Remember When You Did Not Have to Wear a Mask?

“Do I really have to wear this?”  I asked aloud, at home, to anyone who was not already sick of my voice after two months.  “You know now they are saying that the mask actually increases the spread of coronavirus.”  I searched on my phone for where I read that, but instead there was a notice that the article had been taken down for violating the site’s terms of use.  They just don’t want us to know the truth.

I searched online for a mask, but the cost was $39.99 and would not arrive until November. So I tried on one of kids’ Halloween masks and went outside. I felt protected from coronavirus, but my face began to sweat and so I was able to trick-or-treat at only a few houses.

Then I tried a scarf that I found stuffed into a corner of the coat closet with assorted winter gloves and hats. I wrapped it around my face, and could not breathe. I searched the internet for the proper way to wrap a scarf around your face. The top result was an article that began telling me about the history of the scarf. The second result began telling me about why wearing a scarf was a good idea. The third also began telling me why wearing a scarf was a good idea. The fourth result showed the different ways that scarves are worn throughout the world. The fifth was another article that began telling me about the history of scarves, but with more typographical errors than the first.

Over a cup of coffee, my ninth of the day, I remembered where I had last seen a mask. Downstairs in the basement was something classified in my brain as “the paint stuff box.” Inside the box were paint rollers, and those plastic rolling pans, and a roll of blue painting tape, and those little squares of paint color samples with names like “forest glen” and “ocean wind” and “scarlet sunset” and…a mask!

Like Heinrich Schliemann after he unearthed the face of Agamemnon, I was overjoyed and considered sharing my discovery with several archaeological journals. The mask was bluish white, made of a hard felt and shaped like a cup, with two thin elastic bands in the back. It was quite uncomfortable to wear, and my glasses kept fogging up, and I had to wipe them repeatedly without touching my face, but otherwise the mask was perfect.

The first place I went with my mask was the supermarket. Every person there, customer and employee alike, was wearing a mask, and every mask had a different pattern. A mask with a flower pattern. A mask with a plaid pattern. A mask with a skull and crossbones pattern. I felt like I was at one of those parties that they call a masque, spelled like with Q-U-E at the end, and the masks are held up not by elastic around the back of the head, but with a little stick affixed to the side, and the mask covers just the area around the eyes instead of the nose and mouth.

And then I thought of something that would cheer up everyone. I could host a masque, covid-style!  Everyone would wear their masks by holding them to their faces with a stick attached to the side of the mask.  And instead of music, I would re-play Governor Cuomo’s daily news conference in an endless loop.  And the dancing would all be individual, with only four people on the dance floor at any one time.  And for food…well, I would tell everyone to eat before the party. 

I wrote the invitation in a broad, flowing script with a calligraphy pen, took a picture of it, and emailed the picture to all of my friends. Almost immediately I got a response. Someone I had never met in my life had posted the invitation on Facebook and added the comment “Nice to see people observing social distancing. Sheesh!” Within an hour my invitation had a million shares and was being attacked in the form of a meme so clever that I shared it myself.

I was subjected to a digital public shaming until I agreed to withdraw the invitation, issue an apology, and attend mandatory social distance training. The training was via Zoom video chat. At least I would not have to wear a mask.

Remember When Kids Went to School at School?

The first thing I told my kids was that, contrary to rumor, this substitute teacher was not taking any abuse. “Things will go on exactly as usual,” I said, and pulled out the lesson plan that I had written in my daily planner. The planner was for the year 2007, and was mostly blank, as I had apparently preferred to live 2007 the seat of my pants. But I always knew I would one day find a use for it, and that day had arrived.

As I began to read aloud from my list of assignments based upon my best recollection of elementary school – “Penmanship…Show-and-Tell…Gluing Things to Other Things” – I was advised that the day’s assignments were in an email from the teacher. I checked my inbox and, lo and behold, there it was, sandwiched between a daily body count briefing and a coupon from TGI Friday’s for 25% off family meal boxes to go.

The email had been composed in comic sans, and the first assignment was to have your child complete level one on a reading website called Do Re Me Like to Read, where you completed sentences by controlling a digital frog avatar that hopped from word to word. But the username and password were in a different email, and I could not find the email. I spent twenty minutes looking for it, and when I finally decided that the reading lesson was over, I saw that the kids had found the iPads hidden in the cabinet with the salad bowls, and were watching those toy reviewing videos that seem to have neither beginning nor end, and it took the promise of something on the order of changing the tides to earn their attention back.

The next assignment on the list was math, and for this we were to visit a website called “Math-teroids” where your child controlled a space ship that flew through an armada of numbers. A math problem would appear at the top, like 5 + 3, and you were supposed to shoot laser beams at the number 8.

But the game required that I run the latest version of my browser, and when I tried to update the browser, I was told that I needed to have administrator privileges. And after I figured out how to activate such privileges and updated the browser, I was told that I needed to install a certain plug-in. And after I downloaded the plug-in and waited for it to install, I noticed that the kids had found the iPads where I’d hid them under a stack of flattened Amazon boxes, and were now transfixed by a video of a family that decided to dress up as unicorn elves for Christmas and share their experience with the world.

The next item on the list was a science project. We were going to simulate the water cycle in our very own homes! Just fill a clear plastic sandwich bag with water, seal it shut, and tape it to the window. The project seemed straightforward, except that we had no clear plastic sandwich bags, having opted months earlier for environmentally responsible bags made of beeswax. So I filled one of these beeswax bags with water, sealed it shut with the natural heat of my hand, and taped it to the window. But tape does not stick well to beeswax, and the bag fell, and we ended up simulating just the flood part of the water cycle.

The last assignment of the day was story time. Now here was something I could do: simply find an age-appropriate story and read it to the children. I knew that kids like fairy tales, so I read them a story that I picked at random from a beautiful book titled “The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales” that had been sitting on our shelf for years. When I was finished reading the story – a riveting tale about a very hungry wolf and some very gullible goats – my kids weren’t looking for the iPads. They were staring at me with eyes wide open, mouths agape, and bodies perfectly still. At last I had their undivided attention, the kind of breakthrough that makes the hard work of teaching all worth it.