As the coronavirus drags on, and New York continues to be (mostly) shut down, my daughter on the spectrum is asking more and more questions I can’t answer. The onslaught of her curiosity and sincere desire to understand adds to our daily household stress. I have my own questions about when and how our lives return to some semblance of normalcy.

When Phase 1 started in New York City last week, Samantha asked me how our life would change? Answer: No difference! I explained that manufacturing and construction would be resume and retail stores would allow pick-ups, but our “girls’ day” of shopping would have to wait.

Here’s a sampling of some of her most urgent questions.

When will I be able to hug my friends?

When will EPIC and DreamStreet be able to resume in-person rehearsals?

Will we be able to have EPIC’s cabaret fundraiser on October 5th?  I HOPE we don’t have to cancel AGAIN!

When will we be able to stop wearing masks?  Never?

The answer to nearly all of these questions is: “I don’t know.”

Samantha hates this answer (and so do I)! Whenever my daughter doesn’t like my answer or fails to understand it, she asks the question repeatedly.  My overly optimistic and curious daughter becomes increasingly agitated as my answers fail to satisfy her. She imagines that if she endlessly asks the same question, eventually she will receive a different answer more to her liking.  People with autism have a tendency to repeat and perseverate, and in Samantha’s case, the coronavirus is exacerbating this tendency. Unfortunately, the lack of clear information about the coronavirus and so-called phases of reopening our once-vibrant city means that I truly don’t have ANY answers.  Whatever I might say is pure speculation—a word that Samantha is proud to understand but has learned to dislike as a caveat to my responses.

I’m not happy with speculating either. Watching the news is both confusing and maddening.  Why are Connecticut, Florida and other states opening restaurants, beaches and hair salons, in spite of surging infections?  Why are those other states in Phase 2 or 3, while New York is tiptoeing into Phase 1?  I don’t understand the criteria and neither does anyone else I consult.

Of course there are a few questions with less-than-perfect answers.  Samantha met a few of her friends in the park for the first time, and they planned a picnic take-out dinner. “Is it safe to hug my friends?

“If your friends want a hug and they are wearing masks, it should be okay.”

“What happens if we need to use a rest room?  Do we have to go in the bushes?”

“Definitely NOT in the bushes.” I smile at the visual memory of Samantha squatting on the side of the road as a toddler during a long car trip. “Try a friend’s house or come home.”

After her picnic, Samantha reported that she and her friends hugged with masks on and how wonderful it was to enjoy some affection after a three-month separation.  As for the bathroom issue, my daughter reported that one male friend “couldn’t wait and went behind a tree.” The women were able to use the employees’ bathroom in his building as long as they wore masks.

It seems that continuous improvisation and thinking outside the box (with or without) disabilities has become an essential life skill.  As far as I know, public urination is still illegal even during the coronavirus and I’m confident that won’t change.

These gradual phases of reopening have overlooked many other details of life, some of them truly life threatening and left unspoken. People throughout the world are gathering to protest racism and the horrific murder of black men by white police.  Black lives matter. People of all races are willing to risk their own lives (and perhaps those of others still sheltering) by taking off their masks to protest in large crowds marching together without standing six feet apart.

Let’s not even discuss the fact that our president refuses to wear a mask and is planning an INDOOR rally in Tulsa, while asking attendees to sign a disclaimer that they won’t sue if they contract the virus! Words (almost) fail me.

Another question is whether our family will be able to go on vacation this year.   We had planned to go to Spain and Portugal with our twins at the end of August.  But will it be safe in either country by then? The answer in this case is probably not. The bigger question is whether it will be safe anywhere in the world.  Will it be safe to fly?  What about hotels and tourist attractions?  How much risk is acceptable? There is no escape from a pandemic.

How much longer will each day feel like Ground Hog day?  If we wait for an effective vaccine, we might be waiting a very long time.

“Is the virus ever going to end? Is it like waiting for Godot?” Samantha asks, having collected yet another literary expression from her English major mom.

“I certainly hope not.” It’s the best and most honest answer I can offer.


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