On Sunday, I made what many in today’s altered world would consider a stupid, reckless decision. It will be at least two weeks before I know for sure if it was worth the gamble.
I left my home. I shopped at two separate stores for groceries and supplies — not for my husband and me, but for my parents, who are 85 and 91. I drove two and a half hours to deliver these items to their home in Green Valley, south of Tucson, swallowing my guilt each time I passed one of the Arizona Department of Transportation dynamic message boards along the I-10 urging me to “stay home to prevent the spread.”
I was careful. I backed my car into their driveway and opened the hatchback. I scrubbed my hands with Purell. (Thankfully I still had one travel-size squirt bottle from a trip my husband and I took in January, before much of the world was willing to admit this is infinitely more than a “China problem”).
I tapped the code on their garage keypad to open the door, walked into the garage and rapped my knuckles on the door to the laundry room to let them know I was there. I went back to my car and used more Purell, then donned a pair of disposable food-handlers’ gloves from the stash I keep at home for the rare occasions when I’m hand-mixing dough or turkey meatloaf ingredients. I put on a mask, and tried hard to make sure they could see the loving smile in my eyes when they couldn’t see the rest of my face.
I wanted desperately to help them carry the groceries into their home, but didn’t dare. So I hovered near the front seat of my car, trying to look busy as they went back and forth carrying small loads: a precious gallon of the fat-free milk they use each morning on their cereal, bags of walnuts they toast and eat in minute portions each day, bread, crackers, yogurt, apples, deli turkey, Swiss cheese slices, celery and cans of chicken meat for the chicken salad my dad loves to make for lunch.
And toilet paper from my own small supply at home, because I couldn’t find any to buy, not anywhere.
I did not go into the house, not even to use the bathroom, though my mom insisted it would be OK. I feared it wouldn’t be — that I would unknowingly carry with me a virus I cannot see, cannot know I have on me, and cannot risk infecting them with because it is so unlikely they would survive the experience.
So why did I do it? Because it seemed, in that moment, like the less-risky choice.
I knew my parents were quickly running out of basic supplies. Until the end of March, they were managing just fine. My dad would go to the local Walmart every few days to pick up refilled prescriptions and a bag or two of groceries. Or they’d go together. A quick in-and-out.
But when “stay at home” suggestions became orders, and stores started implementing increased safety protocols — restricting access to one door, limiting the number of people in the store at one time, lining up waiting shoppers on sidewalks marked with tape to keep them six feet apart — shopping became increasingly exhausting, and prohibitively difficult for them.
For most of us, these strictures are inconvenient. For people like my parents, who are otherwise amazingly good at taking care of themselves and living independently in their own home, any barriers to their typically safe and comfortable routines invite vulnerability, anxiety, and the risk of further compromising their health and well being. Not to mention the increased chance of devastating falls during all the extra walking, standing, shuffling and dodging.
Then, of course, there is this hoarding thing, which made my parents’ risky trips to the store an exercise in frustration, and increased the need for them to try it more frequently.
I thought I could fix this for them by setting up an online account and ordering what they needed. That, too, would have been easy a few weeks ago. But after spending most of two afternoons on the websites for five different grocery chains, I came to the conclusion that I was never going to be able to get them properly supplied, and certainly not in a timely manner. WalMart is only scheduling pickup and delivery two days at a time, and good luck securing a slot. I gave up after trying early in the morning, several days in a row, only to get the same message: “We’re sorry! All of today and tomorrow’s times are currently booked.”
Plus, I knew from my own shopping that there are more items on actual grocery shelves than there are in the clickable shopping experience. As the Safeway coronavirus FAQs page transparently admits, “we’ve temporarily limited the number of items available for Delivery/Pick Up on our website/mobile app” because of unusually high demand. (I do applaud any company’s “instituted item limits” — though Safeway’s stated maximum of 10 seems inappropriately high, even as we’re being told to stock up on one to two weeks of groceries.)
It’s maddening when the able-bodied among us selfishly stockpile. We all need to be consuming carefully, reasonably, and respectfully, always considering the needs of the greater population. We are not listening to reassurances that there are not real shortages; it is simply that “the ebb-and-flow of demand…has been disrupted.” These shortages are self-inflicted.
My parents have lived long and fulfilling lives and have enjoyed 33 years of a sweet and satisfying marriage — the second for both of them. Separately and together, they’ve faced innumerable challenges and losses. They live quietly, simply, and sustainably, asking very little of today’s world — or of the seven children in the blended family they created. They should be able to get a few cans of Progressive split pea soup.
I couldn’t even find that. And yet, for the next 14 days, the estimated outside range for transmission of this deadly virus, I will wake up each morning wondering if I made the right choice to take what I could find in two stores to their home. If I hear any hint of congestion in my mother’s voice during one our frequent phone calls, I will panic. Did I give her the virus?
For now, I take comfort in knowing my folks have milk for their morning cereal.
Karen Davis Barr is the founder and publisher of Raising Arizona Kids.
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