An Open Letter to Senator Josh Hawley, (R-MO)

Screen capture courtesy of my iPhone

Dear Senator Hawley,

My family and I got Covid-19 last November. We had been careful, wearing masks everywhere, not eating out or going to movies or malls, even having all our groceries delivered and left on our front doorstep. In the end, despite our diligence, we likely contracted Covid-19 when our masked son, who was working as a volunteer, came in contact with an out-of-state visitor who refused to wear a mask while visiting Dinosaur Ridge. Joe argued that asking others, who had blatantly disregarded signage about state mask mandates, to don masks was above his volunteer pay grade. We agreed. So, he got sick first and then we all did. We had mild cases, for which we were deeply grateful. After our two week quarantine period was up, however, we noticed we weren’t bouncing back to our usual healthy selves. Weeks after we had resumed our now normal distanced and masked lives, we noticed we were struggling through exercise and having greater difficulty catching our breath. We were constantly tired, and our senses of taste and smell had not fully returned to normal. Nine months later, three out of the four of us still don’t have our taste and smell back to our pre-Covid experience. Covid can leave a mark.

Despite being a Covid-19 survivor and having had a positive test for antibodies in mid March, I got the vaccine. I had no concerns about its efficacy or safety. I am not a scientist, but I understand how science works. If physicians and researchers who dedicated their lives to eradicating viruses were lining up to get the vaccine, it was safe. I didn’t give it a second thought. I wanted normal life back. I too wanted to get rid of my mask. So, by mid April my husband and I were fully vaccinated, and our teenage sons followed suit by early May. When the CDC decided that vaccinated people could take off their masks, we were thrilled and nervous. We resumed our mask-free lives, relatively hopeful that others would step up for vaccines and we would all be safe from Covid soon.

But that didn’t happen. That didn’t happen because half the nation decided to think about getting vaccinated while the more virulent Delta strain ravaged India. All the warning signs were there. We knew Delta was beginning to increase infections in the US, but the unvaccinated weren’t concerned. And Fox News and Republican politicians like you raised no alarms. You instead bolstered doubt by politicizing the push for vaccines as something dubious that the Democrats had up their sleeves. You pushed the notion that freedom means not having to get a life-saving vaccine or wear a stupid, goddamn cloth mask (which, by the way, most four year olds I’ve seen can manage better than right-wing conservatives). As Delta started turning your state into a Covid nightmare for your hospitals, the CDC had to reverse course on the mask mandate. Masks were needed again because Delta, with its higher rate of transmission, was burning through the population and creating an unnecessary burden on our hospitals and health care professionals.

So, let’s get something straight. The mask wearing the CDC is recommending is about politics. We have to go back to wearing masks because conservatives refused to get vaccinated before Delta took hold. You all had months to do this. Months. Vaccines were being tossed in the garbage because you would not get the shots. People around the world were desperately clamoring for vaccinations, but spoiled, selfish, and self-righteous Americans were turning up their noses at them. And, thus, Delta came calling, you all kept spreading, and now masks are back. This is not a flip flop by the CDC. This is a revision in advice because of a precipitous increase in Covid-19 cases due to a more virulent strain. And that, my friend, rests mostly on you and your unvaccinated acolytes.

As to your hyperbolic complaint that we will be forced to wear masks indefinitely, no one knows if that will come to fruition. But viruses do have time to mutate and become more deadly while their hosts are busy hemming and hawing about vaccine safety and using politics to cast doubt on science. So, if there does come a day when we all have to wear masks indefinitely to stave off deadly, airborne viruses, I will be looking at you, Senator. Well, the part of you I can see under your mask, anyway.

How Do You Like Them Apples?

Joe and Luke playing astronaut at the museum six years ago
Joe and Luke playing astronaut at the museum six years ago at nearly 4 and 6.

I have always loved the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, which was known in my childhood as Denver Museum of Natural History. I remember my school field trips there on creaky, uncomfortable yellow buses back when a trip from the suburbs to downtown felt like a trip to the moon. In college friends and I would trek down from Boulder for a welcome study break and a chance to picnic in City Park. When we had our sons, I could not wait to share it with them. And I did. Most visits consisted of me hurriedly following them as they raced through the exhibits, unable to read and only patient enough to stand still for a moment. On those visits we spent more time commuting to and from the museum than we actually spent in the museum. Still, we’d always have to stop in the space exhibit so they could try on astronaut suits and attempt to dock the Space Shuttle. One time my super speedy, two-year-old Luke beat me up the ramp out of the Mars exhibit and was immediately lost in the crowd. I found him a few minutes later, two floors up, crouched in a weepy ball on the third floor staircase and surrounded by concerned parents who wondered where his negligent mother was. (He’s been more diligent about staying near me ever since.) Most visits ended in the gift shop where often, although not always, they were treated to a small souvenir.

The boys are bigger but they look small next to that mammoth.
The boys are much bigger now but they still look pretty small next to that mammoth.

Today we took the boys as promised back to the museum, our first trip there this year. Joe, ever enthralled by natural history, has been pestering us to take him to the Mammoths and Mastodons exhibit since it opened in February. I carefully plotted to take him closer to the end of the exhibit’s run so we wouldn’t have to share the exhibit with half the city. With a couple visits to this museum every year since the boys were 4 and 2, we now have the rigamarole down to our own science. Today we arrived a few minutes before opening at 9 so we could beat the crowds. We got into the exhibit itself at 9:15, which gave us a full hour to explore before heading down one floor to catch the IMAX movie called Titans of the Ice Age, featuring (you guessed it) more mammoths and mastodons. Afterward, Joe wanted to run through the dinosaur exhibit and the space exhibit before ducking into the gift shop. By that time we were starving but we acquiesced. When Steve and I paused to enjoy the museum’s fantastic view of City Park and the Denver skyline, the boys took off without giving notice. Because they’re older now, there was no panic at their disappearance as there would have been in years past. We simply walked back to the main corridor and looked around. After a minute we spied them on the first floor near the gift shop glancing around nervously. When they saw us approaching, they looked momentarily relieved and then bolted for the gift shop. Some things never change.

Spring in Denver
Spring in Denver

On the way home (without gift shop souvenirs and the subsequent tantrums that used to follow that sad situation) the four of us excitedly discussed what we’d learned. We each had favorite revelations and discoveries. I was interested to learn that elephants are not descendants of either mammoths or mastodons as I had imagined. All three proboscideans are descendants of one common ancestor, which makes them more like cousins. Mammoths lived in colder climes and ate grasses, while mastodons lived in slightly less icy environs and munched on trees and shrubs. The more we listened to our sons talking about their visit, the better we felt about our decision to set our alarm for 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning. More than once Joe interrupted his non-stop recounting of myriad factoids about late Pleistocene mammals to thank us for taking him to the museum. Tickets to mammoth exhibit for a family of four: $26. IMAX 3D tickets for more mammoth fun: $20. Gratitude from my preteen son for an educational experience…priceless.

My kids were never quiet or still enough for story time at the library. (We were kicked out more than once.) They’ve never been great at sitting still at the dinner table or a table in a restaurant. Despite the plethora of professional sporting events we’ve taken them to, they’ve only ever one time made it through an entire game. These things used to bother me. They don’t anymore. So what if they’re not quiet readers or princes of table manners or sports fanatics? They are curious learners who get all geeked out over dinosaurs, early mammals, space, rocks, animals, health, and history and who would rather conduct intellectually fueled Google searches and build elaborate virtual worlds than play soccer or baseball or lacrosse or football. Yep. They’re nerdy just like their parents. As the old saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Turns out that’s exactly how I wanted my apples to land after all.