Chickening Out

I became a vegetarian when I was 15, back when kids — at least kids from the type of conservative-leaning suburbs where I grew up — didn’t do that too often. I was teased relentlessly (good naturedly, but teased nonetheless) by kids at school. My mother’s friends bought me cookbooks because they were so worried I’d be malnourished. Much of how I learned how to cook came from those books. My father used to stop at the one health food store in Center City Philadelphia and buy me things like carob chips – remember carob? – and sesame sticks.

Oh how things have changed over the years. Lots of kids, and families, as well as growing numbers of adults are vegetarian. For ethical reasons (which were mine as a teen), for health concerns, to save money, or some combination. Over those years I’ve strayed from my vegetarian path, first adding in fish and then eventually chicken. I still haven’t eaten red meat in 45 years so it’s had some lasting impact, but I do have fish or fowl a few times a week. 


I recently started moving back in the direction of being a vegetarian after reading one too many exposes about how animals are treated, as laid out in nauseating detail in a recent editorial about the succulent rotisserie chicken that flies off the shelves at Costco. [Don’t read if you’re squeamish: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/06/opinion/sunday/costco-chicken-animal-welfare.html]

The fact is, as Kristoff notes, chicken is cheap these days, And easy to make. It’s relatively healthy and like a lot of people I’m tired by the end of the day. Why not make some chicken when nothing else inspires? And there is something to chicken soup’s medicinal purposes, and I can make it so quickly in the instant pot, with Costco whole chickens sold alongside the rotisserie ones.


Of course it’s possible to only have chickens that are treated better, and I’m all for only having free-range, organic birds if you can afford it [and hopefully don’t get too self-righteous along the way  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G__PVLB8Nm4]

Seriously, there is a lot of suffering that can be avoided by treating animals and people who care for them humanely. But there are also so many other options for protein, from nuts to beans and seeds to all sorts of strange but tasty new inventions like Impossible burgers (Yes, I have indulged in Impossible Whoppers, even though they are made on the same surface as the regular burgers, and they are delicious.) and still have the occasional piece of fish, although I imagine eventually I’ll be wondering about how happy Sam the salmon was before he was caught…


For now, I’m just starting with chicken, and in the past few weeks I’ve eliminated it from my diet. I still live in a house full of carnivores, and have no problem cooking meat for them. In fact, I just made them corned beef for St. Patrick’s Day. I like the smell of bacon and I’m glad that cheesesteaks still exist for those who choose to eat them. To each his or her own.

Yet even carnivores can minimize the amount of meat they eat, and be more aware of how we treat livestock and the people who handle them.  The news has brought attention to the alarming number of workers in meat and poultry processing facilities getting Covid, and the awful conditions in which they work. “You can’t talk about animal welfare without talking about the welfare of food workers, and you can’t talk about food workers without talking about income inequality, racism and immigration.” as Mark Bittman, the cookbook author/food writer says in his new book Animal, Vegetable, Junk, a History of Food from Sustainable to Suicidal.

I listen to journalist Ezra Klein’s podcast interview with Bittman, an interesting way to fill the time it takes to clean the kitchen after an afternoon cooking spree. Bittman doesn’t posit any particular diet (although one of his many books, which Klein raves about, is How to Cook Anything Vegetarian). Like Michael Pollan and other authors on related topics, he advises a common sense approach, to cut back on junk and eat more plants. Eat less meat. Don’t necessarily follow a specific “diet” but work towards a saner diet. Consider doing what has been done in some other European countries, where marketing junk food – as we do here for tobacco – is limited or banned altogether.

We learn our preferences early in life. We’re not born craving candy or chips.As he explains, many of us gained weight during lockdown because we needed comfort and we still continue to allow marketers to define what comfort is. Think of the best Super Bowl ads, were they for apples or brown rice? No, they were for Doritos and m & m’s and Pepsi. Our ideas of comfort food are rich and buttery or fried and salty but generally fattening and not so good for us. I admit that my favorite comfort food is probably bread, and that I even made a gluten free Irish soda bread to go with the corned beef I didn’t eat. Slathered with butter it was delicious.

But so was the big stir fry with tofu and greens and mushrooms. Our relationship with food is complicated. There’s no one answer. Still, I’m feeling some solace in not having chicken guilt. It does put me back in touch with why I originally became a vegetarian, with the concern I had with the suffering of others, even if those others had fur or feathers. For now I’m trying to be mindful while still enjoying my indulgences. To watch what I eat yet still say Bon Appetit!

Fathom

Fathom: to penetrate and come to understand

I cannot fathom how anyone — let alone every single Republican –could vote against a bill that will help eradicate child poverty.

And yet it passed, Biden signed the Covid 19 Relief Law, ending a trajectory that began with Reagan in 1981, with the longstanding false notion that tax cuts for the wealthy would somehow trickle down to ordinary citizens. Instead we are closer to the ideas and ideals of Roosevelt’s New Deal, that the government provides support to working and middle class Americans in order to rebuild the economy from the bottom up.

Yup, it’s hard to fathom that there actually could be so much good news in one week.

The Covid relief bill.
Vaccine supply greater than originally anticipated, with May 1st the new date when most adults can schedule their first shot.
The US economy anticipated to recover twice as fast as expected, according to a report from OECD. [Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development]

For a moment forget the bipartisanship in the House and Senate, the inequities in access to vaccinations, the racist attacks against Chinese Americans, the fact that some states like Texas are prematurely lifting mask mandates, ad infinitum …The bad stuff can drive you crazy, so let’s focus on the positive, on celebrating the small and great victories for humankind!

For other species, not such a good week. Major, the first rescue pet to reside in the White House, was sent back to Delaware after “an aggressive incident with security detail”, translated to mean he bit a guard. (Bad dog : ( I hope he comes back. We need dogs, and eventually a cat, in the White House! Back home our own rescue continues to decline and we finally are looking into building a ramp so Ruby doesn’t have to be carried up and down the stairs.


Yes, death, decline and disappointment are still out there are in abundance, how could they not be? We live in cycles. The last snow abuts the first crocus. The fact that this is likely Ruby’s last Spring makes it all the more precious. The fact that new Covid variants are especially pernicious coincides with a vast increase in protected Americans. Texas and Tennessee and other states pronounce a big F U to Fauci and every other epidemiologist in the land urging us to continue to mask up and be safe. We embrace the good news against a backdrop that fades but does not evaporate completely…

Reading the comments on any popular article will show a divisiveness and at times viciousness it’s hard to ignore. And yet I choose not to give it power. Because there’s President Biden, VP Harris, the first lady and the second man. It’s hard – but delightful – to fathom that we finally can say that, and that some day, in my lifetime, there will be a first man. There’s progress being made. I put my snow boots in the attic and look ahead.

March

“Your track record for surviving your bad days is 100 percent.”

I read that in a great interview with Amy Poehler in this past week’s NYT Magazine, a quote she attributed to Steve Harvey and a lot of tic tic videos, cultural references I admit to being only marginally familiar with, although I’m interested in the latter.

March came at last and I want to give myself and everyone else who had a brutal winter a lot of credit for getting through the past few especially rough months. It’s still winter, we still have a ways to go but a Covid 19 relief bill is in sight – even though likely butchered to cut out a much needed raise in minimum wage; over 50 million people have received at least one vaccination shot and it’s now anticipated that all willing adults can receive vaccinations by the end of May; we have a President who believes in public health and climate change and international diplomacy. Even when I disagree with him or think he is not doing enough in certain areas, these are normal, expected criticisms of a leader, not abject horror as I felt over the last four years.

On the home front, we go from 2 to 4 days of school a week come March 22nd, and in the interim, have some additional hours at a school-affiliated program. There are more sweatshirt days in the forecast, which is a good thing because V has recently sworn off winter jackets. T and I both got our second vaccine shots and I am so grateful and relieved for that, and for the wonderful health clinic in Newark providing such excellent care to its patients. The snow is nearly melted and I’m hoping that is it for the season.

All of this means I may have more breathing room by the end of the month, more time to work on things that have been on hold. For V, that means the daunting task of finishing his application for DDD, the agency that will providing supports once he turns 21 next year. I have time for my volunteer work as a board member of a new effort to start an adult residential and day program for individuals over 21, initiated by parents and staff of V’s school. And I want to start submitting essays for publication, something that has been backburnered for a very long time. Just getting out a weekly blog post has been a lot. I am grateful for my small circle of readers but I so long for more.

I’m trying to be realistic too, as the pandemic is far from over and it will take some time to get back up to speed. No doubt there still will be some bad days ahead. (Sundays, with no help, is a particularly challenging day, especially when the weather is cold or rainy.) But all in all more time to build back better, as our current President says. March is more lamb than lion, whatever it brings. Here’s to better days ahead.

A Birthday Poem

A poem for My Dad and Aunts

On their 282nd Birthday Together 

And now for some really good news,

which after this past year we sure could use.

Joe, Minna and Betty are 14 and four score,

Hard to believe that you’re now 94!

Although if anyone has any doubt

The Guinness Book of Records bears it out:

Oldest living triplets (mixed) lists each name

A singular/triplicate claim to fame.

Although each unique and distinct in your path, 

You share wit and wisdom (and in Joe’s case, math)

Among the talents you have in reams

A combination of innate skill and genes.

From the Rockaways with the ocean to view

Then up to the Bronx on Sedgwick Avenue

With big sister Adelaide you were the happy four

With parents, aunts and uncles to adore

Then to upper Broadway you did dwell

Till beaus came courting the kids of Dave and Belle

Harold for Addie, Milt for Bet,

Dick for Minna, how lucky could you get?

Eventually Joe and Fay did meet,

Four loving unions were now complete.

Each finding a partner to mate with for life

With love and contentment and minimum strife.

Each triplet had three kids for a total of nine,

Each was loved and adored and turned out fine.

With Addie’s 7, there were 16 cousins,

With uncles and aunts the total was dozens 

For bar mitzvahs and other celebrations

The parties had a big population.

The family continued to expand

With new generations great and grand.

Although you live in different states,

Most years you’d gather to celebrate

In person on the day of your birth.


You’re not alone, for what it’s worth

In this year being joined via Zoom,

With siblings and children each in their own room.

And without beloved spouses Dick and Fay

Or Addie & Harold to herald the day.

It’s still an occasion to celebrate

Three amazing people we think are great.

282 years in combination

Happy birthday to you, with love and adoration.

❤️ Joan

With thanks to my niece Melanie (poem) and cousin Ted and brother Eric & sister Sue (photos) for their input.

….

When Ease is Hard

Ease:

The state of being comfortable: such as

a : freedom from pain or discomfort

b : freedom from care

c : freedom from labor or difficulty

d : freedom from embarrassment or constraint :
e : an easy fit

Among the qualities I try to cultivate in my morning meditation is ease of well-being, which is a term I’ve struggled to really understand. What exactly does ease look like on any given day? How do I maintain it in the midst of full-on quarantine since V was exposed to someone with Covid last week at school, in the midst and aftermath of another snowstorm? How do I keep my cool and humor and a sense of comfort as I face V’s boredom and frustration and let’s face it, my own?

We did a Covid home test, which was delayed arriving due to severe weather in the south and was delayed getting back to the lab because of severe weather in the northeast. There are millions of people without power so I stop to acknowledge that I’m in a warm dry house with plenty of food and the means to store and prepare it. We’ve had our share of power outages and I’m appreciative that we don’t have one, at least yet. I stop and wish for the safety and comfort of others.

The test results just came back – negative! A huge relief; home therapists are allowed back in the house although no school, according to CDC guidelines, until Friday, and another week until we start in with a teaching aide who will be coming to the home two mornings a week. It’s a delay to the light I was starting to get a glimmer of at the end of this Covid tunnel that has constrained us for nearly a year. There is no way around the fact that it sucks and I’m going to have to be especially resilient to cultivate ease.

And joy, which is right outside the door. I take Ruby out – she loves the snow and regains some of her youthful demeanor, prancing about with a wagging tale until we are back home and she has to be carried up the stairs she can no longer manage, old girl once again. I too feel younger in the snow, enraptured by the silence and early morning light that makes the streetscape so enchanting. For a few minutes we might both be 8 years old, filled with childish energy and delight.

Back inside there is coffee and a full fridge thanks to online shopping. I am grateful for everything I can do on my phone, ordering groceries and takeout and with a love/hate relationship, purchases from Amazon to help get through the winter: A SAD lamp, a heating pad for my back, the percolator that makes the coffee, the snow boots we wear when we venture out. Much as I want to shop local and support small businesses, I opt for ease. It’s not like I’m heartless or extravagant, flying off to Cancun, I’m just seeking comfort to weather these storms.

By late afternoon I’m spent. Still, the days continue to get longer. Within a few months I will replace photos of snow with pictures of crocuses, then eventually magnolias and cherry blossoms.  My silent morning walks will be filled with birdsongs. We will round a full year with this god awful virus.  Things will ease up eventually. For now, May we all have ease of well being, as best we can.

If I could tell you…

If I could Tell you

By W. H. Auden

Time will say nothing but I told you so,

Time only knows the price we have to pay;

If I could tell you I would let you know.

If we should weep when clowns put on their show,

If we should stumble when musicians play,

Time will say nothing but I told you so.

There are no fortunes to be told, although,

Because I love you more than I can say,

If I could tell you I would let you know.

The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,

There must be reasons why the leaves decay;

Time will say nothing but I told you so.

Perhaps the roses really want to grow,

The vision seriously intends to stay;

If I could tell you I would let you know.

Suppose the lions all get up and go,

And all the brooks and soldiers run away;

Will Time say nothing but I told you so?

If I could tell you I would let you know.

Auden wrote this villanelle, one of my favorite poems from one of my favorite poets, when he was living in NYC in late 1940 and the future in his native England – and all of Europe – looked bleak, with the German bombing campaign (the blitz) of Great Britain beginning in September of that year. He felt that civilization itself was under threat and a sense of uncertainty about the future, sentiments that resonate today, between the global pandemic and closer to home, the horrors conveyed during the current impeachment trial.

It is in these uncertain times that V turned 20 on Tuesday, February 9th, and I am no longer the mother of teens. Like many a momentous day it was at the same time altogether ordinary, Tuesday being not so different from Monday or Wednesday, the way the past year with all its constraints has rendered a sameness over the days with slight gradations based on sleep, mood, food and weather. Still, we celebrated as best we could, lighting candles on a beautiful delicious birthday cake courtesy of B, who was home to help us celebrate the occasion; his presence was the biggest gift of all.

2020 and 1940 had much in common, the world faced unfamiliar terrifying threats to our safety, to any sense of security that we took for granted in previous years. The videos shown at the impeachment hearing are so horrifying as were the photos taken of the blitz, which lasted into 1941. It’s hard to live in uncertainty at any age but especially for young adults like B just starting their lives. I wish I could tell him and the millions of others in his shoes when things will improve. If I could tell you I would let you know. But I know nothing, an admission that is at once anxiety-producing and liberating.

As for V, he has his own challenges from the past year. While oft cited research shows that parents of teens with autism have the stress level of combat soldiers, three days past teenhood it is not as if that stress level vanishes. The role and responsibility of being a caregiver if anything only gets more pressing as V gets older, especially with the past year of regression and trauma rather than the progress we had hoped for if he had access to a full week of school and internships and all the efforts to increase independence and prepare for adulthood. And for B, like his typical peers in their early twenties, what a lousy world they have to navigate on their own path, the far more welcoming entry to adulthood that would have greeted him just a few years prior instead replaced with a tanking economy, a bleak job market, an altogether uncertain future.

I turn to poetry because it is a way to process and make sense of the world without the limitations of a linear narrative, one with grim statistics and facts that make it hard to break through reality and imagine a bright future or welcome surprises. It is a reminder that uncertainty is a constant and we cannot know how we will see this time years from now, that things like post-traumatic growth and gifts might be revealed in ways we cannot yet know. As Pema Chodron says, “the truth you believe in and cling to makes you unavailable to hear anything else.” So I try not to cling.

Auden lived most of his adult life in New York: an immigrant, a gay man, a poet, his otherness a challenge offset by the ways being an outlier can enable one to see truths that others are too close to or closed off from to recognize.  He acknowledged and embraced the mysteries of life in a way that I have to work on everyday.   The fact that V is somehow 20 and I am 60 is still hard to wrap my head around.  We both seem somehow much younger and yet there is no denying the passage of time, and that it will say nothing but I told you so in ways I will have to wait to discover with a faith I have to conjure anew each day. 

Snow through the Ages

I love the childlike excitement a snowstorm elicits as I watch it from my window. Big fat flakes blowing wildly, framed by arching branches of an evergreen. I love the giddy feeling in my gut before the reality of adulthood kicks in… The sidewalk and driveway that T will shovel in shifts between sharing in the care of V, teenaged for but one more week, and Ruby, the beloved decrepit family pet who is 98 in dog years. This is not quite the sandwich generation as it is commonly defined: people in their 30’s to 40’s with young children and aging parents to care for (I’m blessed that my 93 year old father is in great shape) but a variant of a high needs household. Call it a pandemic panini.

In dreams begin responsibilities, so goes a line from a Yeats poem that is the title of Delmore Schwartz’s best known short story, a near perfect seven page tale of love and regret. [https://ir.uiowa.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=7500&context=iowareview] Conversely, with responsibilities dreams can languish, laying dormant for long periods of time. Yet they still remain alive inside of us. People withstand things all the time, it is a current that runs through the course of history; we go from victim to protagonist once our stories are told, a player on that great stage Shakespeare and thousands of others have portrayed so well, for in our stories come dignity. Snow slows everything down to a pace and place where I feel there’s still time to catch up.

It is after 9 and V is still asleep on the morning of the snowstorm. T has already taken Ruby out, carrying her down the steps as we need to do now, but once she is on firm ground all the problems of the past year – her bad knee, joints, and balance – vanish as she prances in the snow, dashing with a speed she has not shown for awhile. It is hard to remember there was a time when her excitement and curiosity would practically pull me down the street, that there were years when V, Ruby and I all could go at relatively the same pace. V still says, “Walk Ruby” when he wants to go out for a stroll.

Lately that has been a challenge. Since he refuses to zip up his jacket he needs to put on layers in the right order: shirt, sweatshirt, jacket, and an anorak ( a pullover down sweater of sorts) on top to hold it all together. He needs his favorite crocs hidden so he’ll wear the boots, and sweatpants he hopefully won’t roll up to his knees. Then there is the issue of refusing to wear gloves – not as limiting as the refusal to wear a mask, but a close second in winter time – which may limit our walk given the temperature and how soon his hands will get unbearably cold. But once he is out, like Ruby, his joy is palpable. What they lack in verbal skills they make up for in their keen sense of their outside surroundings.

Mostly we stay inside. V has become screen averse: no iPad or TV or even a sound box. So we spend hours singing, songs from a range of genres and generations. Music emerges from a different part of the brain than speech so like an older person with cognitive challenges, V can access a whole world of familiar tunes. We sing and cook and eat and repeat. V’s new sleep medication, which has slowed him down while increasing his appetite, has resulted in a weight gain that makes him not skinny for the first time since he was a toddler. He’s not heavy, just a bit rounder and softer, no longer the angular teen he long had been.

Ruby on the other hand eats more than ever yet has lost weight in the way at life’s end many beings waste away. Yet her spirit remains strong, her hound dog snout as sharp as ever. V has music, she has scents. Both aroused by the senses most dear to them, their singular talents that keep them firmly in this world. Together we sit safe and dry on a blustery snowy day.

A Shot in the Arm

Getting appointments for vaccines this week felt like holding the golden ticket in Willy Wonka.

After weeks of making calls to nearby vaccination sites and days of busy signals and being on hold, T called a nearby health clinic to complain that he kept on getting cut off after hearing he was number 58 in line, number 42…27..14…2 and then disconnected each time when he was next in line.  I was surprised when he actually got through to a human as they’d been so scarce. But a woman, who turned out to be the clinic’s compliance officer, apologized and said that they were overwhelmed with calls so people were being disconnected when they were next in line. She asked for his number and said someone would follow up. 

“No one will call you back,” I said, and he agreed I probably was right but it was good to lodge a complaint anyway, maybe it would help someone else. So I was shocked when someone not only called back but said that they would schedule our appointments. And so T went in on Wednesday and I on Friday for that sought after shot in the arm.  I feel very lucky to have only a sore arm to show for it and 4 weeks till the next shot and another couple of weeks until full immunity.

And grateful to the lady on the phone and the other staff at the health clinic in Newark who didn’t seem to lose their cool with two packed waiting rooms.  Those rooms reflected so clearly the problems I’ve been reading about in terms of who is getting vaccines. Working class people of color waiting to see doctors and middle class older white people waiting for vaccinations. Since 70% of Black people think they are treated unfairly based on race when they get medical care, a majority remain leary of healthcare in general and COVID-19 vaccines in particular. 

Between the millions of skeptics and millions more trying to make appointments, let alone the vast numbers not eligible yet, public health officials’ estimates for when we will get everyone vaccinated range from the end of this year to the summer of 2022.

Still, with all the roadblocks and challenges I feel like there’s a glimmer of light I can glimpse at the end of this very long pandemic tunnel, that there is a time in the future when schools will be open every day and we have a fully functioning government and even hugs will be safe again. 

On the short trip home we stop at a favorite Vietnamese restaurant along the way, pho for T, chicken for V and I get summer rolls, a perfect foil to a bone chilling January day. I’m glad the little spot has survived. (The new menu with higher prices is hopefully helping them get through a pandemic that has been anathema to so many small businesses.)  The food is so good although I miss the ambiance of the place: customers filling up the tables crammed next to each other, steam rising from soup bowls, the chatter of strangers.


Sometime soon we will eat together, we will be close and touch, staying cautious but not with this level of fear and mistrust. The sore arm is everything right now, a sign of progress, and I’m thankful for the human contact that made it possible.

Grown ups in the House

What a week! Inauguration Day I was filled with excitement and terror, like waiting in line to get on a roller coaster. Could the events of January 6th impact those of January 20th, the day most of us had looked forward to through the dark final months of the last administration?

Yet it went through without a hitch, with soaring speeches and profound poetry, beautiful coats and one pair of viral mittens courtesy of Bernie Sanders. It was brief, fiercely guarded, terrifically inspired, breaking with ceremony and yet ceremonious all the same. For that short glorious stretch of time fear dissipated at the hate and violence of the previous weeks. Finally out with the old and odious and in with competence and decency – far from perfect but infinitely better. We exhaled as one. 

The results of a complete lack of leadership was felt in the aftermath, both nationally as the new administration quickly got to work and at home, as we continued to reel from unbearable incompetence. We received notice that in-person school was once again being cancelled for the next two weeks due to the coronavirus. As our teachers and health care workers and elders and hundreds of thousands more get vaccinated, the pandemic still rages. We’re eligible for vaccines as caregivers but there are no spots available at any site in the state and so we must wait for who knows how long. We’re hoping for better from the new regime, but they have so much neglect to compensate for it may take awhile.

I still kept an appointment to have four cavities filled on Thursday, the type of thing I usual schedule around V’s school schedule. There’s a link between the strain of the past year and my dental problems. When the body is under stress, it produces more of the hormone cortisol, which acts as an anti-inflammatory agent. When cortisol is produced in the gums, it stimulates cells to produce more proteins, simultaneously increasing inflammation and the progression of periodontal disease. Yes, I’ve been taking good care of my teeth as best I can so yes, I hold the outgoing President partially responsible for the terrible state of my mouth as well as the state of the nation. I hold him accountable for so much damage personally and politically. My teeth are a metaphor, decaying from the impact of hubris and inaptitude.

And healing quickly, as are we all. Just watching a press briefing, reading the news feels markedly different these past few days. I feel like there are grown ups in charge, competent people working for a decent man who actually knows how the government functions, about democracy and a free press. The press secretary doesn’t evade every question or respond with animus; the President is not bullying or communicating solely through Twitter; I imagine the TV is not on but he is sitting at a desk having civilized conversations where people share information based on facts and staff listen and make well-educated suggestions.

Things will get worse before they get better we hear and that leaves me with dread and hope all at once. I’m so burnt out from school closures, from the long winter as mild as it’s been.  The temperature has dropped and will remain so all week, a week with no structure and as much as I know we are not alone in this it is a lonely feeling that remains.

Yet each week the days get incrementally longer and I welcome the tiny slivers of light that stretch past five o’clock. At the dentist office a TV plays in the lobby and someone says, “and now the President will speak” and I reflexively turn away before remembering that there is a new person in charge and his command of the situation and the mess he inherited is reassuring. He will do something about the mounting deaths and the long waiting lists and everything else that makes this time so dark. Suck it up, I tell myself, better days are ahead.

600 Miles

With V back to school after a month off I go for a rare walk without racing after him or slowing down for Ruby, for once going at my own pace. Relatively balmy weather for December and January thus far means we still have our walking routine: 1-3 walks everyday to the park and back, 30-40 minutes and 1 ½ miles each. With an average of 14 walks a week, we’ve walked over 600 miles since life in the time of Covid.

We didn’t need a pandemic to be all- weather walkers. Except for bitter cold days or heavy precipitation we are outside; we walk in drizzle and through flurries and because V refuses to zip his jacket, an extra layer of a down sweater on top. There’s no bad weather just bad clothes, as the saying goes and so I invest in new boots and jacket for V and me (T already has super warm gear) to help get through the winter.

I’ve always been a walker but there’s such a difference between city walking – usually involving going somewhere – and suburban walking, which for us is simply a way to get outside, exercise and break up long days at home. I remember discovering the word “walkability” during my fantasy searches of houses in warmer climates, where walking in the winter would not involve so many layers and planning, where we could just throw on some clothes and walk out the door. While I love my neighborhood, a diverse, friendly mix of big and modest houses, almost all old, there are few places to walk to, save a small strip of stores and restaurants and a bodega a block away.

We go on the same walk every day because of that bodega, which used to be part of our old walking routine, involving stopping in with two quarters and buying a small bag of chips on our way to the other nearby park. V has been going there since he was a little boy and the nice people behind the counter all called him papi. There’s new management now, who are begrudgingly tolerant, either because they are less friendly or the fact that as V has gotten older the expectations are different for how he should be able to act.

That V won’t keep on a mask has changed everything: no more trips to Costco or Shoprite or even the little bodega, where if he would just keep the mask on for a few minutes he could have his snack. He does not understand the safety concerns, it is a sensory issue he shares with many other kids with special needs who cannot tolerate anything on their face. There is no political defiance, simply a resistance to anything restrictive.

I love walking yet grow weary of the same route and so I try to channel Ruby, who has the same walks everyday and finds them endlessly fascinating because she is a hound dog ruled by scent and there is always something new to smell, some other animal that has passed and can be noticed with her always poised snout. My nose is not as talented so I rely more on my vision, both visual and mental. I humanize the houses, which like old people fall into a few general categories: those with recent face lifts or upgrades: neatly paved drives and insulated windows and solar panels; those in disrepair that could use some work; the rest showing their age but holding up fairly well. The houses take on lives of their own as I observe all the differences, the change that is a constant: the neighbors who move out of state and the recent arrivals who paint the house a new color to claim it as their own; the empty nesters who downsize, replaced by young families who move in and install swing sets and trampolines.

I rarely see any of them this time of year although they may see us: those with dogs or who go for runs or who look out their windows while they are stuck home all day. Whether they know V has autism or not they must figure there is some reason the lanky teenage boy is always walking with an older person, if they notice us at all. We are your neighbors, I would tell them, the constant walkers, tracing the same steps again and again, day after day, week after week. Sunshine or clouds, hot and humid or frigid cold, you will see us going by, to the park and back, again and again. Over 600 miles and counting, we walk and take in the world, one step at a time.