Letter to Camille: Sheltered Together

On the first day of March, more than 2 months ago, I started writing you a letter. I didn’t get very far – mostly I typed a rough outline of some thoughts I wanted to share about your transition from middle to high school.

Then, life began to take some wild turns. Society began to shut down all around us because of COVID-19, and we retreated into our home. Worry and uncertainty settled in for a long visit. My job became all-consuming, and when I wasn’t working it was difficult to find the energy to write or the words to share.

Your school classes were cancelled, but it did not feel like a vacation. There were no sleepovers or trips to Disney. Instead, we drifted through each day in a daze, wondering where our normalcy had gone and when we might find it again.

Those first couple of weeks of quarantine were tough. I saw days and weeks and months of isolation spooling out ahead of us with no end in sight. On top of the loneliness, you had the disappointing realizations that your aerial silks classes were cancelled and your recital would not happen. Your summer camp plans were in limbo. Our trip to Japan was deleted from the calendar.

I kept reminding myself – and you – that we were okay. We were the lucky ones – not hungry or sick or unable to pay our bills. This was a comfort for sure, but didn’t mean our feelings of anxiety and grief weren’t real.

But this letter isn’t just about worry and isolation, because adaptation and resiliency are part of the story, too. Later, when this crisis is in our rearview mirror, I want us to remember how we found ways to cope. I want us to remember how we turned to nature, to music, to art and each other for peace and comfort. I want us to remember that these things are here for us when we need them, even when we’re cut off from the rest of the world.

When we hit the pause button on the usual rhythm of our daily lives, I found it comforting to watch nature move on, unaffected. March and April are Savannah’s most beautiful months, and no matter how grim the news reports, the azaleas still exploded with color and the birds built nests and the sun rose and set on the marsh every day, reminding me that none of this is permanent. This world has seen much worse, and yet it thrives.

When your schoolwork transitioned to online learning, I was happy your teachers found ways to push you kids outside. There was an art assignment to draw a tree. An Earth Day assignment with driveway chalk. A math assignment to build an outdoor obstacle course.

Pre-quarantine, you rarely volunteered to come along on dog walks, preferring to stay inside. But now, you almost always join me, and sometimes the walks become lovely meanderings. When we take the marshfront trail, you want to pause at the oyster beds and try to skip shells across the surface of the water.

On a wooded path, we discovered a new catharsis. One day, feeling particularly frustrated, I grabbed a stick that had fallen in the leaf litter and whacked it hard against a tree trunk. The end of the stick broke off with a satisfying thwunk, cartwheeling into the woods. So we both began grabbing sticks and swinging them like baseball bats at the trees around us, and the trees didn’t seem to mind. We congratulated ourselves each time the sticks cracked – the more dramatically the sticks went flying, the better. Now each time we walk near the woods, we’re scanning the ground for good sticks to break.

We’re riding bikes, and sometimes at your request. We paused once at the marsh tower, and you chased fiddler crabs and square back crabs around the damp sand until you caught one to bring to me. You named him Morris. We climbed a tree – both of us. How long had it been since I climbed a tree? I felt wild up in the branches, just for a moment.

In the last year or so, playing your viola seemed like a chore – something your Daddy and I would nag you about all week. But now, multiple times a day you lift the instrument from its stand in our living room and play. Classical songs and broadway show tunes – our house has been filled with music. You even played your saxophone the other day – the first time in 2 years.

You’ve been baking a lot, too. Our old mixer finally – mercifully – died in early March and we upgraded to the one you and I have been coveting for years. Now you use the mixer regularly to make macarons for us.

You’ve rediscovered the joys of paint-by-number, and have spent hours on our screened porch listening to broadway musicals and podcasts while you bring the paintings to life.

Of course, it hasn’t been nonstop music and art and nature. I’ve been buried in work. Your Daddy has been trying to keep two small businesses afloat. There have been more video games played and movies watched than I care to count. We’ve eaten crappy junk food, and we’ve moaned and complained about all the things we want to do that we can’t do. All the people we want to see who we can’t see. We’ve gone days without washing our hair and the house is a mess. We’re not superstars of quarantine by any stretch.

But I’m trying to be gentle with us and give us some extra grace, and to make sure we don’t forget all the ways we survived – and thrived – despite everything happening around us.

This has been hard, and it’s not over yet. Uncertainty and worry are still with us. But if I have to shelter in place, I’m so glad my shelter is here and that you and your Daddy are in it with me. I love you so much.

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