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Empty Nest Syndrome Is A Thing. How Do We Cope?Marybeth Bock, MPH
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.
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