Newsletter, Life On the Curve

Life on the Curve, Coronavirus, Part 2
Apt. 11D

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I first started hearing about Coronavirus in late February, around the time that Ian was admitted to the hospital for a few days from a bad side effect of his epilepsy medicine. In fact, the virus was a common chitchat subject with the health care workers who came in to change his IV tubes and inspect his mouth. I asked them if they were worried, and they would shrug. Handling crises is part of the job. 

On March 3rd, we heard about the first local case. A man in Westchester tested positive. He infected his neighbor who drove him to the hospital. A quick ten minute drive to the hospital puts a man in a ventilator? Ah. Then we learned that before the man got sick, he was all over the tristate area, my backyard. 

That same day, people who pay attention to these things started preparing. And so did I. Over the next ten days, I stocked the pantry with $700 worth of food. I finished articles and closed up every loose end for work. I got my son home from college and yelled at my parents to stay in the house, until they finally listened to me. I disinfected counter tops, door handles, gear shifts, toothbrushes. I washed towels over and over. We got money from the ATM and filled the cars with gas. The home office was set up for two adults to work comfortably. With two kids being home schooled and two adults working in the house full time, I had to stock up on paper and ink at Staples. 

Whew! I was exhausted, but firmly ensconced in a personal bubble by Friday, March 13th. We were ready to stay at home with no contact with outsiders for at least two weeks. But that’s when I had to start writing articles about the education angle of this disaster. I was particularly worried about how kids with disabilities were going to fare with the changes to online education. All weekend, I pumped out words.

I began to worry about my friends on Facebook, who seemed to be entirely unconcerned about the coming disaster. They were on another planet from the Twitter people, so I started posting more there, too. 

While I managed several articles in various stages of completion on Monday, March 16th, we began Day One of the horror that is home schooling. The first few days were rough with issues with technology, unfair expectations on parents, issues about how to work around my kid’s disabilities. With all the pressure that I’ve been under and important messages from editors, let’s just say I was less-than-gracious with teachers who inundated my mailbox with perky chores lists. I will make amends tomorrow. 

I’ve been in such a panic for the past couple of weeks that I haven’t been able to see past the crisis in front me. But this afternoon, I put a pause on the writing efforts. I’ve got something coming out tomorrow and that’s enough. I don’t have to write ALL the articles. I popped in my earbuds and went for a walk around the neighborhood.

For the first time in days, I wasn’t writing in my head as I walked. I just walked and looked around and listened. 

As I listened to The Daily, the podcast for the New York Times, Andrew Cuomo talked about infection curve graphs. By social isolating early, he was hoping that our infection trajectory curves were closer to countries like Singapore, than Italy. 

He also said that we were about 45 days away from things getting really, really bad. In five weeks, all these worries about Ian’s math homework and getting Jonah’s crap out of his off campus housing at Rutgers are going to feel so small. We’re way low on the curve on this crisis. We won’t see the peak for quite a while.

We’re just a plot point between an x and y axis right now. Life in a math equation. 

The trick in all this is to respect the math — don’t be like the idiots hanging out in beaches in Miami and bars in Chicago — but to defy the tyranny of the math at the same time. We have to enjoy life and find beauty in the midst of this war. We must loudly declare, “I will not be a plot point!”  

Now that we’ve overcome the initial panic of preparation and are getting used to the new normal, we’re rebuilding our lives. Later today, I went on a second walk, this time with the boys. We took a two-mile hike through the neighborhood, while kicking an old soccer ball that was slowly falling apart. Dumb, right? We were amused for an hour with a soccer ball that sprung a ever-growing tumor. 

The four of us are eating and drinking and talking together without competition from friends’ beer parties or Kumon math classes or girls’ nights at the pub. 

We are cooking up a storm; tonight we’re popping some individual pizzas on the grill. There’s a glass of wine keeping me company as I write this newsletter. 

There’s no doubt that the next month is going to bring challenges that we can’t even envision right now, but I’m so grateful to have these few weeks to prepare. Prepare not just in terms of meat in the freezer, but prepare with a better understanding of priorities and time to enjoy my family. 

Be well, everyone! 

21 thoughts on “Newsletter, Life On the Curve

  1. A couple of my friends have posted that graph. What’s interesting is that it seems to demonstrate that culture matters, but politics does not. All the Western countries track together very closely, whether their leaders are technocratic, centrist, and cultured (France), populist, right-wing, and cultured (UK), populist, right-wing, and boorish (ahem), or whatever combination you have.

    Any chance that in the end, either American exceptionalism or Anglospheric difference will manifest itself? Time will tell.


    1. It’s goofy that Germany and France are virtually identical, despite being culturally very, very different.


      1. y81 said, “Compared to South Korea, they are culturally very similar.”

        It’s also possible that France and Germany results are going to diverge, if Germans act stereotypically German (being clean freaks, doing things “the right way,” and socially punishing the non-compliant).


      2. 23&Me has a “French and German” division of their ancestry reports. At an earlier time, I read on their site that it is hard to differentiate between the two countries, on a genetic basis. Which makes sense, given the way the border between the two countries has fluctuated. And yeah, the whole Holy Roman Empire thing.

        So, you know, it might be that vulnerability to a virus has something to do with genes. As genes also contribute to temperament, which influence behavior, it’s not just the immune system.


    1. A newsletter reader beat you to the punch by about three minutes. Sigh. I can’t edit newsletters, but I can a blog post. So, I changed it here.


      1. My take:

        You can’t replicate 100% of what you do in the classroom, so don’t try.

        Don’t expect more than two hours of daily work maximum from little kids at home or four hours maximum from typical big kids at home. We don’t have our assigned work yet, but I do maybe an hour of work with my 1st grader (90 minutes max–and with frequent breaks) and that’s a lot. OK, maybe we get to 2 hours on days where daddy reads a book chapter to the 1st grader.

        With high schoolers, it’s a tougher situation, but I am pretty firm about the idea that it’s not reasonable to expect them to replicate the normal school year at home. There needs to be some streamlining.

        I would be less nonchalant about academic impact if we get closures again in the fall, but we are 3/4 through the school year right now, and the late spring is not typically a very productive time at school. Also, presumably we’ll all be more experienced by next fall. By next fall, school districts need to have figured out how to deal with kids who don’t have internet and a computer and a techie daddy at home.

        Story idea for Laura: a collection of practical advice from homeschoolers?


  2. Mark Cuban wrote, “If you run a business, BEFORE YOU FIRE ANYONE (or any more ), you have an obligation to yourself/ employees to find every gov loan option available today and those soon to come.”

    Yeah, no.

    A loan is not a gift.

    If the terms of the loan are bad or if there’s no reasonable hope of saving the business, taking the loans could lead to an unnecessary bankruptcy for the person taking this advice.

    (Some of my relatives dug themselves into a hole during the Dot Com Bust because they kept employees too long and were borrowing for payroll. They thought it was going to turn around any minute, but it didn’t. They saved their business, but it was a very near thing, and they became much more financially conservative after that.)


    1. “Mark Cuban wrote, “If you run a business, BEFORE YOU FIRE ANYONE (or any more ), you have an obligation to yourself/ employees to find every gov loan option available today and those soon to come.””

      Before you fire anyone, you have an obligation to lower your own “salary” as much as possible so that others can survive. Mark Cuban has a net worth of $4B. He needs to stop taking $$ out of my pocket because he can’t bear to give up a small fraction of his wealth.


      1. Wendy said, “Before you fire anyone, you have an obligation to lower your own “salary” as much as possible so that others can survive.”

        There’s also that.

        I think that businesses differ so much that it’s hard to offer generally useful advice. For example, there’s an immense difference between a business that is large enough that the owner is genuinely protected from being personally pursued for the business’s financial liabilities versus a smaller business where the owner does not have any kind of protective legal fig leaf allowing her to say that it’s the business that owes the money, not she herself.

        Related: there’s a very unpleasant gotcha for employees where (if your employer gives you certain kinds of company credit cards and then goes under), the credit card company will pursue the employee for business expenses purchased on the company card.

        Tulip said, “A friend from grad school, works for Japan central bank, says don’t trust Japan’s numbers. People are being told testing positive will count against you professionally. So some refuse to be tested. He says because of the Olympics.”



  3. A friend from grad school, works for Japan central bank, says don’t trust Japan’s numbers. People are being told testing positive will count against you professionally. So some refuse to be tested.

    He says because of the Olympics.


  4. Laura tweeted, ” People aren’t stocking up for a week and then going into the bunker.”

    Right. There are very few obvious hoarders. People are mostly getting 20-30 items. We also have a LOT of quantity restrictions–it feels like more every time I visit the store.

    I was in the store around 9 AM this morning (opening was 8) and it wasn’t packed, but it was unusually busy for a weekday morning. I know there was some toilet paper before I arrived (because I saw it in carts) but by the time I got to the paper goods aisle, there was no toilet paper or paper towels. A woman in the aisle suggested CVS, so I’m going to try that soon–but I should probably go first thing in the morning. I’m very keen to get a 6-pack of paper towels and a couple of refill-size containers of liquid soap, if at all possible.

    The office supply company that rhymes with Tables came through for us. We got a 12-pack of big commercial rolls of toilet paper in two days for $44 with free shipping. It’s a hassle to handle the big rolls (my husband actually made a couple of dispensers for us) and it isn’t “nice” toilet paper, but it’s going to last a while.

    We’re picking up all of the kids’ school stuff from school tomorrow and home instruction starts Monday.


    1. On reflection, the quantity restrictions make it harder to stock up for long periods of time. Also, the patchy and varying selection makes it necessary to visit more often.

      Saturday was the first really bad day at our main grocery store. I think there was no toilet paper that day. I came back Monday and I was able to get two rolls of toilet paper at around 9:30 AM–there being no multipacks left, and 2 units being the store limit. If I were dependent on the store for toilet paper and was only able to get 2 rolls at a time for a family of 5, there are only so many days I could go without coming back–even if I wasn’t buying a lot per visit.


    2. I have been trying to stock up for two weeks (though I started on March 1). I resisted buying both boxes of guava juice yesterday (through anti-hording desires) and we used our Amazon orders to estimate our use of TP, to avoid overbuying. I also resisted just buying another pack, on the grounds that I have stocked up already.


  5. The “martial law is coming” viral false news reached us last night. Suddenly, every one heard by text and phone conversation from friends and family that martial law was coming on Monday. The rumor was bolstered by the fact that the governor had just called out the National Guard.

    I’m afraid that people will rush to the stores to stock up for 2 weeks, rather than simply searching online to find out if the rumors are true.


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