I am in the dining room. Jules is in the kitchen. We natter away, like we always do, several times a day, most days a week.
But because of COVID-19, we are 6,345 kilometers and five time zones apart. So, we do this online.
My daughter is teaching English in Clermont-Ferrand, two hours west of Lyon, France. She opted to shelter in place rather than get on a flight contaminated by the aerosolized breath of several hundred other travelers, including study-abroad students who are fleeing Europe and tend to sleep with their mouths open.
I hope not to regret this. I think I already am.
My children are in their early 20s and are more independent, resilient and traveled than most adults I know. One was born in Jerusalem and has been on an “Amazing Race”-type pursuit of visas and stamps from worldwide destinations ever since.
The other, who was 2 when we moved to Tokyo, insisted to everyone — in all her angelic blondness — that she was Japanese. When she traveled to Bolivia in high school, the country was at the top of the State Department’s warning list to travelers.
But this pandemic scares me, and I am a relentless mother. I annoy them in every way possible until I get what I want.
(6 a.m., 3/18/2020) Kathleen: Good morning!
(6:01 a.m.) Jules: Good morning :)
(6:01 a.m.) Kathleen: How’s it going?
(6:02 a.m.) Jules: Fine! I'm walking. How are you?
(6:02 a.m.) Kathleen: Where are you walking?
(6:03 a.m.) Jules: Just around.
(6:05 a.m.) Kathleen: Is anyone else walking around?
I ask for photo documentation. She sends shots of the lovely French countryside. It looks pretty. And pretty desolate. I’m glad no one is breathing near her. I worry that she is too alone.
“You carry pepper spray, right?”
After a goodbye gathering last week, Jules sends me a photo of a guitar with the caption, “Bought this off a friend who’s fleeing the country.”
“Did you clean it with Lysol wipes?” I ask.
Checking on Mom
It goes both ways. When she couldn’t reach me last weekend because I had turned off the persistent news alerts on my phone to nap, I awoke to several missed voice calls and texts on two different messaging apps.
“Hi. It’s kind of weird that you’re not answering your phone. Can you please let me know you’re OK?” she says.
I am proud that she uses punctuation correctly, even in text.
I read the plaintive posts of parents on social media groups who report their children dashing from European capitals for the 11 airports in the U.S. dedicated to receiving travelers from COVID-affected countries.
Some of the journeys are arduous and expensive. Parents wring their hands and post updates. “On the way to the airport … the plane has landed … in the arrivals hall!”
In follow-up photos of their children being welcomed home, hugs and kisses go all around.
“WTH? Hasn’t anyone heard of the word ‘quarantine’?” I restrain myself from commenting.
I worry that restaurants in Istanbul, where my son is learning Turkish, will close, and he won’t get enough protein. Food is delicious and cheap there, and he lives on cafe culture.
I worry that he and his sister won’t take the situation seriously enough because they are young, tall and strong, and they’ll mingle in large groups in the market or souk or crowded streets, as they did when they were children with their journalist parents.
I worry that I am not enough of a mother like the parents in the Facebook groups who have persuaded their kids to come home.
When I cluck and flutter around them in our weekly phone calls, they remind me that their father and I lived a similar lifestyle in the Middle East and Asia. I took my son in a baby carrier on my chest to a bus bombing in Jerusalem so I could file a story for my newspaper. He was at the pyramids in Cairo with me the day before a shooting that claimed the lives of 18 tourists there in the exact same spot.
I send them COVID updates that I think will inform but not scare them. They thank me politely.
“Just for the record,” Jules replies, “I'm really thankful for parents who trust me to make decisions.”
I worry that they’ll feel that way months from now when, inshallah (God willing), COVID has died out, and we can all move about the airplane cabin again. Toward home.