Mary Beth Writes

Shontay is a new friend. I first met her last fall as I started to work a little each week with her bright and sunny 3rd grade daughter. The teacher in the class was frustrated that some of her hardest-working students were not getting the extra attention she would love to provide for them, so she asked if I would like to work with this particular kid. “Yep, I would!” This little girl lights a room with her smile.

One thing led to another; I met her mom and her also-awesome 4th grade sister. Shontay and her daughters came to my house. The girls came a few more times (our dollhouse pines for them). We were on our way to becoming real friends when Covid hit. The visits stopped and now Shontay and I stay in touch by texts.

Shontay’s daily life is one more story going on in this pandemic. I asked if I could include some of her ups and downs in this diary and she is very willing. I will always run these past her first, she knows what we are saying here.

Shontay has four kids. The girls’ dad lives and works in Milwaukee; he is a correctional officer and also has continuing duties in the military so they don’t get to see him frequently. The 4- and 5-year-old boys’ daddy also lives in Milwaukee. He takes the boys on weekends although that can be a little anxiety-producing since his job is in a nursing home. They go through a lot of soap, handwashing, and hand sanitizer at Shontay’s house.

I asked Shontay what was sweet in the past week.

“I bought some games at Walmart and we have been playing them a lot. Trouble, Sorry, Uno. Games like that. The boys don’t really understand how to play but we let them play anyway - and then we cheer for them when they “win” even though they didn’t win. We laugh a lot. It makes the time pass.”

Shontay found some YouTube channels that suggest projects to do with kids. This week she bought a plain white tablecloth and taped it to the kitchen floor. The kids painted their feet and walked on it! They also painted hearts and other designs on it.

How cute is that?

I asked her what is frustrating or hard.

She talks about trying to shepherd the kids through their online lessons on their tablets. The 4-year old is not too hard to help. “I’m just supposed to make sure he plays with blocks. Sometimes I have him draw shapes. It’s not hard.”

“The 5-year old works on shapes and numbers. There is just one app he uses and I can help him with that. He had a zoom call with his teacher and some of the other kids this week and I helped him do that. We got it done.”

“It’s harder with the 3rd and 4th grade girls. Each has to work with more than one app each day. Sometimes a teacher asks them to download a new app and they ask me for help and I’m not good at this. It is frustrating. This week one needed to do a video call with her teacher and a few other kids, and it was stressful to figure out how to do it and to get the audio to work.”

I ask how much time they spend on schoolwork. She gets the kids up and going by 8:30. They start work by 9 and they go until 11:30 or noon. She spends 2-3 hours each day directly helping her kids do their online lessons.

Shontay worked as a home care assistant before Covid. She had to quit that job because she has her kids to care for. She hopes to return to work but can only do that if and when childcare becomes available again.

We will hear more from Shontay, as time goes along.

Yesterday I did not do Social Distancing correctly and I’m still thinking about how this happened.

The kid of relatives was having a milestone birthday. We were invited to a simple outside celebration at their home. We said yes because we like these relatives and we like the kid and hey – family!

It’s about a 40-minute drive to their house and halfway there I remembered that we forgot our masks. We texted ahead that we didn’t have them. They said no problem, they have extras. When we got there no one was wearing a mask but I didn’t even really think about that, I was so focused on seeing folks we hadn’t seen in so long. No one hugged, we just all smiled and chatted. In the next hour a few more friends of their family and of the kid arrived. In all there were about 20 people, no masks. No one touched each other and people stood maybe three to four feet apart as they talked. It was outside and chilly. After an hour Len and I ate cake and came home.

In the middle of the night I woke up realizing what had happened. I had spent an hour among 20 people. No one stood super close but no one was maintaining 6 feet of distance, either. I’m not here to criticize other peoples’ decisions. Having good relatives is a good thing. But how did this happen? How did I forget my own boundaries and decisions?

Today I put a sign by the backdoor (the one we use when we take the car) to remind us to take our masks. That will help. I don’t mind looking awkward in a bunch of people who don’t have them. It was just that everything seemed so normal while we were there. No one got in each other’s faces so it felt like distancing even though it wasn’t.

Some of the people there, if they read this (they won't), would think I was overreacting. There are many people around us these days who assume that if things feel normal and under control, then they are. I could cite the statistics that say otherwise, you know them, too. Right now, we are losing more than 3000 people a DAY in this country. Quarantine and Social Distancing are the strongest defense and offense we currently have against Covid. And many people don’t have the choice to stay out of harm’s way – grocery stores workers, sanitation workers, medical care providers, people who work in businesses where they are mandated to work or be fired.

I won't mess up again. I will see friends and have friends over to our backyard. We will wear masks and/or maintain six feet of space. Awkward is a lot easier to deal with than “I can’t breathe…” .






This happened to me just as distancing was a thing several weeks ago. I was so happy to see my neighbor and her 2 year old that I forgot what I was doing and, without being asked, walked along with them. I woke in the middle of the night horrified that I’d put her in such an awkward position. It was about two months ago so I hope we’re out of the woods for that encounter. Masks everyone, please.
Mary Beth's picture

Thanks for saying so. I felt so angsty and frustrated realizing what I'd done. I bet you and I are not the only ones who have forgotten about distancing in the middle of being so pleased to see people. We've also heard that people in cities are wearing masks more than people in rural areas. Not 100% either way, but folks who know folks who have lost folks - are more wary. It becomes real.

It’s just so easy to forget. We are social people. Have spent a life time of being friendly and hugging. There is also the fact that right now we are starved for our former way of life. I am still uneasy about the fact that I gave in and hugged my grands Saturday night.

Yesterday I went to the gas station with my mask. I always take it off in the car.. When I went inside the station I realized my mask was in the car. I was angry with myself.. I have been so careful and never go anywhere without my mask on.. A split second goof up made me worry all day that I had made a huge mistake.. It happens!!!

I had to take George to the clinic today for a catheter change... I grabbed one of two mask I keep in the car just in case I have to wear one... I don't normally do so because I tend to stay away from most people and those people I'm around don't wear them when we interact... We stayed a safe distance and don't touch each other... I wore the mask the whole time we were in the clinic so no one would feel uncomfortable but I must admit I'm not a fan... I couldn't wait to take it off... I usually were a scarf over my face when around people but forgot that at home when I left the house...
Mary Beth's picture

There's the two things about masks. 1. It protects other people from you, if you are a not-symptomatic carrier of the virus, which you could well be since you rarely get sick from anything. And you have loved ones who do hang out in medical places. As any of us can be these days, if we are in the 2 day-2 week period of time it seems to get sick from the virus in our systems. And 2. a mask isn't as much protection as those big get-ups medical people wear - but one has to assume they are some protection from the flying cooties of others. I don't wear one when walking but I rarely see another person and if I do, I can get off the sidewalk and walk on the street for a bit. But around other people, yep, I'm going to wear them from here on unless I'm six-feet away. And even then, I'm having it on my neck so I can move it to my face if I want.

I think this needs to be stressed....masks that we wear DO NOT protect you. They protect others, if you happen to be asymptomatic and Covid -19 +. The fact that you, Mary Beth, are so conscientious with Stay-at-home guidelines, you really are not a big risk factor; { you, however, were potentially exposed}. Continuing to wear the mask is a responsible decision and is a great plan, when you are apt to meet others - in a store, etc. If we care about our neighbors and fellow citizens, and act with responsibility, it will go a long way to getting this virus contained. As guidelines relax, the masks will be very important. Continue to wear them. To protect yourself, no social gatherings, stay 6 ft apart when with any persons outside your immediate home. One of the first steps in relaxed guidelines - I believe Phase 2, will be gatherings of 10 or less, but keeping 6 ft apart, masks on. (to protect the other folks) We are not close to Phase 2. Not sure that Phase 1 will start til after May. 26. Make hand sanitizer your 3rd appendage. Hand-washing, surface cleaning, not touching your face - these will not be relaxed for a LONG time. And they are the most important. Hospital grade masks are for people that have to be in close contact with other people, potentially contagious with Covid-19. Those of us in the > 60 age group, those with underlying health issues - we will be in the Stay-at-Home category for quite awhile. When?? maybe until the vaccine becomes available. So, stay at home. OR, common sense wins...a friend's backyard with 6 ft distancing, and just a few folks? That's ok. Groups of folks? Not yet. Hard, hard times. What do you do if you were inadvertently exposed to potential exposure? Isolate, quarantine for 14 days.....which, we are doing already. Prob no backyard visits, though, for that period. We are human. We get tired of isolation. We slip up. That's us. What to do? Jump back on the plan.... And keep on washin' and maskin'. And monitoring your health. Hang in there. I can't say, 'We got this." That is yet to be determined. And please, appreciate Governor Evers. He is sticking to the science. I am thankful to be living in WI.
Mary Beth's picture

Yup, screwing up at quarantine for those of us doing this strictly - doesn't mess up others, it potentially messes up us. We are exposed to whatever other people have been exposed to. Masks are hot. Wearing one is not comfortable. I figure that's our constant reminded that this is NOT a normal time. Like a secular hair-shirt.

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Quarantine Diary #312

“You know me, I think there ought to be a big old tree right there. And let's give him a friend. Everybody needs a friend.” ― Bob Ross

This tree lives in Waukesha and stopped me in my tracks when I was out for a walk.


 When will this Quarantine Diary end? When Len and I drive out not wearing masks to go to a place where we will stay overnight. Just letting you know. FYI we started last year on Friday the 13th of March.


Quarantine Diary #308 1/15/2021

My life is pretty fine, and I bet yours is, too. Warm place to live. Food to eat. Friends to share and laugh with - even if we have to do it via Zoom.

At the same time, who isn’t feeling anxiety and dread? Will the white supremacist insurrectionist knobs attack the inaugural? Will they screw up state capitols and infrastructure? One lone guy blew up Nashville a mere three weeks ago. What the hell is going on?

Quarantine Diary #307 Brain Names

Remember when there was no autism? Sure, there were kids in our schools who were weirdly able to remember stuff, or were hard to control, or whose emotions triggered at the oddest time. We generally ignored those kids. Those of us who were kind did, anyways. Others bullied. 

Remember the mopey kids in high school who knew too much about depressing art and angsty music and sometimes killed themselves?

Quarantine Diary #306 Hunched Over & Paying Attention

I am going to write some Quarantine Diary entries again. There’s a lot going on and sometimes it helps to hear a small voice as well as the big voices of journalists, pundits, networks, the other public media we follow.

I have had a small headache off and on for days. I worried that I might have contracted Covid, except dang it, I haven’t gone anywhere! And then, thinking about it, I realized I am hunched over my phone much more than usual. These mild on-again, off-again headaches are from eyestrain and weird posture.

Rime and Treason

These photos were taken by Len on Monday in that other time and world that existed before the Trump gorgons mobbed the Capitol. (Gorgons existed in Greek literature. Gorgons are the poisonous siblings with hair of living snakes. Those who beheld them face-to-face turned to stone. Or were killed by being beaten by a fire extinguisher.)

I have been trying to write about that but it is too hard. There is so much that is clear and is informative. You are reading it as much as I am. Blessed be the journalists, right? 

Quarantine Diary #292 New Year's Eve

Many of us feel as if we are in limbo until Biden takes office. I don’t think you need me to say a lot about how long and hard this year has been; we’ve been in this dentist’s chair together.


Did you see how many days quarantine has lasted? 292 days.

So far.

This week I read a remarkable essay. On Natural Landscapes, Metaphorical Living, and Warlpiri Identity, by Barry Lopez. Life is weird. The day after I read it, Mr. Lopez died.

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