It’s mid-October and it’s glorious in San Francisco.  A pre-Halloween heat wave bakes the city during the day, but early sunsets mean cool evenings and mornings.  The skies are impossibly blue, cloudless.  The outdoor dining popping up everywhere is full — almost uncomfortably, perhaps slightly dangerously full, but also a welcome sign of life in a place that was, for a time, unrecognizably and apocalyptically closed.  To anyone from anywhere else it would feel like summer, but here by the Bay these short, warm days speak undeniably of Fall.


My sister and I are trying to make a plan, and we ponder the ferry as a safe-but-fun mode of public transportation.  We draw no conclusions.  I watch the boats arrive on my morning walk, observe the sparse ridership.  Ponder some more.

Back in the Before, every year on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, my husband would take the afternoon off work and the kids and I would meet him for the 3:30 ferry to Larkspur, home of the Marin Brewing Company.  We would crowd in (remember crowds?) with all the other long-weekend passengers on the dock, loose and free and looking forward to pre-holiday  drink on the ride.

My husband would purchase pretzels and beers from the snack bar, and I would produce some congratulatory surprise from my bag : small Legos, new books, how-to-draw manuals.  The kids would dive into the activity offered, and my husband and I would  clink bottles and say Cheers, Happy Thanksgiving, and the boat would churn out into the Bay, picking up speed, surf crashing the windows of the lower deck around us.

Past Alcatraz, slow into Larkspur Landing, then on foot over the bridge, a little short of a half-mile to the restaurant.  Our boat home wasn’t until 5:45, so we would linger over calamari and IPAs, chicken fingers and hot dogs, and Three Twins ice cream sundaes with a drizzle of chocolate sauce.  The kids would color the backs of their childrens’ menus with the stumps of crayons from the shared tin on the sticky-ish tabletop.

You know those tins of crayons, right?  Where all the “good colors” are worn to the nubs, leaving the browns and the peaches and the lime greens?  Prompting you, the mom, to maybe sort of sneak around to other tables to see if there are any legit blues or reds or greens to work with?

In the Now, there are no more tins of crayons on sticky tabletops.  No more little hands fishing around for the last stump of yellow, paper peeled off.  (In fact, the very thought of this shared crayon situation is giving me hives.)  It’s a BYOC world out there, my friends.  Time to add a few boxes of Crayolas to the old Amazon cart, for whenever we decide to dine out again, perhaps in our very own post-modern Plexiglass-enclosed food-consumption cubicle, pump-bottles of hand sanitizer wedged into the caddies with the ketchup packets.

In the absence of public transportation, we drive.  The other day the kids and I were climbing into the car for our ritual Long Drive to Nowhere — which is actually my favorite thing to come out of this madness — and they were nagging me about something as I was struggling to start the car while also removing my face mask, which was tangled in my earrings and stuck to my lipstick (I KNOW.  What was the lipstick about??).  I finally broke free and started the ignition: “Ugh, you guys, someday you are going to have kids and you are going to look back on QUARANTINE and you will think ‘My mom handled that?  She is amazing.'”

IF we have kids,” Babygirl replied calmly, ever contrarian.

“You’ll probably have kids,” LittleMan retorted.  Then he added, thoughtfully: “Although, this pandemic thing may never end, and in that case we’ll never get to meet anyone new, or go on dates or stuff like that, and then none of us will have kids and the human race will end.”

Um.  OKAY.

“Mom.  Mom!  Let’s go! Can I pick first song?”

Just like that: Marshmello’s Happier and Highway 1, the endless expanse of the Pacific emerging below us as we turn off 280.  To Pacifica and back.  Too bad we live in the must spectacular place on earth, eh?  If you have to be stuck somewhere, eh?  A swing through North Beach for pizza to go.  Cheers, Happy Fall.

The looking forward is tricky.  There is most definitely “someday.”  The problem is that there is really no “tomorrow.”  Or as one friend put it : There is simply…DAY.  As the year marches on and no new information emerges, my husband and I make the decision that at this point, no matter what happens with the city or the state or the school, our kids will continue the Distance Learning Protocol until 2021, after the holidays.  Which means that now, every time I feel the crushing pressure of being a teacher and counselor and coach and bestie on top of being a MOM, I can sort of convince myself that I chose this.

Kind of.

Sweet Babygirl (who I’m becoming convinced suffers from some kind of short-term memory problem) continues to bound down the stairs in the morning, asking, perkily: “What are the plans for today?”  Her enduring faith that we will, in fact, come up with something amazing to do almost breaks my heart.  The truth is, we’ve been at this for almost nine months in two different towns and four seasonal changes and we have, officially, done ALL THE THINGS.  My husband and I sort of stare at each other and finally say something along the lines of “We’ll see…”  She does not like this answer, flounces off to play guitar in her room.  AGAIN.

But of course there are no plans.  Plans are for the foolish.  Plans are for those who wish to pay money only to have it refunded (God willing, in part) as the universe laughs.  The past summer, with its cancelled plane tickets and cancelled 20-year college reunions and cancelled summer camps and cancelled wild, end-of-year pilgrimages to Lake Del Valle for car camping : there was a lesson in there.  As the calendar ticks along, my friends and I talk in circles about Halloween; we conclude nothing except to agree, darkly, that bobbing for apples is a must.  (Kidding!  I’m kidding.).

We know only this: we have to rethink it.  Rethink it all.

Maybe that’s the liberating part, actually.  There is no blueprint, there is no keeping-up-with, there is no bandwagoning.  There is only what works, what feels safe, what is affordable and realistic.

That’s it.

No pressure.

As always, I wish I were more creative.  I wish I was the kind of mom who could build a curriculum out of Pinterest and dreams, who could somehow make 6th Grade out of apple pie recipes and kitchen-table poker and trips to the Zoo.  I wish I lived on a farm.  I wish I lived in an artists’ commune.  Except I really don’t wish that.  Do I?  In a weird way I see so much opportunity here, in the Unknown, but I’m still not sure how to capitalize on it.  So instead, we’re doing what we’ve done for the past 9,000,000 days : we’re sticking together and figuring it out.

I braved Trader Joe’s this morning, with its Cinnamon Brooms and its pallets of gourds, and for once I did not buy the pumpkin-shaped pasta because 12 years of experience has taught me that it’s too chewy and no one likes it.  I did not buy the Haunted Gingerbread House kit because 12 years of experience has taught me that it will fall apart and frustrate us.  (Also the chocolate is cheap and chalky.)

Instead I bought two bunches of mumms (smiling to myself : “You could buy a bunch of Mumms?”) and set the table for Fall, with the bright yellow flowers, the owl-shaped candlesticks and the orange napkins.  I bought ripe persimmons and piled them in a blue bowl on the countertop.  Babygirl made cookies shaped like ghosts, from scratch, because that’s the kind of thing a nine-year-old learns to do in a global pandemic.  No one missed the gingerbread house.  No one asked about Halloween-shaped pasta.  Or Halloween, for that matter.

We will watch Hocus Pocus.  We will eat Drumsticks in the sliver of shade on the deck, try to finish the ice cream before it melts in the mid-October heat.  We might have a barbecue in a park somewhere, sweating through masks and costumes we cobble together with vague enthusiasm.  We might see friends.  We might sanitize individual bags of candy.

I sit at my desk and chronicle these non-plans.  I hear the ferries come and go on their new, abbreviated schedule, their horns bleating.  Maybe we should take the ferry, one of these days.  The anticipation creeps in.  I can’t help it.  I smile.

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