by Nancy Peterson, 06/22/2020, Northport, MI
My father Richard’s goal was to live to 108. Why? Because that is the number of stitches on a baseball, and he was a consummate baseball fan. It’s the number that represents spiritual completeness in various eastern traditions; he was a Buddhist. It’s also a Harshad Number, an integer divisible by the sum of its digits, and my father was a mathematician. He liked to say, ‘When you add it all up it doesn’t add up.’ He lived to be 80.
A few years ago, when I turned 54, I mentioned to my daughter Nina that I was just at the halfway point, since I’ve decided also to live to be 108. Nina said, “Wait – I’ll be how old?? No, that’s not happening! I’ll have to kill you in your sleep.” She wasn’t serious – I think – but her response is indicative of our family’s often dark humor.
My adult children span the globe, living in Vietnam, Gran Canaria and Washington D.C. The pandemic has left me wondering when I’ll be able to see them again, what the travel fallout will be, particularly for us as Americans. I am comforted by the fact that they are all navigating their respective situations with grace and resolve, not to mention a hefty helping of humor.
The fallout from the coronavirus was felt first by my daughter Fiona, living and teaching in Vietnam. Everything was shut down the last two weeks of January for the Chinese New Year, and just as she was set to return to school they made the decision to remain closed for another week. That week stretched into months, and her school did not reopen until the latter part of May. She was lucky, getting paid for several weeks, teaching online, and also some one-on-one sessions with her little students. She was also fortunate, as Vietnam’s response to COVID-19 was swift and successful. The total number of cases has remained below 300, with no deaths.
Pohai, living in Gran Canaria, felt the effects pretty quickly also. Although part of Spain, the Canaries are an island chain off the west coast of Africa, and were easier to isolate and thereby dodge the devastation hitting mainland Spain. He’d been teaching English to individuals and small groups, and fortunately had gotten his certification to teach online to Chinese students before that market became glutted. Pohai was in total lockdown for seven weeks, leaving his apartment only for weekly trips to the market. He embraced this as an opportunity to pursue new interests and revisit old ones. He took up boxing, did a lot of deep reading, and started weekly vlogs and blogs about life in quarantine and larger issues.
Nina has been living in Washington D.C. since 2016, working as an account manager for Bloomberg. In March all work travel came to a halt, and she has been working remotely ever since. Several of her friends got COVID, mostly asymptomatic carriers, and all made a full recovery. For the past two months she’s been living with her boyfriend and his family in Connecticut, far from the madding crowd of D.C. She, too, has been fortunate, safe and still employed, although she jokes she and her boyfriend have regressed to their high school days – his mom does their laundry and cooks their meals. The bright side for her is all the money she’s saved: nowhere to go, nothing to spend it on. I had booked a flight to visit her in April, but of course that trip got canceled.
Since their father passed away in October of 2016, our family texting (named ‘fambly’ by Nina) is regular and robust. We share photos, articles about politics and world events, books, story vignettes, humor. Though worlds apart we are intimately connected, providing comfort, critical feedback and validation to one another. I have a newfound appreciation for this group chat in lieu of recent events. Often there is irreverence, almost always humor. The kids refer to their dad, lovingly and laughingly, as ‘Deddy.’
Back in March Nina had the idea that we should do a family Zoom meeting. The express purpose of it was for me to answer questions of their choosing, and I had to select one of the kids as my answer. Questions like: Who got away with the most? Who did you most want to kill? Who’s the funniest? Who would you most want to be stranded on a desert island with? Who’s the most OCD? Who’s the smartest? Who’s your favorite? I resisted mightily answering the latter, but they badgered me mercilessly. Needless to say I got considerable flack for my response.
I started playing Boggle online with Fiona a couple of months ago; that didn’t last long. She was so much better than me that there was no challenge in it for her. Pohai and I then started playing. For a while I beat him soundly, then we were evenly matched, then he surpassed me. When I remarked “I seem to have lost my advantage over you” Pohai responded, “It’s OK mom. You can still be a great player when you grow up.” I said my goal was to get as good as Fiona; she retorted “One Day, Young Grasshopper.” When I sent pictures showcasing all the work I’ve been doing around the house and property, Fiona texted: “Looks great mom!! Love that you’re doing all the hard work so I can flip the house easier after you’re gone.”
I couldn’t be more proud of the adults my children have become. They are knowledgeable, practical, poetic, kind, compassionate and competent. When I do depart this earthly coil I can do so knowing that they will navigate life with humor and resilience, that they will be okay. And that they have each other’s backs.
Even though I’m on the downside of 54 I plan to be around for decades. Unless, of course, one of the kids sneaks into my room some night with a special pillow.