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When Pandemic Life Gives You Lemons, You Take Them

Shari Bender


As I made my way onto the entrance ramp of the expressway, I was greeted by a giant LED reminder COVID IS STILL A RISK. WEAR A MASK.

I did a quick glance to double check that my mask was tied around the gear shift. Of course I have my emergency disposable masks in the glove compartment, but when headed to a public place — today’s destination, supermarket — I prefer a cloth mask to put my best (albeit covered) face forward.

I chose my black monogrammed “S” mask. “S” officially stands for “Shari,” my name, of course. But unofficially it stands for “Stay away.” I dodge people in the supermarket like a 12-year-old Frogger phenom from the 90’s.

I used to linger in the supermarket, contemplating the selection of olive oils with a keen eye. Virgin, Extra Virgin, Extra Extra Virgin. Plastic container or glass container? Imported from Italy or domestic? Now if I see something remotely resembling what I’m looking for I grab it.

Orange juice? Got it. Get it home and realize it is fortified with calcium and extra pulp. Good for my bones and leaving a furry film on my teeth after my morning glass.

Half-and-half? Put it right in the cart. At home I see it is fat-free. I’m not sure how that is even possible. Now my first cup of coffee barely turns a lighter shade of black despite pouring in double the amount of half-and-half I usually use.

Bag of tangerines. Yum! From the car ride to my house these tangerines have somehow turned into mandarin oranges and a handful are rotting and have dripped through the mesh bag.

Gone are the pre-pandemic days where I would select my fruit with care and consideration of shape, texture and smell, and return those to the pile that didn’t meet my fruit standards after a gentle squeeze. Now I take whatever fruit is closest — skinny, fat and all shades. When pandemic life gives you lemons, you take them.

I enter the cleaning aisle with low expectations. And then from the corner of my eye I see it — light from overhead casts a glow upon the yellow and white like it was heaven sent. A new shipment of disinfectant wipes! Limit 2. Tears of happiness well up inside my fogged glasses. I grab them and hug those cylindrical containers like long-lost friends.

I head into the drug store aisle to get a box of root touch up. I’ve been dying my hair at home during the pandemic and my greys are showing faster than ever. Medium brown? Medium golden brown?

I take both so I can obsess at home and compare in various lighting what matches best. I’ve also discovered root spray, a magical aerosol can filled with washable paint that covers roots. I have the powdered stuff too at home. No need to linger by the hair products. I make a mad dash for the final aisle which features a healthy assortment of alternative snacks for my at-home, always hungry teenage boy. The vegan section is stocked, and I fill my cart with frozen Chikn and ponder the absurdity of meatless meatballs, yet take two packs anyway.

Beneath my mask, I smile at the cashier, hoping she can see the warmth and appreciation for her essential work.

Outside, I hastily remove the mask from one ear and leave it dangling off the other. Groceries are loaded into the car, cart returned to Return Cart Here, and I give myself a generous squeeze of hand sanitizer, rubbing it all in so as not to waste a drop.

Once at home, I head to the sink. “Happy Birthday!” my almost 19-year-old son says with an enthusiastic grin. I’m wary because my birthday is four months from now.

I turn on the water. “Happy Birthday!” he says again, this time louder. I give him the side eye. My lathering looks like I’m giving the kitchen sink a bubble bath. Then I remember — how many times in the past five months have I literally sang Happy Birthday — the tune that measures the appropriate amount of handwashing time — when my son washed his hands after coming in from the outside world?

I laugh. And I start singing. Happy Birthday to me.

Photo courtesy of the author.

Shari earned her BA in Communication from Stanford University in 1992 and currently works as Communication and Marketing Director for a large electrical firm on Long Island. Shari is a cat-loving spiritual vegan who is embracing her empty-nesting along with her husband of 27 years. Her musings delight parents on multiple online platforms, including Grown & Flown and CollegiateParent.
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