The year still has a couple of weeks to go, so this may not be quite the most logical time to consider it in hindsight. However, if I’m to create the annual — or, in my case, “annual-if-I-ever-get-around-to-it” — holiday letter before Santa Claus squeezes down the chimney we don’t have … there’s no time like the present.
For my family — as, I believe, for most of humankind — the year actually began not on January 1, but in mid-March, when the plague (aka COVID-19) suddenly eclipsed all other earthly concerns and established itself as practically the only thing people could think and talk about.
My wife Sandra and I had for some time been planning a trip to Michigan and the East Coast when the Great Cancellation Tsunami hit, triggering the Stay-At-Home-And-See-If-You-Can-Keep-Your-Children’s-And-Pets’-Names-Straight game, of which the nation is now in the 99th scoreless inning.
We’d been expecting both to see our Eastern kids — Naomi and Adam and their families (plus several cousins) — and to attend a March 28 dinner in New York City to honor my friend Henry Harutunian following his retirement after a record-setting 49 years as coach of Yale University’s varsity fencing teams.
The plague pulled the rug out from under our trip. Our flying carpet was grounded, and not only for the March trip, but also for a second trip — to Washington, D.C. — that we’d been planning so we could attend our grandson Jonah’s bar mitzvah on May 16. So rather than fly in on a rug, we Zoomed in electronically to the festivities, whose plans our kids (Jonah’s parents, Jodi and Adam) had been obliged to drastically revise and downsize. However, as you will read in the link just above, the bar mitzvah turned out beautifully. Still, we’d much rather have been there to exchange hugs in person.
Similarly, the canceled March dinner for Henry also turned into a Zoom celebration, held in October, nearly seven months late.
Lest you conclude that 2020 was defined for us primarily by two major plague-disrupted events, the year was one that our family survived in many ways far more fortunately than so many others — and for that we are enormously grateful.
Sandra, Melissa, Julian & Amarie (7)
2020 transformed Sandra’s life. She began it as a “mere” grandma, spending quite a bit of time with Amarie, our youngest grandchild, and also putting her extensive pedagogical experience to work as a volunteer at Amarie’s charter school, tutoring kindergarteners and first- and second-graders who were lagging behind their classmates.
The picture propped up on the piano is something Amarie drew earlier this year as part of a class project to thank the first responders to our local wildfires. Too bad it’s not a closeup, because Amarie’s picture won second prize from all the art submitted by all the students in her school, up through and including 6th grade. (Amarie is in 2nd grade.)
But with in-school learning shut down locally since mid-March, Sandra made the transition from simple grandma to grandma-plus-teacher’s aide, helping Amarie with Zoom learning at home and, after “school,” keeping her entertained while her mom, Melissa, was going through her own remote-learning transition. As both an instructor and the assistant director of the psychiatric nursing program at Santa Rosa Junior College, Melissa had to turn on a dime and figure out how to teach nursing remotely — no small challenge supervising “clinical practice” from home with an active seven-year-old in the house. While the trials of 2020 were not in Sandra’s original “grandma contract,” her presence every weekday has kept Melissa’s thin line between sanity and insanity largely intact.
Julian, our son-in-law, continued work as a senior staff member at one of the local psychiatric hospitals, where stress levels keep rising. Fortunately, he was able to take four days off in a row to decompress a little over the Thanksgiving weekend. Sandra and I joined the three of them at their house for a lovely — and delicious — time on T-Day.
Also fortunately, Julian’s work keeps him generally isolated from patients at his facility, and in contact only with other staff members. Everyone there keeps scrupulously distanced, wears masks, washes hands religiously, and has their temperature checked at least twice a day. And to date, there has been not a single case of COVID at the facility. We’re all keeping our fingers tightly crossed.
We also had another couple of wildfire scares, one in August and another in September-October. Fortunately, although we had our bags packed in preparation for evacuation and we’d put a few irreplaceable things into our remote storage unit, neither fire swept into our neighborhood.
Adam, Jodi, Jonah (13) & Sophia (10)
From across the continent, we witnessed a couple of big events at “Jodam’s” house just outside Washington, D.C. The first was grandson Jonah’s bar mitzvah in May. The next took place just this past Thursday when Jodi, our daughter-in-law, a remarkable attorney specializing in electronic health care technology issues, was honored by the Financial Times as one of North America’s 10 most innovative lawyers! “Thanks” to COVID, I managed to catch the awards ceremony online. It would ordinarily have been the sort of black-tie event in New York that I’d have missed because I own neither a black tie nor the fancy duds to go with it. Mazel tov, Jodi!
Jodi (bottom row at left) together with the nine other most innovative lawyers in North America
Adam continues to enjoy his high-tech work (please don’t ask me to explain it). Both he and Jodi, like their kids, are working from home — a model four-computer/remote family!
Jodam and kids
Jodi and Adam, this fall in the Blue Ridge Mountains
Sophia loves to dance
Actually, Jonah and Sophia are now mostly studying from home (there were a few carefully distanced outdoor classes this fall, and there are now twice-weekly at-school days with loads of precautions including weekly testing), and their private Jewish “day school” has beautifully organized remote learning so that both of these well-motivated grandkids are thriving academically in spite of the plague. Among their other interests, Jonah has made great strides on the piano this year, and Sophia’s writing has caught the eye of her teacher.
Naomi, Nathan (11) & Lucas (9)
Naomi is working from home also (in Ann Arbor, Michigan), while juggling Nathan and Lucas’s 100% homeschooling to boot. Her flexible work schedule makes that a little bit easier. So does their dog, Dandy, an excellent work and homeschool companion.
Naomi with Nathan (left) and Lucas, this spring
With COVID having closed all the pools, Naomi and the boys found an even better summer recreation alternative — a lake and campground to which Naomi’s boyfriend, Clarke, introduced them. There, Nathan and Lucas enjoyed jumping and diving off a wooden raft some distance from shore. They even got Dandy, initially reluctant to get in the water, to swim out to the raft with them.
Naomi and Clarke with Nathan, near the lake
Nathan learned to handle a rowboat, and Lucas took up paddleboarding, which he just loves. One of the other attractions was the chance to do some supervised demolition on the property — dismantling some decaying picnic tables and benches. The kids went at it with a vengeance, ripping the planks apart and chopping up the wood with an ax.
Lucas, with a smile that will never be quite the same
Other memorable summertime events — Nathan broke his leg while jumping on a trampoline. (It’s now well mended.) He also grew “scorpion peppers,” reputed to be among the world’s hottest. Lucas tried them and claimed — as he likes to do when confronting culinary heat, even as his face belies his words — that they didn’t really live up to their fiery reputation. Lucas is not 100% macho man however — he’s also been doing a lot of drawing.
Naomi has her own consulting business, Lumen Ideaworks, specializing in UX — user experience strategy, research and design. She’s worked on some interesting projects this year including several for powerhouse clients, and with those wrapping up is keeping her eye out for new clients in 2021 (www.lumenideaworks.com, https://www.linkedin.com/in/naomi-daniel-a165b06). Sandra often says she wishes she could clone herself and be able to lend grandma support to Naomi as well as Melissa. If only …!
Counting Our Blessings
We’re counting our blessings. Like Melissa’s family, Adam and Naomi’s also remain healthy in the midst of this plague. Sandra and I have kept clear of the virus too. We are eagerly awaiting the newly developed anti-COVID vaccines, which we dearly hope will allow us to get back on that flying carpet and go see our Eastern kids and grandkids again in 2021. The last time we saw them in person was at Thanksgiving 2019 at Adam and Jodi’s home, a celebration that also included Naomi and Clarke. So a real visit is long overdue!
Let me conclude with a few words about the activity that generally keeps me out of trouble — Pen-for-Rent, my writing-and-editing work. In a year when the plague has thrown a monkey wrench into the workings of the national and global economies, causing billions around the world to lose much or all of their livelihoods, my work has been largely unaffected. I’m gratified to have seen some results from my efforts to widen my network, picking up several new clients.
And I’ve reached or nearly reached the successful conclusion of two major projects — (1) the pro bono editing of the book of memories of my friend Henry Harutunian’s half century of fencing alumni (completed shortly before COVID shut everything down) and (2) the near completion of a book I’ve been editing, on and off, for some time — a compilation of the thoughts and writings of a longtime client, Dr. Richard Kelley, a widely revered captain of industry who is probably the single most significant figure in the growth and development of Hawaii’s visitor industry.
So as I look back on 2020, it looks as if my family and I have been lucky to dodge a very worrisome bullet. Hallelujah!