Charity’s column: When COVID came for Mother’s Day

The novel coronavirus derailed the two-week Chinese Lunar New Year, shut down Easter and Passover, and cast a shadow on the month-long celebration of Ramadan. But when the virus went and steam-rolled Mother’s Day, that was the final straw.

The war against COVID-19 will be won by armies of mothers. Mothers invented handwashing.

Even a common virus can ruin a mother’s day. When my son came down with chicken pox, my rational self knew that he would be O.K., but he looked so awful I had to stop myself from screaming.

It took a week for the funny, tousled fellow who would not be separated from his stuffed dolphin to get back to normal. I watched and worried, and reminded him not to scratch. And then his little brother got it.

The pandemic did not ruin everyone’s Mother’s Day. Shelter Island mother Joanne Sherman couldn’t get home from her annual winter sojourn to Florida, but fortunately she was stuck with family, so it was all good. Still in St. Augustine, Joanne and Hoot Sherman’s RV is parked in their son Matt’s backyard.

For the first Mother’s Day in years, Joanne was with one of her sons, a daughter-in-law and two grandchildren. Her son Scott called in from Somalia. “I don’t know what is planned for the moms in residence here,” Joanne said, “but I’m pretty sure there will be cake!”

Kiki Boucher was planning to have upwards of 140 guests for breakfast on Mother’s Day before coronavirus changed everything. The breakfast she planned to host was meant as a day-after celebration of the marriage of her son, Alex Shipper, to Nicole Thurlow, scheduled for Saturday afternoon.

Alex and Nicole got engaged over a year ago, and have been planning their Shelter Island nuptials ever since, including a rehearsal dinner at Isola, an afternoon wedding and reception at the Boat House, and a honeymoon cruise from Bali to Australia.

The first sign of trouble came when the cruise company, concerned about the quickly-spreading disease, canceled the trip and offered a full refund without the option of rescheduling.

Kiki’s older son Philip was coming from Colorado to stand beside his brother as best man. Instead of celebrating on Mother’s Day with her sons, Kiki exchanged phone calls and videos, including one in which Philip and his family turned disappointment into fun by conducting a full-dress rehearsal in their backyard with his children, (the ring-bearer, and flower girl) attended by all their stuffed animals seated in lawn chairs.

It takes more than a rampant virus to throw mothers off their stride. If I can learn to make a mask out of a tea towel and a bathing suit, and a delicious salad from a very old cabbage, I can certainly figure out how to celebrate Mother’s Day without my children.

This year, I deployed a robust call-in system that made me feel like I was covering the phones for a public radio pledge drive, “Hi! Yes! So good! Thank you! Another call is coming in … bye!”

My mother always calls me on Mother’s Day because, “I don’t celebrate it, but I know you do.” Inspired by the hygiene necessary to beat the virus, she cheered me up with the first stanzas of a poem she’s working on:

O Lancelot and Guinevere

Let all who will join us now hear

How you betrayed Arthur, your noble king

By not practicing social distancing.

And Romeo and Juliet,

Famed Montague and Capulet,

Had you but ignored love’s wicked sting

And practiced social distancing!

She had just planted five large geraniums outside on her apartment balcony, and was getting ready to eat some cake.

We didn’t have cake, but my husband grilled a delicious steak, and did the dishes, so it was like eating in a restaurant, without the mental strain of calculating a tip, and wondering how much butter had been ladled onto that baked potato.

I admit I could not stop thinking about viruses on this particular Mother’s Day. Now my son with the stuffed dolphin works in a warehouse with 100 other people. Everyone has to clear a temperature check before coming to work.

He wears a mask and gloves and a team scurries around disinfecting everything in sight. He avoids talking to his co-workers and tries not to have any group meetings. And he can’t come to see me without a two-week quarantine first.

With maternal care, kids survive chicken pox, and stomach flu, and worse. And although none of us will be truly unscathed, they will survive this pandemic, and get on with their lives. Knowing that is the best Mother’s Day gift of all.