LONDON (AP) – “Across the pond …”
The arch phrase describing the Atlantic has long been a joke inside for those who regularly limp over the untamed expanse. It implied that an ocean known for centuries to swing dashing schooners on jagged coasts, gobble up the Titanic, abandon armies of fishing widows, and bear devastating hurricanes every year was no problem for those with tires on both sides.
That has changed.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, the Atlantic is once again a real living ocean, a barrier thousands of miles across for a London reporter with a mother, three children, two grandchildren and dozens of relatives on the other side.
What I’ve been denying for years, aided by FaceTime and frequent flights to all parts of the United States, is now staring at me in the face: I’m too far away.
This awareness took months. In January I focused on Britain’s departure from the European Union. In February, when Italy discovered its coronavirus outbreak, I was on a Caribbean family vacation. I did not know that these would be the last family hugs indefinitely.
By the time we became fully aware of the danger, my husband was in South Africa for a month long hike that was canceled on the day of arrival. When the borders closed, it took him a week to get home, then 14 days in quarantine.
It has always been COVID-19 at work, so I know how lucky I am. My mother died alone and was not tested in an Italian nursing home. No grandchildren have been hospitalized for a mysterious inflammatory disease. I did not lose my job overnight because millions of people were out of work. I can work from home even though my husband grumbles about it.
But that ocean. The list of life events that have been missed over that damn ocean is mushrooming.
We couldn’t help my stepdaughter in Chicago when her husband came up with COVID-19, just as our 5-month-old granddaughter quit sleeping at night. Then she became symptomatic herself. We wanted to calm a grumpy baby, cook some meals, feel useful.
“You don’t come home in my life,” said my mother last year. I said she would turn 100. But COVID-19 doesn’t care if you’re the sportiest 84-year-old in Rochester, NY
I didn’t go to my first college reunion in 20 years or organize a mom birthday party. We didn’t babysit Chicago to give the new parents an anniversary trip. We didn’t take Amtrak across the country to visit Glacier National Park or host a rehearsal dinner for my stepson’s wedding in Montana. The wedding has been canceled. Last weekend we received a Facebook notification that he was married.
Now I stare out the window as my British neighbors chat 8 feet apart, with relatives outside. Or if their children, the same age as my grandson, color the driveway with chalk.
I flew over that ocean five times a year and got rid of the jet lag. Don’t tell British Airways, but I’d pay millions now to fly on that flight from London to Denver, which flies over Greenland, Hudson Bay and the vast Canadian tundra. The last time the sunlight was so beautiful, I took a 15 minute video of the Greenland glacier and sent it to our film team.
If the stars were aligned, I could work early in London, fly to Ottawa, and be with mom in New York for late dinner.
What am I going to do now? A second potential coronavirus wave is looming this fall across all Atlantic plans: grandchildren’s birthdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’ve already scheduled a flight home twice this summer, but the Canadian border I have to cross isn’t open.
So send me advice. I’m listening. I would hate Mommy to be good at this.
Virus Diary, an incidental feature, shows the coronavirus pandemic through the eyes of Associated Press journalists around the world. See previous entries here. Follow AP Assistant Europe Editor Sheila Norman-Culp on Twitter at http://twitter.com/snormanculp
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