I made it 2 whole years of the pandemic. I’ve been on many international and domestic flights. I’ve taught in classrooms with 22 students every day. I even travelled across the US during the Omicron spike. But it took one day without a mask mandate to catch Covid.
On Thursday March 17, the mask mandate was lifted by the governor of Sao Paulo. On Friday, March 18, I taught for the first time in the pandemic without a mask on in my classroom. I went to a happy hour after school and sat outside.
On Monday I woke up really tired. Feeling a bit achy. That night I had chills and had to lay in bed all night. But I woke up on Tuesday with none of those symptoms. Ha! I thought. Some weird 24 hour bug. On Wednesday, after lunch, I felt like someone had removed my batteries. I was suddenly exhausted. Couldn’t stand up. Felt lightheaded. I put a mask on. I messaged David. He also wasn’t feeling good. We left right away after he swung by his AP to tell her he probably wouldn’t be coming to the AMISA conference that we were hosting for the next two days.
We went home and did spit PCR tests and sent them to the lab. The tests came back that night: positive.
Interestingly, the kids were all negative. But a 5 day clock started to retest. We hunkered down with our fortuitous recent grocery restock.
Wednesday to Thurdsay was my worst day, but I started turning a corner on Friday. Just in time for David to have his worst day.
On Saturday, I turned 39. Dinner reservations, cancelled. We stuck a birthday candle in a warm chocolate chip cookie. In March 2020, we were in our first lockdown. In March 2021, Brazil had a huge Covid spike, schools were sent into a 6 week lockdown and hospitals reached a very scary 98% occupancy. And now I had Covid.
By the following Monday, when we tested again, I was feeling totally back to normal. David was still not feeling great. And yet, I tested positive and he tested negative. He even tested again the next day to confirm. Negative.
But here’s the kicker: Calvin had now tested positive. The 5 day clock started for him and the other kids, because they’d been exposed and would need to retest in 5 days.
As soon as I got the news that Calvin was positive and we were going from 5 days in quarantine to 10, I started to feel desperate. The kids had been basically locked indoors for 5 days. On the last 3 nights of those 5 days, I would take them outside for a walk at 7:30 with KN95 masks on. But I couldn’t do it anymore. It’s inhumane to keep kids locked up in an apartment like that, with no access to the outside.
I had to take them out of the city. That was my immediate thought. If we still lived in Nashville, we’d have our fenced in backyard for them to play in during the day. We don’t have that option in a condominium. So, I needed to find a place.
Add on to this that Matilda was supposed to go on her first field trip in 2 years, which she would now have to miss because of her brother’s Covid. We would get out of here and have a field trip of our own, dangit.
I got on Airbnb and tried to search within a couple hour drive. Many of the country places I found were part of a condo or community. That was no good. I didn’t want any communal spaces. I was getting frustrated, unsure how to search for what I needed.
Then I remembered that three of my colleagues have houses on a shared property in the mountains just outside of the town of Sao Francisco Xavier. We had been to the town twice, and on the last trip, we had visited their property. It was secluded and beautiful. There was a stream to play in and I had some familiarity with the town and the grocery store.
I find David and tell him this. I can already feel myself clicking into go mode. It is a very particular mood to me where I feel like an ER surgeon with a seven car pile up coming in. I get calm and focused and I go.
I send a message to my friend Andrew who owns one of the houses and runs their rentals. I ask if I could stay there. Turns out there was no one there this week. We could stay in my colleague Katie’s house since the others were being cleaned. There were renters coming in on the weekend, but I could have it until then.
I went to the kids’ rooms and quickly threw stuff into suitcases. David helped me throw some kitchen stuff and food into a few bags. I packed my own bag and we were out the door by 4:30 pm.
It’s a three and a half hour drive, and it hit me as I was driving at night, that this was something of a risk. I would be by myself with the kids, driving in the country in the dark. But the chance to let them go outside outweighed it all.
Andrew sent me directions. Navigate to the town, then navigate to this pin. I got excited and before I got to the town, I navigated to the pin. I didn’t really check the route, but even if I had, I’m not sure I would have changed anything.
What happened was I got off the highway and onto a dirt road with 45 minutes to go until the destination. The road was bumpy, muddy and pitch dark. And I had no cell service. I’m not sure if I’ve been that scared in a long time. And I sustained that fear for what was more like an hour.
I started to think about a flat tire out there. There was nothing but cows around us for miles. It was raining. I had no service. No one knew where I was. A flat tire, stuck in the mud, any other of a host of problems would be distastrous. I guess the plan then would be to sleep in the car? I had food and water. But I was so scared.
I thought about turning around at one point, but I couldn’t recalculate the route. I would have to retrace my steps on the map. What if I missed a turn or went farther down the wrong dirt road? I decided to stick with the plan. Everett fell asleep, but Calvin is old enough to realize this was scary. I had to tell him not whimper, it wasn’t helping my nerves.
I asked the kids to talk or sing. They said, “Okay…” and then went totally silent. In our anxiety, we all apparently forgot all songs. A few rounds of Bingo and We Don’t Talk About Bruno whittled down the dirt road drive in 3 minute chunks.
When we finally came to the entrance of the property, I could have cried. I remembered that there was a steep hill up to the houses, and I gave it a good shot. But about halfway up, my tires were spinning. I tried one more time and got a little farther, but I decided not to try again. I parked on the hill. It was raining and we still had to walk up that hill to get to the house.
Thankfully, Calvin had packed a flashlight. It was pitch black, but at least between my phone and the flashlight we made it up the hill.
In the dark, I couldn’t find Katie’s house. We went and stood on Andrew’s porch and I connected to his wi-fi. I called him and asked where Katie’s house was. We inched along in the dark, found the house and collapsed inside.
Now on wifi, I messaged David, he was relieved. He’d been watching me on the map, but then all it showed was a dot where I’d last had service. He was worried.
Of course, I was the only parent, so I had to go down and get the suitcases and the beds needed to be made. I told the kids to make the beds as best they could. 2 trips in the rain and some muddy suitcases, and by this point it was 9:30. The kids put on jammies and collapsed into bed.
The next day was exactly what we needed. Calvin was a bit tired and mostly laid on the couch and read. I took Matilda and Everett to the little creek behind the house. We threw rocks. We picked limes. We played board games. By some kind of miracle, I made it through the day without the kids watching screens.
I decide it’s time to go get some groceries. I pile the kids in the car and head to town. They wait in the car while I go into the store in a KN95. I get a bunch of food and we head back.
It’s day time now, so I consider giving the hill another shot. I try going up, and I get farther, but I lose traction again. Ah well, I think and start backing down again.
I lost my bearings. I turned the car wheel to the right, even though I needed to turn it to the left. I hear a crunch of gravel, I feel somewhat disoriented and then a loud crunch to my right.
I look over and see that there is a little tree right up against the side of the car. I’m driving over the edge.
I shift into drive. I try to pull forward and correct. Skidding tires. The only way is down. But I’m against this little tree. If I keep backing down, it’s going to scrape against the car and then into the mirror.
I tell the kids “We’re sacrificing the mirror!”
I take my foot off the brake, and my mirror bends backward with a crunch. We stop. I realize then that I’m stuck. We have to get out of this car.
We climb out on the side opposite from the hill that slopes away to my right. It takes a lot of strength to hold the door up, but the kids get out. I drag out all the groceries I just bought. I realize then that my car is already halfway off the hill. If that little tree hadn’t been there, we would have probably already rolled the car.
From where I’m standing, I don’t have cell service and the wifi doesn’t reach. I tell the kids that we have to walk up the hill.
As soon as I get on wifi, I call David. “I’m fine, but the car is stuck on the hill and I don’t know what to do. Please call Andrew. I have to get the kids into the house.”
David has to call back a few minutes later because he didn’t have the right number. The kids are complaining about the groceries being heavy.
I have no idea how we were going to get that car off that hill. I was realizing how close I was to rolling our car off a hill while I was the only adult present with no cell service.
My phone rings. It’s Andrew. “It’s okay,” he begins. “We have a neighbor. A nice Canadian guy. You might even be able to see him up at his house.” I look around, but I wasn’t standing at a good angle to see and anyways my whole brain was shutting down. “He’s handy. He’s super nice and helpful. He will help you.”
Andrew tells me that David called and told him to reassure me that this was still the right call to bring the kids up here. It was going to be okay. I wasn’t totally sure. I was running nightmare scenarios like a mom version of Dr. Strange calculating all the endgames.
The neighbor came over, and in fact, he was very nice and helpful. he came with his Brazilian wife and mother in law. His father in law had done the same thing last week. You just have to call a “tractor.”
Why the quotes around “tractor”? They were saying this in Portuguese and I pictured this:
But instead what came was this:
I’d call that a back hoe or a bulldozer. Apparently a tow truck tried to get the neighbor’s father in law, but it couldn’t make it.
I was also warned that it would be driven in by a 12 year old. It was more like a 15 year old and his buddy. But hey, they got the job done. In the country, you own a construction company and some heavy trucks and you send your 15 year old out with the bulldozer to drag cars off of hills.
It took them a couple hours to arrive, and even though I felt better that there was a plan, I was nervous until they arrived. But then, we got quite the show:
The little tree didn’t make it, but the car was just dented. The mirror was pretty toast.
And then there was some joy to be had and enjoyed. We roasted marshmallows:
Calvin and Matilda invented a game called Fire Magic, where you let the tip of your marshmallow stick get a glowing ember and then you wave it around in the dark to make letters and shapes:
And like all good games kids invent, it ends when you burn your brother, clear through his shirt and to his skin and then your mom yanks away your Fire Magic sticks and chucks them into the woods and you cry.
We had a bath in the big, luxurious tub:
I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that the anxiety and weight of those 24 hours really hit me that night. After the kids went to bed, I had to have a call with David where I walked through every horrible scenario that could have happened (Dr. Strange, but much less quickly) and he would rationally respond with how we would have handled that. Couldn’t get towed? He’d drive up. Car wouldn’t start when we got it towed? He’d drive up in a rental and drive us back.
But then, we caught butterflies the next day.
And played in the creek some more.
Lots of reading:
And then on Thursday, we drove home IN THE DAYLIGHT.
On Friday we all tested negative.
I don’t have a snappy ending. If this was something written by my journalism students, I’d tell them it didn’t feel finished.
I’m glad I did it. It was scary. I need this whole thing to be over. That’s all.
[I could have put another revision on this, but it’s getting late and I wanted this out of my drafts.]