Coming to terms with a new reality

Most women don’t look pregnant when they discover a plus sign on a pregnancy test and, for those who don’t instantly get morning sickness, they don’t feel pregnant either. Each knows she is, but it’s surreal. And then, maybe 10 to 12 weeks into gestation, it becomes very real.

And so it’s been with the coronavirus pandemic.

In January of this year, the first coronavirus death was reported in China where healthcare workers who hit the alarm bells early on were not just ignored, they were often silenced and punished for doing so. Had the Chinese government heeded those first warnings, perhaps the virus would not have developed into a pandemic.

As I write this, my second son, Hugo, is driving my minivan back to Rochester, New York to collect his belongings. We had discussed heading there this weekend, but as the pace of confirmed cases of coronavirus has increased exponentially, Hugo pointed out that there might soon be an all-out lockdown, à la Italy and Spain.

While I’m passionate about many things from parenting to politics, I rarely get worked up over what I cannot control. For one thing, it’s hard to be effective when consumed with fear or anger. If faced with an emergency, I’m your gal. I don’t freak out at the site of blood, bones or crushed cars. Instead, I calmly assess what needs to be done.

However, like many, I was slow to recognize the coronavirus’ potential to become the once-in-a-lifetime pandemic epidemiologists have been predicting for years. Complacency was the lesson of recent epidemics. Consider the outbreak of Ebola in 2014 — it stayed mostly in Africa and when it did arrive in the US, only a few people who’d had first-hand contact with carriers contracted it.

The coronavirus did not stay put in China. And it quickly became a community-spread virus, meaning many people who caught it had no direct connection to someone who’d recently traveled to any of the virus’ hotspots.

The second week of March, my sons Hugo and Jules were home from their respective colleges for spring break. I felt bad because I was scheduled to conference all week, six to eight hours a day, with my University of Akron students.

And then everything shifted late on Tuesday. Like many universities, by day’s end all three of our universities had suspended face-to-face instruction.

From there it cascaded. On Thursday, Ohio Gov. DeWine announced that all public and private K-12 schools would be closed for the next three weeks, if not longer. At the same time that I was losing the ability to meet with my students, my house became infested with my own children.

This past week, things got real, as they say. Restaurants, bars, museums, libraries, community centers and more were closed for the foreseeable future.

All of Hugo and Jules’s college jobs were suspended and Jules, along with all Ohio State University students, was ordered to move out of his dorm. Hugo has an apartment and, for now, no way to earn money for rent. Our fingers are crossed for a resident-hall refugee to sublet.

Where Italy and Spain are now, the US will likely be in a couple of weeks. I’m grateful that Gov. DeWine has shown true leadership by making sweeping declarations based upon the advice of scientific experts. While inconvenient, the extensive closures of public facilities will save lives and hopefully prevent things from becoming as severe as they are in Italy and Spain.

My 10-year-old son, Leif, recently told me he was afraid of the coronavirus. Of course he is. Usually I gauge what I tell young children by first asking them what they think, such as when they ask, “Where do babies come from?”

But I didn’t do that this time. Instead, I gave Leif the facts he needs to know for now. I explained the closures and social distancing were important so everyone doesn’t get sick at the same time, which would overwhelm our hospitals.

I also said that children like him are less likely to contract coronavirus (close to 1% of confirmed cases according to recent statistics in “U.S. News and World Report”) and have fewer complications if they do. Thank heavens.

At first, life felt like we were on summer break, when I try to work in my home office and constantly tell my noisy kids to go outside. But it’s a lot harder. We can’t reward ourselves at the end of the day by going to a favorite restaurant or promising a museum visit in the days ahead. And there are no camps to send kids to.

But we will adjust. A new normal will temporarily take hold.

When expecting my first child, I took an adaptive swim class at Ohio State, where I was in graduate school. A man with multiple sclerosis and I had individualized instruction based upon our conditions.

On my way to the showers after class, I’d pass a floor-to-ceiling mirror that was as wide as it was tall. Like bread dough rising in a bowl, I watched my belly grow from week to week. When the class ended less than a month before Claude was born, my reflection alarmed me. I thought, “That watermelon will soon come out of me!”

And he did. Not without some pain and hard work, but in the end we were all fine and my world expanded immeasurably.

The next several weeks things are going to get harder before they get easier. Please work diligently to keep each other safe. We truly are all in this together. And when we no longer need to practice social distancing, our worlds will feel like they, too, have expanded immeasurably.

This was first published in the Akron Beacon Journal on Sunday, March 22, 2020.


Parks need levy to maintain priceless jewel

America is bejeweled with spectacular national parks and monuments, several of which we visited. At sunset the day before we hiked the Natural Entrance Trail, a 1.25-mile path wending among glittering stalactites to the bottom of the Carlsbad Caverns, we watched the resident bat colony pour out of its mouth.

We camped at the Grand Canyon’s North Rim where, because of the high altitude, the August nights were cold. The jutting splendor of Yosemite, also called “God’s Fingerprint” because it is surrounded by flat farmland, left us slack-jawed. And, like many, we found Mount Rushmore underwhelming.

But something else also struck us: In many of the cities and towns where we stayed there was a noticeable lack of local parks with trails. Take San Antonio, Texas, for example. It’s a friendly city with a rich history, but after touring the Alamo and strolling the nearby River Walk, the main recreational activity seems to be shopping.

In Denver, where both Max and I have family, the Rocky Mountains provide a majestic backdrop. And while the mountains may be a hiker’s and skier’s paradise, Denver residents have to schlep to get to there. You can’t just wake up, grab a cup of joe and decide to hit the trails.

The boys and I returned to Akron newly aware of the unusualness of a treasure we’d taken for granted — Summit County Metro Parks. With 16 parks covering 14,000 acres in Summit County, I enjoy the Metro Parks nearly every day without having to make a plan or pack my car in advance.

My eldest son, Claude, runs from his home to the towpath six days a week. When he was in college in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Claude bemoaned running on sidewalks. I joke that he returned to Akron after graduating not because we, his family are here, but because he loves running on the Metro Park trails more than anywhere else.

Overemphasizing the role Summit Metro Parks play in making Summit County a great place to live is impossible. Who among us hasn’t driven out-of-town guests to one or more of our favorite parks?

My dentist took friends visiting from New England on hikes in our parks. The guest family also went to Disney World and Europe that same summer. And yet, when asked what their favorite trip was, their kids all said visiting Akron.

And now our Metro Parks need us. On the March 17 ballot is the first funding increase the Metro Parks have asked of Summit County voters since 2004. In those 14 years, the park district has added five parks, 5,000 acres and increased trails by 25%. And this is a good thing.

The extended park system we enjoy in Summit County affects both the quality and the longevity of life for residents. According to a recent article in Medical News Today, “Multiple studies have shown that these [green] spaces reduce stress and boost mental and physical health.”

Parks keep cities cooler, reduce carbon in the environment and improve the overall air quality. They also provide habitat for wildlife, something that is essential to protect populations of native species from plummeting.

I expect the levy to pass with overwhelming support, but became concerned when I read a recent letter to the editor from a resident who stated he and his wife regularly hike in the Metro Parks but will not vote for the levy. They feel the $4 million the district spent to acquire the former Valley View Golf Club in 2016 was misspent.

Imagine working at length on a jigsaw puzzle only to discover a middle piece missing. Because it was surrounded by Cascade Valley, Gorge and Sand Run Metro Parks, the golf course was that missing piece. Adding it filled a hole, creating what is now a wildlife corridor.

I walk my dogs most days on the section of the Towpath Trail across the Cuyahoga River from the former golf course. Swales of six-foot tall native grasses, providing habitat for many bird and small mammal species, have already taken over the once-manicured greens.

Like an episode of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, I watch herds of deer bound away from the riverbank. And when they come to a stop, they disappear into the landscape, perfectly camouflaged by the tall, tawny grasses.

Last November, on my birthday, I first observed a bald eagle perched on a tree across the river, eyeing the flowing water for signs of fish. Sighting our nation’s bird on a daily walk was unimaginable most of my life. A better gift I could not have asked for. I’ve since seen what I assume is the same bird four more times.

Without the levy, the park district will exceed its budget by 2025, thereby requiring cuts in staffing, maintenance and programming.

Homeowners currently pay $3.47 per month per $100,000 home valuation. Passage of the levy would add $1.58 per month. With the levy’s success, our community can maintain a resource that is unimaginable in many urban counties. It’s worth every penny.


What: Summit County Board of Elections

Where: 500 Grant St., Akron

Early voting hours this week and next: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. next Sunday, March 15 and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, March 16.

Election day: Tuesday, March 17