all sure where he was, or who he was with. Masked Nana, wearing sunglasses that hid her eyes, was not immediately recognizable. For another, he was clearly agog at giant St. Joan astride her mighty steed, her sword raised on high. 

“Hi Vince, I brought you a present,” I said.

He scanned my face as I propped my sunglasses on the crown of my head and pulled down my mask to reveal my features, wondering if he had forgotten that I existed outside of the phone. We used to spend at least one day a week together before this coronavirus quarantine. He was holding his cards close to the vest, his expression poker-faced.

“Go on, open it!”

His mother helped him to extricate the blue Brio airplane and its accessories.

“Nana! airplane!” he said, hoisting it over his head, spinning around and then rolling it toward me on the concrete knee wall I was sitting on.

Now I knew we were good. I was real to him again, and not just that lady in the phone. I repositioned my mask and glasses.

We FaceTime every morning. He sits in his high chair facing the kitchen counter where his mother’s phone is propped against the wall. I am in my kitchen, preparing my first fix of caffeine after having taken the dog out, my phone propped against the wall, too. His parents joke that 8am “Nana TV” gives them a breather to get their own coffee and breakfast in relative peace before the chaos of the day begins. 

Vince tells me what he is eating, I show him what the kitties are eating, he watches me make my coffee as he stuffs ungodly quantities of eggs, waffles, toast, bagels, cereal, whatever into his mouth with chubby fingers. We say “Cheers!” as he hoists up his sippy cup of water and I take that first morning swig of perfectly brewed New Orleans style French Roast.

Then we make faces at each other, prompting him to squeal “Nana! Nana!” while he motions for his mama to come and look. Once he is “all done, down,” his mother cleans him up and hands him her phone.

He races to his play area while I get a roller coaster view of his shirt, the ceiling, his nose, objects whizzing by. Then he shows me his toys, builds a tower of Brio vehicles, takes me to the window to look out at the crane maneuvering building materials into the mid-rise affordable senior housing project being constructed across the street.

Sometimes he accidentally hits the pause button and I go dark. “Mama, mama! Nana down!” he yells.

And that’s a perfect metaphor for this whole “New York Pause” thing. It has made me periodically go dark — “Nana down” indeed.

Like everyone else, I’ve had to create a new life for myself, a new routine, a new set of expectations for my life going forward. Things aren’t going to “go back to normal” any time soon, if ever.

I’ll have to enjoy my virtual rides on Vince’s airplane because I won’t be getting on a real one any time soon. I’m also going to be experiencing much of the world beyond my apartment inside his mama’s phone as she and Vince take me places and show me things that are too risky for me to experience by myself.

I’m finding goals and challenges where I can. My gym rat days will not be reprised for a very long time. I really, really miss heavy deadlifting, but I’ve purchased enough equipment to maintain most of my strength if I use a little creativity.

I’m also using this time outside of the yoga studio to work on aspects of my practice that don’t usually come up in group classes, like fancy arm balance transitions. I’ve restarted my handstand and forearm practice. 

God knows when we will ever eat out again. I order wine by the case from the store two blocks away. I’m baking all of our bread, making pasta and yogurt, keeping the freezer stocked with homemade meals in case one of us gets sick. 

We have our groceries delivered from two local markets, with the occasional fill-in from Amazon. I don’t always get the produce I would have picked out. Sometimes things are just not available. Where I would make substitutions, I can’t trust a random personal shopper to do the same; it’s just a minor inconvenience, all things considered.

But then there is my writing. I have felt very blocked. I kept thinking that once my routine came back, my memoir muscle would flex again. Mind you, I’ve written two lengthy personal essays and a few blog posts since all of this started, but until this week I’ve walked warily past the cart that holds the research notebooks, file folders filled with chapter first drafts and peer critiques, the works of admired authors and my guilt-inducing completion calendar. 

And then came Mother’s Day. My book is about the meaning for me of my mother’s death when I was just two, not much older than Vince. I don’t remember her. Her story was buried along with her. Scrolling through Instagram on my phone, I saw numerous photos of mothers and their daughters. My own daughter had posted photos of the two of us hours after she was born and of my mother holding me as a tiny infant. 

My usual sangfroid evaporated, my chest heaved, my eyes burned — but not from COVID-19. I took this physical manifestation of distress as a sign that I needed to let go of something, to feel something big, to make a change. And then I understood. What was I waiting for? Life goes on — or worse — it doesn’t.

It was time to once gain be the me that was on that quest to write about my mother, not the one on pause, not “Nana down.” No one else was going to finish this book, unravel this mystery. It was time to get back to work, time to stop spending so much time living in the virtual reality of New York Pause, time to stop living inside my phone, time to channel a little bit of St. Joan’s courage and fight on.

I may not be living my best life, but I’m determined to live quarantine life as best I can for as long as I need to. I’m resolved to press the “forward” button on my work in progress rather continuing to let “New York Pause” paralyze me. So far, so good. I’ll let you know how it goes.

22 thoughts on ““New York Pause” Doesn’t Have to Mean That I Don’t Have a “Real Life” and Only Exist in Virtual Reality”

  1. Ah, “Nana down”. Not for long- your great heart leads you forward in the face of all we are coping with. In fact, I am jealous as my five month old grandson will not remember that I saw him weekly only a few short months ago. Now I am also just a small face on the screen and his babbles and gurgles and commando crawling are all I see while oodles of drooling mean that teeth cannot be far behind. Our hearts yearn for more but we are all healthy and alive and when we can meet face to face once again- well – that will be a confusing and joyful day., for sure. I am not waiting, I am knowing it will happen.Meanwhile, cyberspace rules.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. My father, 89, has begun to realize/accept that he will most likely spend the rest of his life in quarantine. Two moths ago he had a hardy social life and pickleball three times a week. Now he watches MSNBC and gets pissed at Trump. There are lots of people getting extremely raw deals from the pandemic. Yes we’re all affected, but some are much more affected than others. Stay healthy. This ‘coming out of isolation’ period is going to be a dangerous time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had really hoped that this pandemic would bring the country together but instead it seems to have exacerbated the different life circumstances that segments of the population live within. Of course the Orange One has used the crisis to further divide the nation. I just have to limit my exposure to the national news because like your dad I want to throw things at the television. I’m even trying to stay off of social media more (hence this tardy reply) as a means to stay sane. I think it will be a very long time before the wounds caused by not just the virus but the response (or lack thereof) heal. Stay well.

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  3. Oh I can so relate to this. My only grandchild, Oliver, is also 20 months, and he lives in a different city – about 2000km away from me. I was lucky to spend a week with him and his parents before our lockdown began. We also Facetime regularly, but he’s more keen on running around than staying still to “talk” to Nana. Still, I love seeing that little face and my daughter is wonderful at sending regular photos. But it’s not the same, and I feel your pain. We can all only hope that whatever shape “normality” takes in the future, it will mean more time with our loved ones.

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    1. Right! We are supposed to be spending our usual two weeks together in Maine at the end of July and we are so looking forward to it after so much confinement, but who knows if we will feel comfortable to be three generations together by then? In the meantime I am grateful for FaceTime as hard as it is because at least we can still approximate a real relationship. Stay well and be patient!

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  4. I think this is one of your best posts since this slow-motion disaster began unrolling. It is warm and revealing. We can all relate to it. Keep on keeping on. It’s hard for those of us in other places to understand what it’s like to go through the “New York Pause” in the middle of Manhattan. Thanks for clueing us in.

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    1. Thank you so much for the kind words and encouragement. It has been really hard here in NYC. In my zip code alone (which is privileged relative to many in the city) almost 1200 people were hospitalized and 144 people died. One out of four residents in the random testing being conducted have been positive. Reading about folks in other parts of the country so unaffected by the toll of this I see a real need for the stories of real people living through it to penetrate that wall of denial. Everyone in my writing group is feeling somewhat paralyzed and of course we also feel like we are living in a different reality from so many other people. I keep thinking I will blog about something else, but in truth, there isn’t anything else as important or ever-present right now!!

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  5. My 22 months old granddaughter lives on the east coast, we are on the west coast. I love FaceTiming her every day, but it’s not the same. I want to reach through the fun and give her a big hug …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right?!! I just keep thinking about how hard it ws for earlier generations who didn’t even have the technological hugs that we are experiencing. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I have found that my creativity has taken a nose dive during this time and I too have been unable to tackle longer writing pieces. I think that the disruption in daily life, the constant threat of disease, the crazy political climate, the lengthy lists of obituaries and staying mostly inside has sapped energy from many of us. Brain capacity that could have gone into some work has been utilized to stay at least marginally self-regulated. I will be watching to see if I adjust to this eventually. There will be no going back to “normal,” so I have to find a way to live this new reality, probably for a very long time.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This post struck a chord and made me feel so sad. It’s especially hard to be away from our grandchildren during these important years when we’re building relationships and watching them grow so quickly. But we aren’t alone, and we have ways to communicate that keep us connected even if we can’t hug. I can relate to the stalled creativity as well and continue to push forward. Be well, Ms. D. Keep smiling, be well, and stay hopeful. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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