My Mom in the Time of Corona
Updated: Oct 2, 2020
May 12, 2020
My mom is the type of person who watches news programs and immediately calls to inform me of whatever new danger exists in the world. When I was away at college about to turn 21, I got a phone call. “Simone,” she said, “I just watched 20/20. Did you see it? These kids go out drinking when they turn 21. They drink 21 shots and then they die! You’re not going to do that, are you?” No, I was not going to do that. I did a lot of stupid things in my 20s, but drinking 21 shots at one time was not one of them.
You can only imagine her reaction to the current COVID-19 situation. These days, she FaceTimes me. “Simone” she says, “are you staying 6 feet away from other people? You’re not touching anyone, are you?” The answer is complicated. I work at a nonprofit with a food pantry and for the past two months, I have been checking clients in for food distributions now set up in our parking lot. I try to stay 6 feet away from people, but sometimes clients approach me to ask a question, and it’s very difficult to have a conversation from 6 feet apart when both parties are wearing masks and there is ambient noise. I don’t really touch anyone, but I sometimes hand people a card with their ID number on it or a donated bottle of hand sanitizer. The risk to me is minimal, but it is not zero.
What’s on my mom’s mind and mine, too, is when we will be able to see each other. She lives with my dad -- they’ve been married for 47 years -- and he checks many of the high-risk boxes: over 70, diabetic, high blood pressure, and more. The fact that he has diabetes is actually part of what brought me to my current job. I joined the agency to run a diabetes prevention program. I was passionate about helping prevent others from suffering some of the ill health effects that my dad has faced. The program has been very successful. Every time a client proudly showed me their reduced A1C numbers, I thought about my dad and wished that he could do the same. I have since moved to a different role, but job titles are meaningless in an all-hands-on-deck emergency situation.
My mom doesn’t really understand the work I do or the reasons behind it. She fundamentally distrusts the concept of nonprofits. She may have seen a 20/20 segment on nonprofits where donations were funneled into a yacht for the CEO or a ski chalet for the board of directors. This is not the situation at the nonprofit where I work -- members of our executive team can barely afford daycare and scrimp and save to purchase a Prius. Maybe nonprofits are too American of an idea for her. Other countries, including the one where she was born, have governments that run a functioning safety net. In other countries, private organizations are not expected to feed people who cannot afford groceries during economic crises.
I used to think my mom’s disregard for the nonprofit sector meant that she was uncaring. But during this crisis, I have seen that she is trying in her own way to help. My mom has paid her housekeeper for the entire time she has been unable to work. She has been to see her hairdresser not only for reasons of vanity, but because she is worried about him lacking a source of income. She has come up with odd jobs that her handyman can do on the outside of the house so that she can continue to pay him.
If I want to see my parents, I will need to stay home from work for 2 weeks in a self-imposed quarantine first. Otherwise, I risk infecting them with COVID-19 picked up from a client in the parking lot or another employee passing me in the narrow hallways of our office. Other essential workers must be facing the same dilemma -- how and when can we safely see high-risk family members and friends? When I am finally able to visit my parents, maybe my mom and I will take the time to talk about our own perspectives on helping others and better understand each other. And maybe we will even watch an episode of 20/20 together -- hopefully on a topic other than COVID-19, nonprofits, or binge drinking.