When life gives you a pandemic, buy a trampoline.
Said no one ever.
Except my wife, who a month into the safer-at-home order, decided it was the most expedient way to persuade our children to get a little fresh air.
“Isn’t it also the most expedient way to get a broken arm?” I asked.
But after a month of being sardined alongside one another, we decided it was worth the risk.
To say that assembling a trampoline was more difficult than I expected would be an understatement. To say that it involved no four-letter words would be a lie. But it was all worth it to see my children’s smiling faces, which I observed from some newly earned distance.
Thanks to the trampoline, social distancing became easier for the kids. When trapped within its cage-like net, there was little chance of them coming into contact with anyone. An added benefit was that the trampoline allowed them to practice social distancing from their parents. After one particularly trying day of “home schooling,” they rolled their jampacked suitcases to their new bouncy home and promised they’d check in at Christmas. We wished them well, and then, 15 minutes later, enjoyed our grand reunion.
Yes, it was a happy time in our household — right up until my son’s symptoms emerged.
It started with a fever, then a cough, then a few other ailments that checked off the boxes we feared. My son took it in stride, though my wife and I didn’t. Under “normal” circumstances, such complaints would have hardly registered on our parental radars, but these were different times. We called the Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, and after an intensive pre-screening process, were told to take Henry to the drive-thru testing tent in the converted lot to the right of the hospital.
We masked up, then made the short trip to the tent, where we were greeted by a police officer whose job it was to tell us to keep our windows rolled up. Next, a health care worker held up a sign informing me to call a particular phone number, which routed me on to the next health care worker in the lineup.
“Hello,” said the health care worker on the other end, “I’m right here in the tent.”
Sure enough, the woman waved to us. What a comfort to see her masked face, and to know that someone just a few feet away would guide us through this journey. My son’s health wasn’t being outsourced to some medical call center half a country away; it was being handled locally, by a person who, were it not for her mask, I might recognize. She walked us through the process, then said, “If he tests positive, we’ll give you a call. If he’s negative, you’ll receive an email. Any questions?”
Since most of my questions were existential in nature, I simply thanked her for her time. And then, we pulled into the tent, where we were greeted by our final medical professional of the morning, this one protected behind a face shield. I rolled down the window to the appropriate level.
“Hi Henry,” the man said. “Could you sit on your Dad’s lap, please?”
Unbuckling, Henry climbed over the console.
Then, the man explained that he would soon insert a cotton swab into Henry’s nasal cavity.
“Will it hurt?” Henry asked.
“It won’t,” the man assured.
He was right; it all happened so fast there was no time for pain.
For the next 12 hours, Henry and I self-isolated from the rest of the family and prayed the phone wouldn’t ring. We whittled away the hours staring out the window as his little sister bounced carefree on the trampoline.
Suddenly the fear of a broken arm seemed trivial.
Was I scared? Absolutely. But not just of the virus. Equally troubling was what the virus had already revealed about who we are as Americans. That we would imperil our own lives for a day at the beach is bad enough, but that we would also imperil the lives of others to ensure our good time was nothing short of a moral reckoning.
It’s worth mentioning that most of our citizens aren’t at the beach. And that those who have been spared the physical toll of the virus are potentially paying a different price. To those who’ve lost jobs, my heart goes out to you. To those who have jobs but can’t work, I feel for you too. I don’t want anyone to lose a business, or a home, or a paycheck. I also don’t want anyone to lose a father, or a daughter, or a friend.
Many of us have been led to believe that we must have it one way or the other. While such a false dilemma does much to rally a base, it does little to heal a nation. Or, more pressing, find a solution that protects both our lives and our livelihoods. After losing over 70,000 Americans, we’ve passed the point of pretending that our actions don’t directly impact the people around us. What we do matters. Always, but especially now.
As I’ve observed, the same principle holds true on a trampoline. One child’s bounce alters the others’ bounce. If the bounces are ill-timed, the kids disrupt each other. But when timed right, both kids are propelled higher than either could have managed on their own.
Just before bed, my wife received the email.
“Negative!” she shouted. “It’s negative!”
Leaping from their beds and springing through the back door, my son and daughter reunited in a dogpile on the trampoline.
“We did it!” they shouted, though, in fact, they had done nothing to ensure this outcome.
Yet in doing nothing, they were doing everything that was asked of them. Day after day, they jump on their trampoline, they put up with their parents, and they keep everyone safe.
Tightening my bathrobe, I climbed onto the trampoline alongside them.
“Ready?” I asked.
“Ready!” they said.
Together, we sent ourselves soaring — defying gravity for as long as the world would allow.