Originally published in Thrive Global on May 24th, 2020.
As a veteran television news reporter, I consider myself a pretty rugged gal. I covered 9-11, the London Bombings, Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy, and thousands of other horrific crime stories a la Law and Order. In other words, it’s tough to ruffle my feathers.
These days, I am a wife, mother of three, and full-time, start-up co-founder. It’s still pretty tough to rattle my cage. And then came Corona.
There really are no words to describe what has happened in the past few months. Glued to our televisions, we’ve watched perfectly healthy news anchors describe life-threatening battles with Covid-19, while the daily death toll ticks away on the right hand side of the screen. Even my doctor friends are struggling to understand the glut of conflicting information with regards to the disease itself, antibody testing and its efficacy, vaccine progress and timelines, and what all of this information will mean over time as states get “back to business” and potentially face yet another wave of the pandemic.
For those of us not on the front lines, this new stay-at-home, work-from-home, school-from-home reality has been particularly mind-bending. My children, like millions of others, are no longer actually in school. Fortunately, they are excelling at other important life skills, like Roblox, Fortnite, and that billion dollar dancing thing, TikTok. (Kidding aside, their teachers are absolute saints for Zooming around all day, weary children stacked up like an under-groomed Brady Bunch, doing their absolute best to mimic normalcy, teach Latin, and keep those kids upbeat and engaged). Yet in spite of the obvious challenges, I’m determined to be cautiously optimistic and even to offer up a silver lining, as these past months in quarantine have given us all moments to treasure long after the dark days have lifted and the crisis has come to an end.
The Kids Are Alright
So those of you with teenage children of any kind will understand that when my 13 year-old son asked if he could shop for supplies with me, I almost fell off of my dining-room desk chair. Errands with “uncool” Mom are the last thing he is generally interested in doing, even if it means a little respite from all the joys of quarantine. But not only did he volunteer to help me stock up on food and other supplies, he also talked to me. For the almost hour-long car ride to our closest big box panacea, my son emoted the entire way. We drove and talked and laughed, and I will always remember that precious time between Exits 29 and 36 on an empty Garden State Parkway.
Monotony is one of the more serious side effects of quarantine, and recently, my two younger children offered up something that I honestly couldn’t quite describe. Thanks to the wonder of Spotify, my 7 and 12 year olds somehow managed to initiate a Rick Astley dance party. Yup, you heard that correctly: Rick Astley. That 80’s God of optimism who taught us he’s “never give you up, never gonna let you down, never gonna run around and desert you” is now pumping through my living room. How my Gen Z children found the anthem I’ll never know! But once Covid-19 has passed, I’ll be the first to suggest that Rick, the original Ginger King, return for a world tour. It’s just the lift we could all really use.
When I really think about it, a very positive thing has been happening recently, and in the mornings, no less, when as far as I am concerned nothing good ever really happens. Just as I wake up, somewhat puffy-eyed (apparently the Retinol is not working, or rather, the Casamigos is), and wondering if I missed the whole point of HBO’s Succession, I find myself thinking “no chest tightness, check! no sore throat, check! oh dear G-d I am grateful, I am so grateful to be well.” And there it is. The gratitude I’ve sought for a lifetime now seems so simple. It comes to me like a scene from Field of Dreams. In times of trouble, apparently, I also hear James Earl Jones, and each morning he says, “you are well, your family and friends are well, and therefore you should be happy.” Simple thought, silver lining.
What’s known across all good parenting books as “family dinner” is a little more elusive for us Manhattanites. To be frank, and under normal circumstances, we live in New York City. We live there because we can and will go out or order-in dinner whenever and however we want to. Judge us if you must. We don’t mind. There are just so many incredible restaurants serving every possible kind of food we can’t help but partake. But thanks to sheltering in, and our temporary relocation to a family home in Southern New Jersey, we’ve had family dinner every single night.
Always an enthusiastic cook, I have vastly broadened my James Beard skill set and seriously stepped up my game. Each night is a smorgasbord of fresh fruit and veggies, lean meats and immune building ingredients like citrus, bell peppers, ginger root, turmeric, plenty of shallots, onions, garlic and oh, Ben and Jerry’s The Tonight Dough. (Happiness also boosts the immune system, btw). Recently we even instituted “my daily highs and lows” (dinner table edition)—something I learned through the remarkable Scaling Up program, built to improve corporate communications. And yet even with everything going on, my daughter couldn’t muster a single daily low (her highs included “it’s a little like summer break!”) and my teenage sons had just a few complaints, such as “Varsity baseball definitely isn’t happening,” and “pretty sure Max’s Bar Mitzvah won’t be in June.” Still, I sat there at the table and thought, here we are, as we have been for so many weeks, relying on one another and one another alone.
So maybe, at least temporarily, this national crisis will remind us of what is truly important, truly irreplaceable and truly finite in this world. My heart aches for everyone who has lost a loved one to this terrible disease and all those out there fighting on the front lines so we can shelter in safely. But I do believe there are silver linings, and I am pretty certain they are:
- Learn to be grateful for what you do have.
- Health and wellness are always paramount. Without them, nothing else matters.
- Togetherness, even under challenging circumstances, is a blessing.
I am hopeful for all of us, and mostly hopeful that when our children look back upon this frightening time, their memories will include family dinners, dance party U.S.A, and the long, lazy days when we never got out of PJs. In the meantime, I hope we can all keep a little Rick Astley in our hearts until we’re well on the other side of this thing, and “together forever” is more of a choice than a mandate.
Alison Harmelin is the mother of three and co-founder of Zeel, along with her husband Samer Hamadeh. Before becoming an “accidental entrepreneur,” Harmelin spent fifteen years in broadcast news as an anchor and reporter, covering such events as the September 11th attacks, the London bombings, and Hurricane Katrina.