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Maryland life amid coronavirus: reader stories | COMMENTARY

Some people will get a small taste of normalcy this weekend now that Gov. Larry Hogan has begun pulling back Maryland’s COVID-19 stay-at-home restrictions.

Some will buy a new dress from their favorite and missed retailer; get a haircut or dye job by a professional stylist rather than self-taught spouses; or worship from church pews instead of computer screens — albeit while still being required to social distance and wear masks.

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Just how much newfound freedom people get will depend on where they live; local leaders can choose to keep the stay-at-home order in place. Some folks will also make a personal choice to continue their own self-imposed restrictions.

We’ve asked readers to share their stories of how they are coping with COVID-19 lifestyle changes in 450 words or less. They’ve been lightly edited for length and clarity, and more can be found online at baltimoresun.com/opinion. Submit your own at talkback@baltimoresun.com, with the subject line “coronavirus story.”

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We’ll edit and compile our favorites for later publication in The Sun, and submissions will be shared with the Maryland Historical Society for potential inclusion in their “Collecting in Quarantine” initiative to preserve for future generations.

Carrie Walters visits with her daughters through the window to protect her own mom, who has an autoimmune disorder, from the possibility of contracting COVID-19
Carrie Walters visits with her daughters through the window to protect her own mom, who has an autoimmune disorder, from the possibility of contracting COVID-19

A newly diagnosed autoimmune disorder

I am newly diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder. I am following my doctors’ recommendations to have no outside contact with individuals working among the public.

My daughter works at Food Lion in Glen Burnie. Since we provide day care for our 2- year-old twin granddaughters, my daughter and her husband decided to let the girls stay with us.

We have daily FaceTime chats to stay in contact. My daughter also brings groceries to my house so I do not have to go into a physical store. My husband limits his time out as to not bring the virus into our home. My only time outside of the home is to doctors appointments and facilities to get lab work.

My daughter visits with her children through the window and, though not ideal, it is a joy to watch.

Mary Beth Starr, Glen Burnie

Grant me an ordinary life

My husband and I, just on the other side of age 70, consider ourselves fortunate during this time that is so difficult, and often tragic, for so many others.

Our income is no longer dependent on employment, our mortgage is paid off, and we are in good health. We live in the same comfortable home that our daughter grew up in, in a neighborhood where several years ago folks steadily pitched in for several months to help with meals, yard work and companionship for my husband during his daily chemo treatments. He survived leukemia, and now together we hike the tree-lined hills of our neighborhood with our aging dog, plant flowers and dig out weeds in our backyard, and welcome the sounds of nearby families enjoying this especially beautiful spring.

In good weather, our grown daughter comes to hang out with us on the back deck. We offer only “air hugs” and are painfully aware of the need to be 6 feet apart, but we savor these times where we can share a meal and catch up in person. What a gift it is to be with her. She has turned out to be a pretty good novice hair cutter — no easy feat when everyone is wearing face masks.

Face masks are another area in which we feel fortunate. Because we had saved a box of N-95 masks from my husband’s bone marrow transplant days, we were able to donate about 30 masks to health care workers, and still keep a reasonable supply for ourselves.

We miss being with our longtime friends, though we all make efforts to stay in touch through our computers and cellphones. We share recipes, photos of ordinary moments, occasional poetry, links to online satire and music and “best practices” for obtaining groceries. Nobody quite knows what to do about their hair.

As I finish this up, my husband is making dinner. He is a strategist when it comes to cooking. Working from a recipe, he tastes and adjusts as he goes along, thinking through how the various ingredients will enhance one another. I am more of a puzzle-solving cook. I prefer to scan the ingredients we have on hand and speculate what I can do with them. This is a particularly useful approach in a time like this.

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A time like this. I am reminded of a poem I wrote when my husband was facing down leukemia. It began with the words, “Grant me an ordinary life.” That, I believe, is what we all wish for in a time like this, for ourselves and for people everywhere. May our wish be granted, and may we sustain each other until it is.

Sandee Lippman, Baltimore

College classmates Kalia Perry, right, of Baltimore and Rachel Jones, left, of Roanoke, Virginia have had to adjust to moving back home and losing independence.
College classmates Kalia Perry, right, of Baltimore and Rachel Jones, left, of Roanoke, Virginia have had to adjust to moving back home and losing independence.

College students adjusting to being at home

We are two freshmen enrolled at Virginia Commonwealth University sent home having to face new obstacles as we are adjusting to a new normal because of COVID-19. This new normal is physical, emotional, financial and psychological.

My name is Kalia Perry, and I am from Baltimore. Around the world students like me are experiencing the first year of college during a pandemic. This means figuring out college classes on a screen. Time feels reversed as if I was back in high school with limited independence when I was so excited to finally go to college. Freshman year feels unfinished like I just got robbed of valuable experiences. As an art student, imagine starting a sculpture class through Zoom. That personal interaction is important and makes a huge difference. In my own family, before recently we were social distancing in the same house, living in our own bubbles figuring all of this out alone. But food was one thing that brought us together. It was refreshing like a reset button.

I live in a household of five, and my younger siblings won’t get to walk across the stage to honor their educational successes. One is going to middle school while the other is going to high school. I have friends who are missing out on prom, graduation and saying last face-to-face goodbyes before going to college. In Baltimore, everyone is trying to figure it out. We are so used to struggling and facing obstacles on a regular basis that a pandemic seemed like no match for what we’ve already been through. On social media, we are trending as people who do not care. But the people that are suffering like my family and I do care.

My name is Rachel Jones. There are five of us who live here and only two of us are able to work from home. While most of us are confined to rooms and have to be quiet for eight hours every day, imagine trying to keep a 3-year-old quiet for that long. That has been a challenge.

This pandemic has affected my mental health more than I expected. For example, I have some symptoms of depression. It’s dreary knowing when I wake up that I’ll be staying in the house with nothing to do.

Throughout this time, it’s important to be open to everyone’s perspective. Although the world is going through this together, each story has a twist depending on a person’s home life and individual experience. COVID-19 has brought challenges to not only our families but thousands of families. In many ways it feels like we’re stuck in quicksand.

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Kalia Perry, Baltimore

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Rachel Jones, Roanoke, Virginia

Doug Lambdin misses seeing people's smiles, which are covered up by masks.
Doug Lambdin misses seeing people's smiles, which are covered up by masks.

Missing people’s smiles

At the market recently, I was reaching for my pickles when a woman reached over for a jar of relish. We locked eyes, and having realized that she had invaded my 6-foot, COVID-19-free barrier, she said, “I am so sorry.”

I looked straight at her and I smiled. But there was this weird silence for a moment until it dawned on me that she couldn’t see the smile beneath my mask. So I replied, “No worries. You’re fine.”

Following the one-way arrows on the floor leading me up and down the aisles, I saw that the other shoppers were nothing more than ambulating pairs of expressionless eyes.

Once outside, I immediately pulled off my mask, liberating my face, and I discovered one more thing that this virus has stolen from us — our smiles.

I never realized how much I smile per day. Considering the grocery store alone, I’m now aware of everywhere I smile and what each smile means.

To the mom with the toddler on her hip who reaches for the same cart as I do, my smile says, “Please, take this one. You’ve got more to carry than I do.”

To the security guard standing by flower bouquets, it says, “I know, man. On your feet all day. I’m with you. And by the way, I am not a threat.”

To the lady behind the deli counter, “I am not bringing any attitude, nor am I going to ask for a sample slice of eight different meats and cheeses before ordering a quarter pound of each, sliced thin … thinner … thinner.”

And to the cashier tallying up and bagging my groceries my smile says, “Not only did I bring my own bags, but I am also placing my groceries on the conveyor belt organized by weight and density, like heavy jars and cans together and bread and eggs together so you don’t have to stockpile like items off to the side to even out the bags.”

I depend on smiling. I am desperate to share one again.

I can only imagine the day when we can all shop again, crossing aisles willy-nilly and passing up on hand sanitizer, grinning ear to ear like slap-happy parolees.

Doug Lambdin, Catonsville

Charles Klein of Baltimore and his wife Laura Black learned to live peacefully together during quarantine after a squabble over toilet paper.
Charles Klein of Baltimore and his wife Laura Black learned to live peacefully together during quarantine after a squabble over toilet paper.

For Better, For Worse, but Not for Quarantine

I am driven. My husband is content in his ways. The disparity in our personalities worked well — until we were confined together, 24 hours a day, for weeks on end.

The catalyst for the explosion was toilet paper. After three attempts to replenish our supply, my Instacart shopper texted me. “Refund for Charmin Ultra-Strong.”

I said, “Alternatives? Any toilet paper is fine.”

Charles interjected, “Wait, I only want ultra-strong.”

I snapped, “Are you kidding me?”

The shopper texted back a picture of bare shelves.

As part of that “vulnerable” population, we self-isolated early. I was determined to ace quarantine. I ordered food and supplies, cooked, washed and disinfected. My knees swelled and my back ached. I assumed Charles would catch on and pitch in. I was wrong.

While Charles is a champion of equality in the workplace, it turns out, not so much at home. He’d lift his feet while I vacuumed; bury his face in his Kindle when I struggled past him with baskets of dirty laundry.

I tried to avoid a fight. I kept quiet when he complained, “This egg and cheese is on a biscuit, I like them on English muffins.”

I bit my lip when he studied his bagel as if he were a gemologist differentiating a cubic zirconium from a diamond.

He said, “These look like whole wheat.”

“I’m sure they aren’t, I ordered plain.”

He took a bite, “They are whole wheat. I knew they were whole wheat.”

I held it together, for another few days — until the toilet paper fiasco. Martyrdom was over. I woke him from his bibliophilic coma and exploded: “When are you going to help? It is not my responsibility to take care of everything. This needs to be 50/50.”

He said, “Well, if you want 50/50 you have to stop doing so much.”

I couldn’t help it — I laughed. Charles conceded that he is set in his ways. Then added, “I don’t need you to cook or wash clothes for me. Relax. You are doing way too much.”

And I was. It was for some semblance of control. I was relying on old coping techniques to deal with new threats. It was for me, not for Charles. But I no longer wanted to be the quarantine queen. Charles got the message. The next morning, he said “I’m making us pancakes.” He added water into a yellow jug of powder. Shaking the mixture, he wiggled his hips and sang, “Shake your booty.” I stepped into his arms for one of those hugs.

For better. For worse. And, for quarantine.

Laura Black​, Baltimore

Elliot Wickham

Weak Wi-Fi and a mom who still cherishes a landline

My parents have two defining qualities. The first is their love of saving money. The second is the insistence that we aren’t technology dependent. They wouldn’t let my sister and me get a cellphone until we each turned 16, and my mom still refuses to get one. This unfortunate combination led to us having the cheapest Wi-Fi and DSL (digital service line) plans. They loved DSL because it came with a landline, for only $50 a month. They couldn’t be happier, despite my many complaints that the Wi-Fi was barely enough to run a browser.

When the quarantine hit, they were totally blindsided. All of a sudden, they had four people constantly working on the weakest of Wi-Fi systems. They lasted as long as they could, but after one week, they cracked. They brought out the cable guy to install the cheapest package available — with no new TV channels, of course. That would be too much.

One downside of this new situation is we wouldn’t have a landline. It relies on DSL and paying for both DSL and cable was unthinkable. And yet, having no landline was also unthinkable. Most people have dropped their landline for cellphones, but not my mom. Overall we don’t mind, except when we pick her up at the airport and we have no idea where to find her.

When the new cable was installed, my dad approached me and said, “If you find a way to keep the landline without DSL, I’ll give you $100.” I was working on schoolwork and not really paying attention to what he was saying, until he said $100. “Sure!” I blurted out, not really understanding what he wanted me to do.

It turns out, it is possible. You only have to port the landline number to a SIM card, then to Google Voice, with a couple of other steps thrown in. As of now, it works, and the parents couldn’t be happier. They are now paying less for the combo of the landline and much faster internet.

Not everything was butterflies and rainbows, however. Throughout that entire process, the landline didn’t work at all (for obvious reasons), and nothing is scarier than a middle-aged technophobic woman when you take away her landline.

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Elliot Wickham, Baltimore

Life has changed in so many ways

Indeed, life, during these past two months, has changed.

On my way home from Edenwald, where I exchanged books with a friend whom I never saw, I passed the Towson Town Center mall where I used to walk for exercise. The mall, like shopping malls everywhere, is completely closed. I now walk around my community if the weather is nice. Despite the boredom of walking alone, I admire the flowering trees and smell the honeysuckle. Indeed, life has changed.

In untold ways, this pandemic is scary. But despite the loss of income for many, food insecurity, horrible deaths of people of all ages and in all parts of the world, I still think it is important to have faith and to try to focus on the positive, yet unknown.

Food shopping has been extremely civilized. At Graul’s Market and Trader Joe’s, where I shop, everyone, employees and shoppers, wear masks and gloves. Fewer people are allowed in the store to shop at one time, but the shelves are well stocked.

Friends and I exchange clever emails, often with YouTube music and cartoons. One of my favorites is Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence” parody.

Although movie houses, public theaters and concert halls are closed, TV and computers offer movies and concerts for all ages. My friend Sally’s grandson, after completing daily online classes at Gilman School, is researching whales on Google. My friend Emma’s 3-year-old grandson is hooked on the BBC series, “Building Blocks,” that teaches children to read.

National television news anchors on PBS NewsHour, and on other TV shows as well, stand in front of their fully stocked bookcases while delivering the news. My book collection is growing as well as Amazon is delivering more to my house. I just received two yesterday. Churches and synagogue services are online (Zoom) or on your phone (just call in).

With fewer cars and trucks, pollution has been reduced in major cities around the world. Let’s hope when the COVID-19 crisis is over, our federal government finally pays attention to climate change.

Yes, life has changed, and in many cases, we don’t know what will happen next. Although my friend Susan and I renewed our Baltimore Symphony Orchestra subscription, I wonder whether people will be seated in every other row and in every other seat and how that will affect revenue.

Finally, I wonder when we will have a vaccine and how many people will actually be able to get it. Yes, due to the coronavirus, life will never again be the same.

Lynne Agress, Towson

Painting a restaurant window during a pandemic

Like a distant storm on the horizon, I didn’t pay much attention to the flu-like sickness sweeping through a city I’d never heard of in China late last year. Here in Baltimore we were dealing with day-to-day life. Holiday plans, school, house chores, work. Then slowly the virus spread. Italy, Spain and Germany started to report the same flu-like sickness and deaths.

Now in Maryland, everyone has taken shelter from this silent killer. We venture outside only to forage for food, and in some cases to go to work wearing homemade masks that reveal weary and sometimes frightened eyes.

I am a professional mural painter, and I decided to work, since I was going to be outside and by myself. The job was to paint the windows of a Mexican restaurant called El Salto, in a strip mall. The logistics of working in a public space are difficult enough, without having to deal with an invisible pathogen as well.

As I did my little dance up and down ladders, a cast of characters passed by each day to watch and critique my work. Among them were two well-dressed ladies originally from Yugoslavia, who would beg for money between answering their cellphones. There was an animated masked Asian fellow who would yell that I wasn’t allowed to paint artist colors on the walls and then storm off. One day I watched a woman dressed in a white disposable HAZMAT suit and wearing a respirator walk into the adjacent Dollar Store carrying a dog in her arms.

On my last day working, I saw in the window a reflection of someone watching me paint. I turned and said, “hello.” An older lady whose every other word was Hon, barraged me with questions and was absorbed in my answers. Then the conversation took a sudden turn to President Trump and how wonderful he is. I politely excused myself from the conversation and got back to work.

As I sheltered under the overhang of a strip mall and talked to people wearing masks, I understood that this storm will eventually pass. And came to the realization of how much I cherish interacting with this very diverse and odd creature we call humanity.

Christopher Winslow, Baltimore

Christine Slade of Baltimore reads a book to her preschoolers via computer. COVID-19 means no more in-person classes and no more hugs from her students, which she misses most of all.
Christine Slade of Baltimore reads a book to her preschoolers via computer. COVID-19 means no more in-person classes and no more hugs from her students, which she misses most of all. (Christine Slade/Handout)

Teaching preschoolers virtually means no hugs

In mid-February I checked in with my friend about her brother who was living under strict quarantine in China due to coronavirus. She told me that he was doing fine; isolated at home with his Chinese wife, two children and in-laws, and working at home teaching his 5-year-old students via a virtual format.

The first thing I thought was that it’s a good thing we would never have a quarantine here because that would NEVER work with my class of 18 students, all 4 and 5-years-olds. Little did I know that two months later that’s exactly what I would be doing.

I have taught preschool at Ascension Lutheran Nursery School for 10 years. During this time, I have learned to navigate how best to prepare my students academically for kindergarten, to teach them how to understand social cues and have empathy and kindness for their classmates, and to provide them with big doses of playful fun, all in order to establish a foundation for all the schooling that lies ahead for them.

I love what I do. Most of all because I treasure the hugs and smiles and fun interactions that take place in our classroom setting. All I could think of as we started to contemplate a virtual format was how would we ever be able to replicate the school setting when so much of preschool is about social engagement? Turns out it’s not the same at all, but connecting with my students in this way has brought about other insights.

I get to see them in their home setting and they get to see me in mine, which creates a feeling of a closer personal familiarity. They get to show me things from home and share all the creative ways that their clever parents are engaging them in learning.

It makes me smile to see them curled up with a parent, sibling or pet in the security of home while I read a story. I see them being good, patient listeners while we take turns at our weekly “show and tell,” and the way their faces light up when I unmute them in turn (the “mute all” feature is a godsend in a Zoom meeting of preschoolers!) as they share their special items.

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It amazes me when we begin every virtual meeting that they continue to show up, and I end every half hour session a bit reluctant to say goodbye. It is definitely not the same as our classroom environment of a few months ago. But we’ve managed the best we can, and have gotten closer in a way as a result. I look forward to the day that I can get the class together again for a reunion, see their smiles and hear their laughter in person.

And get one of those big hugs.

Christine Slade, Baltimore

Being home is nothing new for me

I’m a single senior citizen, 81, who has lived all alone in my house for 30 years. I actually moved in 36 years ago, but once my stepkids graduated high school and moved on, my wife decided she too wanted to move on, so I remained by myself in the house which was newly built in 1983.

I have been retired just 4 1/2 years and spend much of my time at home. My days and most nights have not changed due to coronavirus. I go to my local 7-Eleven every morning to buy The Sun newspaper and do my grocery shopping every Tuesday. The one thing that I am missing is Orioles games. I’m a 13-game season ticket holder for 26 years. No movies and no concerts are hard to get used to as well. (I am a Baltimore Symphony Orchestra “Super Pops” subscriber). I also have no community theater productions to rehearse. I have been performing in them for my 42 years in Baltimore.

So except for missing these cultural events, my life is pretty much unchanged. I am used to being alone. Nobody but repairmen visited my house before coronavirus and I didn’t visit other people. I am just friendly with the people sitting next to me at the various events I attend. The workers and clerks at the Giant grocery store where I shop all know me as well. And, of course, my fellow actors and singers in the shows I perform in or attend also are friendly.

I am dealing with the pandemic just fine.

David Guy, Nottingham

Ed Kitlowski has taken to playing the bagpipes in his neighborhood since COVID-19 hit.
Ed Kitlowski has taken to playing the bagpipes in his neighborhood since COVID-19 hit.

The neighborhood bagpipe player

My husband, Ed Kitlowski, has been providing bagpipe music for the neighborhood during this time of social distancing.

He is a retired Baltimore County teacher and is the bagpipe instructor at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. On April 6 Ed played the bagpipes on the corner of our street. His first song was “Happy Birthday,” which I recorded and we sent to his daughter for her birthday. He then played some other tunes for a while, with a small audience stopping to listen.

He has gone outside to play a few other times since then including a three- block trip to a friend’s house on April 19 to play “Happy Birthday.” I’ve had several neighbors tell me they enjoy the mini concerts. There’s a 4-year old boy a few houses down who always asks Ed when he’ll be playing next. Cars have also pulled over to listen.

Mary Kitlowski, Loch Hill

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