April 3, 2020

And so we come to the end of another work week. My patients are as tucked away as I can make them from a distance, the staff are free for another weekend of social distancing, and the reports of more and more cases overwhelming the greater NYC area keep rolling in. Birmingham has stayed fairly stable this past week due to the early adoption of closures and social distancing. The state of Alabama finally followed suit today but I’m afraid it’s going to be too late for a lot of the smaller towns that have assumed they’re safe being outside of an urban core. The numbers for a lot of the rural counties are starting to spike. i figure we will know where we are locally in about another two weeks.

I do not watch the executive branch daily news conferences. From what I can tell, they consist mainly of contradictions and word salad. The election of someone who promised to take a wrecking ball to government institutions means those institutions are non functional or non existent when you need them. It’s going to be pretty much every state for itself in terms of pandemic response – some have been more proactive than others and you can see that in the numbers. The west coast grows, but at a much slower proportional rate than the deep south. I’m hoping we’re all learning a painful, but necessary lesson in the role of the federal government in times of crisis that effect the whole country equally.

My housekeeper is on furlough with four children suddenly out of school. I came home from work fully intending to vacuum and dust and make the house presentable but the only person that sees it is me and so what if there’s cat hair on the living room rug. It just adds to that lived in look. I played Xbox for a few hours instead, then made myself a gourmet meal of Kraft macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, and salad in a bag. I found some of Tommy’s famous chili and some butternut squash soup he made in the freezer so I’ve put that in the fridge to thaw for dinners this weekend. I am continuing my slow sort and clean out of junk. I still have to tackle the kitchen and the closet in the spare bedroom. Then I’ll have made a first pass on the main living areas. The basement and the garage are being left for later as they are the big bad boys.

I’m trying to think what to write about tonight and absolutely nothing is coming to mind. Perhaps it’s the glass of wine with the mac and cheese robbing me of creative thought. Perhaps I’m just carrying too much psychic weight. Perhaps I’ve told all my good stories already over the last two years. For some reason, I’ve been thinking a bit about early childhood today and I flashed on my first day of kindergarten. The neighborhood I grew up in in Seattle was faculty ghetto for the University of Washington back in the mid 1960s when we moved into the house in which I grew up. I started kindergarten in the fall of 1967, right after the summer of love. It was a half day program and I was in the morning class with Mrs. Easterwood. We were all taught to walk to school, about twelve blocks for me each way but on that first day, my mother brought me. I had been in pre-K so going to school was nothing new and I came in, marched around the room and read all the signs on the walls aloud. Mrs. Easterwood looked at my mother and said something like ‘So, he can read’ and my mother looked somewhat abashed. My parents hadn’t really formally taught me, I more or less taught myself from picture books, being read to and marching up to my parents with book in hand and demanding to be told what this or that word was. It was decided that I would be sent next door to the first grade classroom during reading time as I would be bored silly by the elementary exercises happening in the kindergarten room. I loved school – still do, although my mother chuckled for years about the time I came home, stomped in the house, and started complaining about how Celia Hanley told me what color to color my balloons and I definitely remember Lisa Hurd being much better at cutting circles than I was. And if I remember correctly, Celia was a nurse and Lisa an angel for Halloween that year. I was a pirate.

My first years of elementary school were run on the precepts of the 1940s and 50s. Boys and girls had recess on separate playgrounds. Everything was very formal. Seattle public schools didn’t have its act together on arts education so big black and white televisions were brought in for broadcasting music and visual art class from the local PBS studio. (This is before it was actually PBS). I still remember chanting tah tah tee tee tah along with a lot of other five year olds. Mrs. Easterwood seemed incredibly ancient to me, but was in her mid 40s. I googled her and found her obituary. She made it well into the new century before dying at the ripe old age of 98 having taught several generations of kindergarteners over her life. It’s more than fifty years later and I can still distinctly recall her voice. I seem to have a good ear for voices even after many years. At a public lecture I gave in Seattle a few years ago, a lovely older woman came up to me to thank me and asked me if I remembered her. I didn’t recognize her at all but as she spoke, I knew exactly who she was, Audrey Palmer, my fourth grade teacher (and the only elementary teacher inflicted with all three of the Duxbury children). I don’t run into too many people from my distant past these days but if I do, the voice will tell me who it is.

Today’s children will have a vastly different growing up. One thing I am hoping happens with the current crisis is that families will spend more time together as they stay home and focus on each other. I hope the kids, when they are my age, look back on this time as one full of memories of family togetherness, silliness in the backyard, family games, projects with siblings, and a break from the overly scheduled lives we’ve tended to foist on the young in our quest to mold them into competent and competitive adults. Take the small joys that this time can offer and treasure them.

In the meantime, be well.

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