Ah, the perils of writing a newspaper column amidst a pandemic. No amount of Purell will help if today’s hot takes don’t exactly cover you in glory a week from now.
Everyone wants to know the political implications for President Donald Trump, but it is impossible yet to discern. He’s had some good (Chinese travel ban) and bad (Oval Office address) moments, but the jury is still out. The new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed the president’s job approval unchanged month over month; the haters still hate and the lovers still love.
I’m not surprised because reality hasn’t yet set in for most of us. My new normal began Monday morning with homeschool for our two oldest while keeping our two youngest out of their hair.
Compared to the single mom scrambling for child care, or to the grandparents and other caregivers now tasked with ensuring learning progress for their wards, my wife and I, blessed with flexible work environments, have it easy.
But a bleak, tough reality will come for us all, catching up with some families faster than others. My sense is this period of abnormality will be far different for people who have children than those who don’t.
The coming economic disruption hasn’t yet manifested itself for most people. But it is coming soon. The interruption to customer-facing businesses and workers will be hard in the short term and downright intolerable in the medium and long term. Last fall, the American Payroll Association found that more than “74% of employees in America would experience financial difficulty if their paychecks were delayed for a week.” Another survey conducted in February found that “54% … are not currently prepared financially in the event that they contract a virus like COVID-19 and are unable to work for several weeks.”
I am saving my political judgments until we see what happens. Did we flatten the curve? Did we do enough for those less fortunate? Did we harness the full power of the American government to blunt the virus and save lives and jobs? Before the usual partisans rush out with their always certain and predictable pronouncements (“Trump has failed!” or “Trump is awesome!”) perhaps the most prudent punditry is to wait, see, analyze and reflect.
I am choosing to focus on the things I can control — teaching my kids, playing catch in the yard and putting together the Lego X-Wing fighter set in my basement.
And I will pray for those we may not see again. I’ll tell you a story about my 88-year-old grandmother, or Grandmommy, as I’ve called her for 42 years. She lives in a nursing home in Western Kentucky but was admitted to the hospital with heart problems late last week. She has refused further treatments and the doctors say what will happen will happen. People of her era were born ornery and will die ornery, I suppose.
She’s going back to her nursing home, off-limits to visitors, and I’ve resigned myself to knowing I may not see her again. Hopefully this publishes in time for her to post it on the nursing home bulletin board.
I hope she knows how much her grandson loves her. I hope she remembers fondly, as I do, the summers and afternoons we spent together outside. I had never seen an old lady kick a ball as far as Grandmommy, and I haven’t seen one since. I hope she forgives me for endlessly pinging her roof with baseballs.
I hope she remembers how much I enjoyed her cooking. I hope she knows what an imprint her impeccable handwriting left on me. Holding something she’d written seemed almost royal, like it belonged on parchment under glass. I hope she remembers teaching me to whistle, and that she knows I am teaching my kids, too.
Above all, I hope she knows what a difference the safety and love felt in her home made to a little boy who was constantly shuttled between divorced parents, in perpetual need of distractions to replace the worries that flood the minds of all children of broken homes.
Grandmommy enthusiastically gave me her time and her love, creating memories that will last a lifetime. The silver lining of this pandemic is, perhaps, the chance to create a few indelible moments with our own children, same as the ones that Sue Jennings gave me. And it serves as a reminder that we should tell the ones we love how much we care about them as often as we can.
Scott Jennings is a Republican adviser, CNN political contributor and partner at RunSwitch Public Relations. He is a 1996 graduate of Dawson Springs High School.