NEW YORK (JTA) —“Really, Mother?! A BELL?!”
Dinner was ready at around 7 p.m., so I walked down the hall to my children’s wing and dropped off their plates — with a bell, so they could ring for me and get my attention when I didn’t have my phone with me. Because as of 4:34 that afternoon, my high school-aged children had been asked to self-quarantine.
My three children attend the SAR schools, Modern Orthodox schools in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx. Unfortunately, my daughter’s 14-year-old classmate and her immediate family had all tested positive for COVID-19, a new strain of the coronavirus making its rounds across the world. So out of an abundance of caution, SAR academy and its high school are closed, and all afterschool activities are canceled, until next Wednesday. Two of my three children are under temporary quarantine due to their proximity to one of the students who has tested positive for COVID-19 and thus are not allowed to leave the house until the middle of Shabbat this week.
My children have been out of school since Monday, but they’ve barely missed a day of learning. From the very beginning of the shutdown, their teachers have been sending assignments and activities to allow them to continue to engage in their learning. Beginning on the second day of the shutdown, under the guidance of the school’s exceptional director of technology and with the cooperation of the award-winning educational staff, the students engaged in distance learning, logging into their Google classrooms and/or going on Zoom for scheduled classes.
While I thought I would have to find ways to help my children occupy themselves during this emergent change in their schedules — and lives — the only thing I really have to do is fill water bottles and serve snacks.
On Tuesday, just after 7 a.m., I ran down the hall holding my phone to find my 14-year-old standing outside her sister’s bedroom while her brother walked around aimlessly wearing one sneaker and holding another.
“School’s canceled!” I yelled to a chorus of, “Oh NO.” I was surprised by their apparent dismay, but thrilled that they must love school so much they didn’t want to stay home.
My 16-year-old was standing in her doorway when I reached her bedroom, but now was heading back toward her bed to put down her bag, one hand already opening and scrolling her phone. “Yep! Here it is … coronavirus.”
I knew it was coming. I suspected coronavirus would somehow affect me. But I hadn’t thought much past “I should make sure I have enough toilet paper in case other people go crazy.”
“You guys,” I told my kids, “this does not have to be a bad thing. It’s just due diligence. Sometimes best practices can be scary, but this may just be the best way to keep people safe.”
The girls said nothing. The boy was now clutching his sneaker close to his chest.
“Can I go take a bath?” he asked.
“Yes! Yes you can. We can all stay home and clean today,” I said.
I wondered whether or not I should be taking my children out in public. At the time we didn’t even know the identity of the affected family. And the school had only said they were closing, not that I had to keep my otherwise healthy children home.
I decided it was safe to take my daughter to her scheduled orthodontist’s appointment.
On our way back up to Riverdale, I missed two phone calls and plenty of text messages:
“Heard they closed the kids’ school because of the coronavirus … for how long?”
“Hi. You OK?”
The irony is, I wasn’t sure what people were asking when they asked if we were OK. Did they want to see if any of us were symptomatic? Were they checking to see how bored we were of each other?
The answer was pretty much always the same: “Hey! We’re totally fine!”
In person, I would elaborate. As I passed fellow parents in the aisles of stores, we would agree: The school reacted appropriately. It was an abundance of caution. They were doing their due diligence. These were best practices. This is just the best way to keep everyone safe.
And that’s what I kept repeating. To our parents, to our children, to our panic-stricken neighbors.
That morning, my kids attended school “remotely” from their rooms while I was cleaning, watching press conferences and checking for updates on social media.
In the middle of the day, I came upon a Facebook post from a friend in Maryland — a screenshot of the New York governor’s recent tweet: School would be closed until after Purim.
I’ll admit, I was frustrated at the roundabout way I came upon the information that my children would be home for the next several days. But the sense of gratitude I felt as I walked past their bedrooms and saw each of them engaged in online learning satisfied me enough to wait to hear from the school administration.
Around 4:30 in the afternoon, an email from SAR finally came with a clear schedule for the next few days: My fifth-grader would remain out of school until Monday (it has since been extended to Wednesday) and my high schoolers until Wednesday. My high schoolers also now had the added burden of remaining at home until Saturday morning in order to help prevent the spread of disease.
I am not worried, and I am still not panicking. But I am taking this reasonably seriously and following all recommendations and guidelines. I have been conscientious, if slightly irreverent.
“Girls? Go to your room. The GOVERNOR told me you have to stay there,” I said.
As of day 3 of the quarantine, I haven’t hugged or kissed my daughters in 48 hours. I’m wearing disposable gloves to wash their dishes and fill their water bottles, and they have to use their own bathroom. But I’m also delivering bags of snack food in a basket like a JetBlue flight attendant, I took advantage of this afternoon’s Starbucks BOGO offer and of course have been enjoying their use of the bell.
*dingalingaling* MOMMY? CAN YOU FILL MY WATER BOTTLE PLEASE …?
The quarantine lasts through tonight, Friday. My family, which usually attends Shabbat services and then stays in synagogue for a communal meal, will worship and eat separately. My husband and I will take our son to services and dinner while our daughters will remain at home, respecting the quarantine. Tomorrow, they will leave home for the first time since Wednesday night. I expect attendance at synagogue to be low and a little less socialization after services.
What will Purim be like? I don’t know. Perhaps a little smaller. Maybe subdued, knowing that there are members of our community who are ill or at risk. I just hope we can soon see a return to normal, for all of our sakes.