Lisa Romano Licht
In the Midst of Fear, My Daughter’s Choice Taught Me to Step Aside
Yesterday, as my daughter pulled into the driveway after work, I anxiously opened the garage door. Leaving her jacket, bag and shoes behind, she went into the downstairs laundry room. After tossing her clothes and face mask into the washer, she scrubbed her hands and put on the robe I had left there. Then she went upstairs to shower. I followed, wearing gloves and sanitizing doorknobs and light switches.
I don’t know how my twenty-two-year-old arrived at this moment in time. Her Facebook memories from just a year ago reflect outings with college roommates and family gathered at her graduation party. A Communications major, she moved back home to New York after graduation and quickly landed a marketing/development job with a nonprofit serving individuals with developmental disabilities.
Now, like many other young people, she is working in this age of fear and uncertainty. I know there are so many truly on the front line risking their lives every day; I am not making comparisons. However, as a communications professional writing media releases and planning events, she didn’t expect to be “essential.” Neither did her friend who works part-time at CVS or my friend’s son who delivers pizza, or countless other students and recent graduates. They have been thrust into unprecedented work situations where the danger is invisible.
When our New York Governor ordered shelter-in-place in March, I prematurely breathed a sigh of relief, thinking she would start working remotely. I was home, her father would be distance-teaching and her younger sister taking college classes online. Then, her director said their office would remain open. She needed to work from there several days a week. Initially, she was confused and concerned. Her friends were all working virtually while she was needed on-site. Weren’t only health-care and emergency workers considered essential?
My gut reaction was one of overwhelming maternal fear. She works in Westchester County, an epicenter rivaled only by Manhattan. I wanted her to tell them no, or negotiate, or even go part-time. She was living at home; she could afford to find another job. I implied or suggested all of the above. It also impacted our whole family. We were already distancing from my parents and in-laws who were in their 80s and had added health risk factors. How could we see and help them again? As long as she was exposed, so was I.
But she is an adult and had to make her own decision. Once her director explained that they were an essential business due to the population they serve and how their nonprofit would be critically impacted, she accepted the new situation. Although their day program temporarily closed, they still needed to support hundreds of vulnerable clients in their six residences and the aides and workers caring for them there. Certain tasks of immediate need could only be done in person.
Her job shifted gears as she called hardware stores and other businesses to locate masks and other PPE for their health-care workers. She contacted food pantries to provide meals and donations to the residences, and then joined other staff in packaging masks and organizing food to be distributed to the different houses. She created signs thanking the workers and took photos to post on social media acknowledging their service.
Having held multiple jobs with non-profits, I understand the importance of their work. Everyone, no matter their job title, pitches in. So, I am torn. My primal instinct wants her to be home, stay as safe as possible. Another part of me is beyond proud of her for working at this crucial time in our society. She is putting others ahead of herself instead of taking the easy way out. She is not a coward or a quitter, letting fear dictate her actions. I recognize the invaluable life lessons that I should not obstruct. And I’m somewhat ashamed that it seems harder for me to accept this situation than it does for her.
For now, we have arrived at a new normal. My questions cause her more stress so I’ve stopped asking. Less than a dozen people work in the administrative building, mostly in their own offices. She wears a mask, uses hand sanitizer and wipes, and hopefully hears my nagging voice in her head: wash your hands, don’t touch your face. Some days she does get nervous– if she comes home and coughs or thinks her head feels warm. It’s hard not to be hyper-aware.
Her schedule is determined a week at a time, like much of our lives these days. The director decides which days she’s needed in person, and which days she can work from home. I worry going forward: when will she have to return to the office full-time? How much more exposure will she have to the public then? Each morning she leaves, I try for a light-hearted tone as I tell her I love her and to have a good day. Each morning she leaves, my heart beats a little faster as I silently repeat my mantra: Keep her safe. Keep her strong.
Lisa Romano Licht’s work has been published in The Westchester Review and PRIMO and is forthcoming in Ovunque Siamo. She was awarded first prize in the Blue Mountain Arts Poetry Competition and the Greenburgh Arts and Culture’s Poetry Contest. A lifelong New Yorker, she holds an MA in Writing from Manhattanville College. Her two twenty-something daughters are among the family members who frequently inhabit her writing.