Hallmarks in the Time of Pandemic

Submitted by Janet Stone McGuigan

A hallmark – defined as a distinctive characteristic – of this time of pandemic is how we have adapted our celebrations, not only major religious holidays, but the whimsical, personal and local. On my calendar, May 5 was designated Teacher’s Day, and May 6 Nurse’s Day.  Pre-pandemic, those of a cynical bent might have called these Hallmark holidays. Post-pandemic, I see these holidays and think that we shouldn’t need a reminder to appreciate the contributions of our teachers and nurses, but I will seize on any opportunity to express my gratitude, even belatedly.  Thank you!   

A few days later, my family celebrated Mother’s Day, another Hallmark holiday, and my birthday.  I was born on a Mother’s Day Sunday and my mother was love personified when she said I was the only Mother’s Day gift she ever wanted.  I would have felt the same about my sons if they had been born on Mother’s Day, although I don’t think the feeling would have extended to spending the day in labor.  In this time of pandemic, it is easy to want to dispense with material gifts and wish for nothing more than the well being of everyone in this world.

But gifts help us mark the occasion, and I didn’t know what to want.  A meal I didn’t have a hand in is always a treat, but I am the designated grocery shopper and I didn’t want to share the risk from that task.  And eating out was just, well, out.  A webcam with a microphone would have made a good gift, but I just couldn’t hold out until May on that one.  Several years ago, I had spent a good deal of time and thought setting up workspaces for my family, but I had neglected my own.  So my spouse and sons were in good shape when the pandemic hit, but not the mom.  (And who could have predicted I would need to Zoom?  I thought Zoom was a 70s show produced by WGBH.  I still remember the words to the theme song.)  A good reminder that to take care of others, one also needs to care for self.

At Christmas time I asked my family to help me organize the house, and, let’s just say that that is a work in progress.  In self-isolation the home can’t escape attention, and its work force is captive. An ideal time to ask for a regifting. 

Prior to the pandemic, I already had on my suggested gift list a request to help pick out photos from past travels to put on a repeating screen saver.  It is so ironic that it will took a lockdown for my family to find the time to do this, but I will enjoy the photos, especially since I will miss the travel. What I didn’t want was to double up the celebrations, which was a challenge in our busy household in years past.  When I was small, I didn’t mind sharing my birthday with Mother’s Day, but now that I am a mother, I want two proper celebrations.  This year, it was easy to find two days to fulfill that wish.

Looking now to the coming weekend, when we celebrate Father’s Day, and later in June when my husband and I celebrate our wedding anniversary, I cautiously hope that we will be able to celebrate outside our home safely.  On a more earnest note, the word “hallmark” originally referred to a stamp authenticating purity, such as for metals. As we lift restrictions to social movement, test results are going to become a sort of hallmark.  How we employ testing could have a huge impact on the toll of this virus, and I hope that our leaders take on this responsibility with the utmost care.  

But back to lighter fare.  My husband is so easily pleased with the gifts I pick out for him it is actually hard to come up with something clever.  Last year as a sort of gag gift I gave my husband a grabber tool, because he just delights in helping with Greenwich Green & Clean (we missed the one that normally takes place in April).  I like its mission, the result, and the fun of doing something with my spouse, but I always feel a little blue that there is even a need to pick up litter, and I don’t like touching other people’s trash, even with gloved hands.  So the grabber tool felt clever, even if I did quip that it didn’t seem logical to buy a piece of plastic to reduce the amount of plastic in the environment.  This year, surveying the discarded masks and gloves littering our town, that gift doesn’t feel like such a joke.  Sorry, that wasn’t so light.    

I’ll try again. Before the pandemic hit, I had joked that our approaching 22nd anniversary must be the internet anniversary.  Our home connection is awful.  The internet goes out frequently and calls suddenly drop even when one is standing perfectly still. Time is a gift, I thought, so let’s invest some time to get this fixed.  But time got away from us, and then the corona virus crisis was upon us.  We have muddled though the pandemic so far without a major mishap, but once the crisis is over this will certainly become a priority.  A lasting impression from this experience will be how important connections are, whatever form they take.     

At any rate I have a card to give my husband on behalf of our adorable, lovable mutt.  On the front of the card is a photo of a dog that looks remarkably like her, in front of a computer screen with paws on the keyboard.  Inside the card it says, “On the internet, no one knows you’re a dog.”  Not exactly a sweet sentiment, I wasn’t exactly sure if the message implies, he is a dog, or I am a dog.  But given the doppelganger effect, when I saw the card in a shop long before the corona virus crisis, I thought my husband would find it very funny and snapped it up.  Now, it fits right into the memes of the time.

As we celebrate milestones in the privacy of our own spaces, we can gift ourselves the liberty to be ourselves.  Cheers to that!  And if you are reading this, Sweetheart, “Surprise!”