Early March: his mother calls from Chicago to say she was exposed at a meeting and Luke’s younger brother Peter has a fever and cough. I count the days on my Minneapolis kitchen calendar until I know that her family is surely, surely well. Luke asks: “Is the bad germ inside or outside our house?”
Days later: the Illinois and Minnesota governors order their citizens to stay home. I mourn the loss of my volunteer gigs, my worship in church, my social life. Luke enters 24/7 life with Peter, their tele-working parents, and his toys—so much fun!
Weeks pass: I track the infection and death rates for Minnesota and Chicago every night. Luke chases Peter around the house, gleefully exclaiming, “Let’s pretend Peter has COVID-19, and if he looks at us we get it!”
Eventually: we are told we should wear masks. My husband makes mine out of an old t-shirt; I breathe shallowly when I wear it. Luke prances around in a brown paper grocery sack with holes for his eyes and mouth.
When I take my daily walks outside, I obsess about whether other walkers are really with members of their households or the requisite six feet apart. My daughter reports on an evening walk with Luke, when they came upon an empty baseball diamond: “Luke, about to swing an imaginary bat: ‘I am the best hitter in the major leagues!’ After running a lopsided circle around the diamond, he accidentally falls on his bottom while gloating by home plate. Luke, showing off his dirty butt: ‘I am the best slider in the major leagues!’”
April melts into May: I recoil at the huge numbers: over one million cases in the U.S., more deaths than the toll of the Vietnam War. Sweet Luke knows none of this. But he is an expert in the stress-reduction strategy I read about one morning: “Be where your feet are.” If only mine were still as small as his.
Deborah Schmedemann is five years into the second phase of her adult life. For over three decades, she taught law students and texts on legal research and legal writing as a professor at William Mitchell College of Law; she also represented teenagers in foster care. Now she volunteers teaching adult English language learners and writes personal essays. She lives as close as one can get to the Mississippi River in south Minneapolis, spends considerable time with her two daughters and their families in the Chicago area, travels internationally with her husband Craig Bower, and walks around the block with her dog Columbo. Her published creative nonfiction includes Thorns and Roses: Lawyers Tell Their Pro Bono Stories (2010) and essays in anthologies on the topics of joy, change, nature, and home.