Three years ago during a church trip to Washington, D.C., a friend and I dragged three sixth-grade girls out of the pandemic section of the National Museum of Natural History. My friend and I found this section depressing, but the girls were fascinated.
Who knew that a year later we would all be living through a pandemic?
Our family’s 2020 quarantine started like many others. We were fortunate that we had just rescued our puppy Mookie a week before the world shut down. Potty and sleep training gave us a focus in the beginning. Being a busy teenager, Mitchell was worn out from his three-sport schedule and high school classes. We spent a lot of time as a family, taking walks, sitting around the fire pit, watching movies and playing games.
At some point, we tired of it. Our personality differences became more pronounced as Julia, an extrovert, craved social interaction. I had long considered myself an extrovert as well, but my only child status and my 20-plus years of country living well-prepared me to entertain myself. Greg, an introvert, minded quarantine the least.
As fall approached, we heard the news of the projected winter spike in cases. I started to figure out how we were going to make it through winter without social gatherings outside.
I decided to purchase a night pass to a nearby ski area for Julia and me. She had been skiing for a few years, and I took a 20-year hiatus from skiing. My parents were not skiers, but I skied when we lived in Minnesota and then later in Michigan throughout high school. While I enjoyed skiing, it was not necessarily a hobby I expected to return to.
When Julia was in elementary school, the Pennsylvania Ski Areas Association offered a discounted pass for fourth- and fifth-graders. She wanted to try it, and since an adult needed to take her, I volunteered.
As a parent, one of the first things I noticed was that there are a lot of uber-fit dads who ski. But there are not a lot of moms who ski, at least moms I know.
No matter. I don’t mind skiing alone. The closest ski area to us is a 48-minute drive, and if I am at a ski area, I would prefer to ski rather than sit in the lodge.
Since Julia started, I hadn’t invested in a season pass, as I only went a few times a year. But skiing was an excellent, socially distanced sport for the pandemic year.
Thankfully we had a decent amount of snow for south central Pennsylvania and were able to get good use out of our passes. Julia found several friends to ski with. On rare occasions, she agreed to ski with me. I warned her not to run into me.
“If I fall, I might die,” I said. “I am too old to fall.”
Unfortunately, I didn’t need her help to fall.
Mitchell has snowboarded a handful of times over the years but was always too busy with other sports to do it consistently. His girlfriend Rachel had never been skiing or snowboarding, so I told them I would take them when they had a few days off. Originally, we scheduled the trip for the week after Christmas, but due to COVID quarantines and weather, we ended up postponing it multiple times.
We finally moved our skiing date to the first weekend in March right before Mitchell’s junior baseball season started. Greg warned me Mitchell better not get injured. After all, the kid already lost his sophomore season.
I rented an Airbnb across from a lake near Elk Mountain in Union Dale, Pa. We arrived in the evening and after traversing the remote road several times we finally found the house. After some tasty Thai takeout we picked up in Scranton and a few hands of Dutch Blitz, we went to sleep so we could get an early start.
With teenagers, however, one can only get so early of a start. We were out of the door by 9, but as we drove to the end of the road, we saw a line of cars backed up. A tractor-trailer had jackknifed onto the road. And upon looking for alternative routes, we found that the road had a dead-end.
There was nothing to do but return to the Airbnb and wait it out. Finally, after two hours, I noticed the neighbor across the street had left and not returned. We loaded ourselves into the car and drove to the mountain.
While the facilities at Elk Mountain hadn’t been updated in a while, the resort made up for it based on price and natural beauty. Since both Rachel and Julia wanted to try snowboarding, I dropped the kids at their lesson and set off on my own.
After skiing exclusively at the small resort near our house frequently without natural snow, I felt such joy to be skiing longer trails in real snow. As our visit was on a non-crowded weekday in the height of the pandemic with many people still unvaccinated, it seemed acceptable to ride the lifts solo. Also, wearing a mask served a dual purpose of protection against COVID and cold.
Despite our delayed start, we enjoyed our day and were able to leave in time to make it home for Mitchell’s late-night futsal game and Julia’s swim meet the next day.
The next morning, I woke at 5:45 for the swim meet and checked my phone. I had four texts from Julia saying she had a temperature of 102 and a raging headache.
“I don’t think I can make it to the swim meet,” she wrote.
At 8 a.m., I called the doctor’s office to schedule an appointment. Following a rapid COVID test, the resident shared with us that Julia had COVID.
Two days before Mitchell’s junior baseball season was about to start.
We broke the news to Greg and Mitchell, who were understandably bummed. Of course, they were concerned for Julia, but they also didn’t know what this meant for baseball.
I tried to quell my anxiety by opening a more-expensive-than-usual bottle of wine my friend had recommended – Black Girl Magic. I drank two delicious glasses and went to bed. Sadly, the bottle went to waste as I woke up with a fever on Sunday. Monday, Mitchell woke up with a fever.
While awful, thankfully the three of us emerged from COVID without difficulty breathing or hospital visits. Despite some long-term issues with taste and smell (one will never again find me in Bath and Body Works), we came out relatively unscathed.
And Mitchell was still able to play baseball.
The last two years have not been easy for anybody. For our family, March 2021 was one of the more difficult months. The Sunday I came down with the fever, a couple from our church called Greg and told him they wanted to bring us dinner from Harvey’s Barbeque. This gesture opened a well of tears from me that wouldn’t stop. As sick and sad as I was, I felt surrounded by kindness and love.
When considering the past three years, I would have preferred to have read about pandemics at the natural history museum rather than live through one. But then I think about the four of us sprawled on couch watching Hoosiers, playing (arguing over) The Great Dalmuti, and walking Mookie in the rain to our neighbors’ farm to buy asparagus. I think about the beautiful cold snowy views of the Poconos from Elk Mountain and the feeling of calm while traversing the mountain at my ultra-slow pace. But most of all, I think of the kindness of others when things seemed at their worst.