One of the changes with the rules in New York State and with my father’s assisted living home is that I can now sign him out and take him for a drive. Previously, I could only take him to medical appointments.
My father, who is known here as Paco, loved to drive. He drove quite a bit when he worked for New England Power Company for 43 years and, given that our town was twenty miles from a grocery store, other stores, our grandparents and other relatives, the movie theater, and just about anything else that wasn’t work-related, he drove quite a bit on evenings and weekends, too. (My mom also drove, especially taking us to piano lessons and my sister’s dance lessons, but, if the five of us were going somewhere together, Paco always drove.)
In those days, it wasn’t unusual to “go for a drive” as a form of recreation. Given that we lived in the Massachusetts/Vermont border area, there was beautiful scenery in any direction you chose to drive. And hills. And what to us was normal but in retrospect were narrow, winding, and largely unmarked roads. It didn’t matter. Paco was used to it and was a very good driver with a very good sense of direction.
Paco had said that he would stop driving when he turned 90. That turned out to be not quite true. I think he stopped when he was 92. By then, my mother was entering her final battle with congestive heart failure and Paco was staying with her in their apartment nearly all the time. Their senior community offered transportation for the occasional trip to the grocery store or for medical appointments and I was nearby and there every day and could drive for errands or deliver things to them. They decided to sell their car and Paco replaced his driver’s license with an official state ID.
The IDs have a longer renewal term than driver’s licenses do, so his current ID is good until he is 103. He’s currently 96. He says he doesn’t think he will make it to 100.
Paco is famous among family for always saying “One day at a time.”
In late May, I spent a few days on a private writing retreat back in North Adams, Massachusetts. I grew up in the area and it is the subject of my poetry collection work-in-progress, so it is helpful to me to be back there to work on it. (I wrote about it here for Stream of Consciousness Saturday, so even more rambling than I am when I have the luxury of editing myself.)
Part of the reason it is helpful to be back there is that I’m relieved of most of the caretaking/errands/planning/phoning/corresponding that take up a lot of my brain when I am at home. As if to make up for my being away for a bit, my return was greeted with an avalanche of problems that I may, finally, be at the point of seeing light at the end of the tunnel.
I will not bore you with any details other than to say that anyone who has ever had to deal with a complex issue with a US insurance company has some inkling of what it has been like times three.
The update on the manuscript is that it is in the hands of my poet-friends with an eye toward doing a full review sometime in the next few weeks. I was fortunate that I had returned from North Adams with the poems basically done and ordered. I powered through writing the foreword and end notes before June hit so I was able to pivot to dealing with bureaucracy.
Fingers crossed that personal life will calm down in time for the manuscript review and for a couple of weeks for revision time so that I can send the manuscript out for July submission calls. Tupelo Press just helpfully reminded me that they will be having an open submission period for manuscripts in July. After attending the inaugural Tupelo Press/Studios at MASS MoCA residency week in 2015, I promised that I would send them work. I didn’t think it would be this many years before I would have the manuscript completed, but I am looking forward to finally keeping that promise. I feel especially obligated to send this to them because so many of the poems intersect with MASS MoCA, my time there, and the art.
I will, of course, be sending the manuscript to other publishers and contests because one needs to cast as wide a net as possible to find the right fit between the press and the poet.
Congratulations to granddaughter ABC who is turning four years old! She is a few weeks away from completing nursery school and will be entering Reception, the UK equivalent of US kindergarten, in September. She is reveling in the return to full-time in-person school, loves the parks and the garden, is learning to read, has a vivid imagination, inherited her parents’ musicality, and loves being a big sister, at least most of the time.
Congratulations also to granddaughter JG, who at not quite ten months old, is walking on her own. Watching the videos of her toddling reminds me of her mother, my firstborn E, who also stuck her tongue out when she was first walking on her own. I’m not sure if it is a sign of concentration or if it somehow helps with balance, but it certainly seems to be an inherited inclination. Also, adorable.
When we visited London in December 2019, we had planned to return in the spring, perhaps for Easter, and then for ABC’s third birthday, and in late summer for the birth of the new baby. E and her family planned to come visit us in the US for Christmas.
Due to the pandemic, none of that happened.
So, here we are, all fully vaccinated in upstate New York, but still not cleared for travel to the UK, missing another birthday. We’ve missed the entirety of JG’s babe-in-arms phase as she is now officially a toddler. And we still don’t know when we will be able to travel to the UK. They have been planning another easing of restrictions in mid-June, but now the even more virulent strain from India is spreading in the UK, so…
We don’t know about travel in person.
We do know that our love reaches them, even if our arms cannot.
Things have been pretty quiet here at Top of JC’s Mind for the past few days because I was back in North Adams on a solo writing retreat to work on my poetry collection.
I’m happy to report that I have the bulk of the manuscript assembled, including a few pieces that I wrote this week. There is only one blank page with just a title; I’m hoping to get that poem written and integrated into the manuscript over the holiday weekend. I also need to write a foreword and a notes and acknowledgements section at the end. When I have the draft complete, I will ask my local poetry circle, the Grapevine Group, to do a group review/critique for me, with the goal of having it ready to submit by mid-July.
This collection has been in development for a looooong time. In November, 2015, I took a leap of faith and applied to attend a week-long workshop/residency at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, a collaboration between The Studios at MASS MoCA, which had, at the time, only been in operation for a few weeks, and Tupelo Press under the direction of Jeffrey Levine. I was accepted, even though I was a relatively new poet at that point. Had it not been in that particular place, I would not have even applied, but I grew up in the North Adams area and had hopes that a chapbook might grow out of the experience, given the intersection of my personal and family history with the current, very different reality there. Case in point: MASS MoCA occupies the complex that housed Sprague Electric when I was growing up but that started out as Arnold Print Works that made textiles. (If you are interested in how the week went, you can check my blog archive for Nov. 2015, as I blogged every day of the residency.)
Short version of the story is that I was in way over my head, but was saved from going under by my fellow poets. We all bonded so well that we have returned to MASS MoCA every year (except for 2020 due to the pandemic) for a reunion residency as the Boiler House Poets Collective.
So, two things happened to my initial idea of writing a chapbook about my family and the North Adams area. I realized pretty quickly that a chapbook would be too short, so it would need to be a collection. Also, life intervened in the form of a long and ongoing period of inter-generational caregiving, which made the time required to devote myself to the project scarce.
There have been two other attempts at this collection, both of which failed miserably in review. I learned a lot from the failures – at least, I hope I have – and this new iteration of the manuscript has a (I hope) more compelling focus.
We’ll see how manuscript review goes…
There are over fifty poems in the collection and over seventy pages, so there is room for cuts if needed. Most publishers expect collections to be between fifty and one hundred pages, so there is some space for adjustment.
While members of the Grapevine Group have seen a lot of the individual poems, this will be the first time they have seen the manuscript. The two prior iterations of the collection were with Boiler House Poets Collective, back before Grapevine started doing manuscript reviews within the group. The exception is my friend Jessica, who is a member of both groups. It will be especially interesting to see her reaction to this newest iteration.
After Grapevine review and edits, I may see if any other BHPC poets want to weigh in – or maybe even before, if any of them are especially keen on the concept/subject to my begging/gluttons for punishment/very bored.
At any rate, come mid-summer, I’m hoping to start doing submissions with the collection. Then, in the fall and winter, the rejections will start rolling in, where they can join the growing list of rejections for my chapbook manuscript in my submission database.
Eventually, one of them may make it into print. The chapbook has been both a semi-finalist and finalist in contests. So, someday?
This version of the collection is definitely stronger than the two prior attempts. So, maybe, someday?
If it happens, you will definitely be able to read about it at Top of JC’s Mind, which will probably be around even though it is cheugy. I just learned that word…
Or, if the chapbook or collection gets accepted for publication, you may just be able to hear me scream, even if you are not close by. 😉
As I announced in this post, I am spending a few days back in North Adams to work on my poetry collection.
I went to MASS MoCA today and was pleased to be in a good poetry flow! I drafted three poems that will make their way into the manuscript and a fourth that will be a possibility for submission to journals.
I also ate ice cream twice – a dish of ginger ice cream from Lickety Split in MASS MoCA and a mocha sundae from Triple Scoop, a nearby ice cream shop. Mocha is very important here. There are two poems about it in the collection already.
Dashing off this post and then back to my poems from today, getting the drafts into my computer and editing a bit…
It’s spring in my hemisphere so signs of new growth are everywhere.
The lawn is growing. There are new flowers blooming in turn. We are excited to see the new landscaping we had put in last fall growing. Because most of the plants are new to us, it’s fun to see how they put out new shoots and when. Some have already flowered, along with our old standbys like bleeding hearts. We are especially pleased that the ferns that were re-located in the project are coming back strong, unfurling from their fiddlehead phase.
The most important growth we are observing this spring, though, is coming over our computer screens. As some of you may recall, we have yet to meet our granddaughter JG in person. She was born during the pandemic in the UK, so we aren’t able to travel there yet.
She is now nine months old and growing up quickly. She has three teeth in with more ready to break through. She is anxious to walk and can already manage to toddle along holding with just one hand. Soon, she will be off on her own. (She doesn’t care for the whole crawling thing.)
What is most endearing is that we can now see more of her personality coming through over our computer. She has grown enough to be curious about these figures on the screen who talk directly to her. We can engage in conversations where we react to her baby-babbles. She can lock eyes with us. We can even play peek-a-boo with her.
Her mom calls us Nana and Grandpa and Auntie T. As we look forward to that blessed but currently unknown day, we wonder if our screen visits will translate into JG “knowing” us when we see her in person for the first time.
We hope she will grow to love us, even from afar, as we love her.
Yesterday, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 was granted emergency use authorization for children aged 12-15, extending the prior age range of 16+. These younger teens can receive the same dosage as older teens with similar effect. This is good news because all high school and most middle school students should be able to be protected before schools open in August or September 2021.
Pfizer and other vaccine suppliers are currently studying the proper dosage for younger children. These eventual approvals will probably be split into several groups, 5-11-year-olds, 2-4, and 6-23 months. The research with these younger children takes longer because they have to start with lower doses and increase to find the lowest possible dose that will still mount a strong immune response. Until these children can be vaccine protected, they need for all the teens and adults to get vaccinated to reduce their chances of being exposed. While young children tend to be less sick than adults if they get infected, they can become very ill, even fatally, and suffer long-term symptoms. Even if they have mild or no symptoms, they also keep the community spread of the virus going, which means that the pandemic phase cannot end.
Canada gave authorization for 12-15 for the Pfizer vaccine last week. It’s expected that Moderna will be doing so soon. Pfizer has also applied for full authorization in the US, a process that will take several months to complete. I am especially pleased with the success of the Pfizer vaccine because data from spouse B and daughter T are part of the research findings that are showing how safe and effective the vaccine is. Monitoring for them continues to see how long immunity lasts and whether boosters are needed. I also continue to participate in the trial, but, because I was originally part of the placebo group, I didn’t receive the vaccine until February so my data are not useful for the longevity factor, although I could become part of a test group for boosters in the future if warranted.
Internationally, vaccine companies are continuing their research and manufacturing, but distribution is neither fast nor broad enough. India is particularly tragic, with widespread disease, scant treatment, and, despite being a major manufacturer of pharmaceuticals and vaccines, very little vaccine protection among its residents. President Biden has joined growing calls for vaccine companies to suspend their patent protections so that countries around the world can manufacture vaccines for their regions. This would also entail making available the raw materials, supplies, and expertise to manufacture the vaccines, some of which require new techniques such as mRNA.
I feel an odd mix of hope, dread, and sorrow. The COVID rate in New York State where I live is very low now. We are gradually relaxing some of our restrictions and I am planning to go on a writing retreat later this month. This summer, we think we are finally going to be able to travel to the UK to visit daughter E and her family and get to hold our granddaughter JG for the first time, although she is almost walking on her own and may not want to stop long enough to be held by the time we can get there.
At the same time, there are still people sick and dying in my state and exponentially more in other states and countries. It’s frustrating because we have treatment tools and vaccines now that we didn’t have a year ago but they aren’t reaching all the people that need them. What’s most frustrating is people who do have access but don’t take advantage of the opportunity, letting their fear, ideology, contrariness, or sense of invincibility stand in the way of personal and public health.
Please, everyone, continue to do all that is within your power to end the pandemic. This will look different depending on personal and community circumstances, but mask in indoor public spaces, distance when appropriate, be careful about the size of gatherings, stay home if you are sick, vaccinate when it’s available for you, keep up to date on the newest public health recommendations.
Show your respect for others and do your best to protect them. Pandemics are, by definition, phenomena that affect us all. It takes all of us working together to end one.
To my immediate left is a throw on the back of the couch which features carousel horses.
Here in Broome County NY, carousels are part of our identity. Back in the early part of the twentieth century, one of the important sources of jobs for immigrants and for people already established here was the shoe company named Endicott-Johnson for its founders. They also gave their names to two of the villages, Endicott and Johnson City, that with the City of Binghamton make up the Triple Cities of Broome County. I’m sure everyone is excited to learn this local geography!
The Endicott and Johnson families wanted their employees and their families to have a good quality of life, so they paid them fairly and helped with home ownership, as well as innovations like providing health care and pensions. They also invested in creating recreation opportunities, which brings us to carousels.
The families installed carousels in six public parks scattered around the area. Because they didn’t want anyone to be deprived of a ride, part of the stipulation of the gift was that they would always be free to ride. And because one of the founders recalled the disappointment of getting onto a carousel but being on a stationary horse, all the horses on these carousels are “jumpers” which means they go up and down as well as ’round and ’round.
Most of the figures on the carousels are horses, but some also have a couple of other animals included, such as a dog or boar. Most of the carousels also include chariots to accommodate babes-in-arms or anyone who can’t climb up onto a horse.
When my daughters were young, we spent many hours at the various carousels. They traditionally open Memorial Day weekend and close after Labor Day weekend. I admit that I also love to ride carousels and we would see many other adults there, too. Sometimes, bridal parties will even make stops at the carousels to take photos. My favorite visitors would be elders who grew up in the area but then had moved away; they would come to take a ride and tell stories of how it had been visiting the carousels when they were young.
In our photo albums, we have a succession of years of photos of E and T visiting the carousels. It was a privilege when granddaughter ABC was living with us to introduce her to the carousels, too. It won’t be this summer, but maybe next it will be safe to travel and we’ll get to bring ABC and her little sister JG to the carousels for a ride. We’ll take photos with our phones that they can look at when they return home to the UK and remember.
There is an old song “What a Difference a Day Makes” but today I’m thinking about what a difference a year makes.
Two years ago this spring, my mom, known here as Nana, was living in the skilled nursing section of the senior community where she and my father, Paco, had lived for ten years. She was under hospice care as she was nearing the end of her battle with heart failure. My father and I visited every day for hours with frequent visits from my daughters and granddaughter ABC, who were living with us at the time. My out-of-town sisters were able to come to visit often, too.
Nana passed away in May 2019, a few days after her 87th birthday. We were able to hold her funeral in her parish church with a visiting hour before with friends coming to comfort us. There was also a gathering at her and Paco’s senior community.
Last spring, we were all in COVID lockdown. Visiting nursing homes was totally shut down with very limited exceptions for end-of-life situations. I often thought of what that would have looked like for us, if Nana had been facing death in spring 2020 rather than 2019. We would have lost those last few weeks with her, which were painful but also filled with precious moments. We were able to bring her flowers, including her beloved lilies-of-the-valley which blossom in May, just in time for Mother’s Day and her birthday. One of the last things she was able to eat was a little fruit tart I had brought for her birthday. I helped her by cutting it and fed her as she had me when I was a baby…
In 2020, we would likely not have been allowed to visit until the very end when she was unconscious. The church was totally closed, so there would have been no funeral, not even for family.
It was hard last spring, too, because we could no longer visit Paco every day in his apartment. Although visits to independent living apartments were not totally forbidden, they were supposed to be limited, with some masked outdoor visits preferred over anything indoors. My sisters had planned to visit for Paco’s 95th birthday in March but that had to be postponed. Little did we realize at the time that that postponement would turn into cancellation.
That brings us to this spring, which is just getting underway here with some of the early bulbs flowering and the first trees starting to bud. Paco is now living in assisted living which is part of the health care center. While visiting and gathering there are still limited, my younger sister and I were able to visit him for half an hour in his apartment on his birthday and he was able to share a large birthday cake we provided with the other residents and staff on his unit later in the day. Later this month, my elder sister will be able to visit in person for the first time since last summer. She lives out-of-state so hasn’t been able to travel to New York without prohibitively lengthy quarantine, but now, with vaccines available and changes in state policy, she will finally be able to see Paco again.
We have no idea, though, if or when daughter E and granddaughter ABC will be able to visit. They moved permanently to the UK in fall 2019, joining son-in-law L in London. They have since been joined by granddaughter JG, who recently had her first tooth break through.
Spouse B, daughter T, and I would love to think that this spring we could jet off to London to meet JG in person for the first time, but it isn’t possible. Maybe this summer? It depends on conditions with the pandemic and travel restrictions.
Will we get to hold her while she is still a baby or will she be an on-the-move toddler by that time?
Will Paco ever get to meet her in person? For the UK family branch to visit the US is much more complicated and we have no idea when that will be feasible. We also, sadly, don’t know how things will go with Paco’s cognitive decline. While sometimes he remembers names of family members, sometimes he forgets them.
Sometimes, he forgets that he has great-grandchildren at all.
In 2019, I knew that spring 2020 would be very different because my mother would not be there. I could not have imagined how different 2020 would turn out to be.
Right now, the United States is a place of both hope and fear regarding COVID-19.
The hope comes from the increased pace and availability of vaccine distribution. The two-shot regimens from Pfizer and Moderna and the single-shot Johnson & Johnson have all been approved for emergency use and are being distributed as quickly as possible. There have been over three million shots given daily in recent days. It’s possible that a fourth vaccine, a two-shot course from AstraZeneca may also receive emergency use authorization in the coming weeks. Approximately 29% of adults in the US have received at least one vaccine dose. While most states concentrated first on the older demographic and health care workers, eligibility has expanded to include medically vulnerable adults and middle-aged adults. In some states, the eligibility age has or will soon drop to 16 where Pfizer vaccine is available or 18 with the other two vaccines. Trials are underway to determine the appropriate dosages for younger children. New data have shown that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are 90% effective at preventing infection in real-world application; this expands the information from the trials which looked for COVID symptoms and could have missed asymptomatic infections.
There are problems looming, though. A significant proportion of adults say that they will not be vaccinated at all. There is also a political divide in evidence. A recent survey showed that 49% of Republican men are refusing the vaccine. It will be very difficult to halt community spread if so many millions of people remain unvaccinated.
This vulnerability is in addition to the fact that too many places have relaxed their rules about wearing masks, the size of public gatherings, and capacity of indoor venues. Travel within the US has skyrocketed, including air travel. Many college students have gone on spring break trips to warmer states and gathered in large crowds without masks. The majority of states are seeing their COVID cases rise. Yesterday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that she felt a sense of “impending doom” because cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are rising as restrictions have been lifted. She and other health experts fear that the US is at risk for a fourth surge. The protection of the vaccines won’t be able to keep pace with the virus spread by people not observing public health guidance on precautions.
There is also the problem of more infectious variants. The B1.1.7 variant is spreading rapidly in some regions and there is a separate variant that has been identified in the New York City area. While the current vaccines seem to be doing a good job preventing these variants, it will still be harder to stop community spread with the more infectious variants in circulation.
I urge everyone to get vaccinated as doses become available for their age group in their localities. Because spouse B, daughter T, and I all participated in the Pfizer/BioNTech Phase III trials, we are fully vaccinated, B and T last August during the blinded phase of the study and myself in February when the placebo group was offered the vaccine to join the study group on long-term efficacy. (There are numerous posts about our experiences with the vaccine trial if you type Pfizer in my blog search box.)
I appreciate the things that are easier to do now that I am vaccinated. The most important thing is that I am much less worried when I visit my 96-year-old father, know here as Paco. Paco is also fully vaccinated and, while I still follow the protocols to mask and distance, I am now allowed to visit inside his apartment in assisted living.
I took an unmasked walk outdoors with a friend. I have been able to do some health care visits in person rather than virtually. I go to the grocery store with just one mask instead of two. I went to mass in person for the first time in a year and have reserved a place to attend Easter Vigil Saturday evening. My fully vaccinated sister stayed overnight at our house where we could safely be together maskless.
She and I even ate at an indoor restaurant for lunch, masked when we were not eating. The restaurant had good table spacing; our region currently allows 75% capacity at restaurants and our community transmission rate is low. In general, we usually still order carryout, but I think in a few months we may be more comfortable with dining in on a more regular basis. One of the good things about living in New York State is that we have generally been cautious about public health measures and the extent to which certain activities are allowed. Extensive testing is being done so that, if the number of cases begins to rise, they can react quickly to dial back on activities to keep the outbreak from getting worse. Having seen this measured, data-driven approach work in New York, I am that much more worried when I see other places abandon mask mandates and capacity restrictions precipitously. It not only hurts their own residents but also people in other locations because travelers can bring the virus home with them.
I don’t know yet when I will be comfortable resuming travel. If we can continue robust vaccine distribution and infection rates are low, maybe B and I will be able to take a short trip together for our anniversary in June. I had hoped to return to North Adams for another private writing retreat this spring, but I need to see what happens with vaccine distribution and transmission rates over the next few weeks to decide if that would be wise.
Of course, the big prize will be when we can go to the UK to visit daughter E, son-in-law L, and granddaughter ABC and finally get to meet granddaughter JG in person. We are hoping it will be on or before her first birthday in August, but it is impossible to plan. While the UK has also been on a vigorous push for vaccine distribution and re-opening, E and L haven’t been eligible for vaccination yet and what the rules will be for summer visitors from the US is a mystery.
Still, we are closer to being able to go than we have been before and we have also built up our own capacity for patience. Love, care, and concern for others are great motivators to remain cautious and vigilant until the pandemic is truly over.