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Last weekend, I went to one of the local farm stands to pick up a few vegetables and local strawberries. I wasn’t prepared for the number of people on the road and at the farm stand. 

I guess I’ve been living in our little bubble up on Sound Shore Road so much so that I didn’t realize the tourists are back. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very glad that local businesses are finally allowed to open and to work out best practices to keep the public safe and make their services and products available to customers.

But it seems like the tourist season is upon us here on the North Fork whether locals are ready or not. For the most part, people were wearing masks — which I appreciate as a mom caring for a young adult with disabilities who is especially vulnerable to infections.

We’ve carefully opened our home to very limited visits by two of our aides whose lives have been centered around their own homes during the quarantine. While I still attend to my daughter’s personal needs even when the aides are available, it’s a welcome respite to have her socializing and interacting with someone other than myself or my husband. 

Zoom has also been a lifesaver as a few of the aides opted in to play games and visit websites with Johanna. The irony of this stay at home is that my daughter has visited many new places and had many experiences in online platforms, including zoos, aquariums, and museums around the country. 

I limit my reading of pandemic news to doctors I trust who I know are well-researched and don’t have political agendas. Thankfully we have access to an excellent infectious disease doctor who has treated my daughter a few times over the past few years. He has answered many questions and helped to guide me in some of our decisions to keep my daughter safe.

A few weeks ago he made this comment to me in an email which caused me to pause: “With all interactions, there may be some risk; our goals are to minimize them as much as possible.”  His words affirmed our approach to keep my daughter in our little bubble — but also to be very careful about how we handle social interactions at home. 

His words also helped me realize that we are in this for the long game. We will remain close to home until there are viable treatments and/or vaccines that can protect individuals like my daughter. The risk is just too great.

For as social as my daughter is, she really enjoys her little life at home. We’ve expanded her art gallery from “Jo’s Cottage” — an old converted shed in the backyard in which many of her pieces are displayed — to the walls of our living and dining rooms. 

Jo will often point to the artwork on the walls while she sips her morning coffee, saying with a smile, “Hey Mom. It looks like you have an art gallery here.” And there are many such treasures to behold!

Realizing that Jo’s jobs in the community — at  North Fork Donut Company and Love Lane Kitchen will also be on hold for the foreseeable future — I was looking for ways to help her feel part of the larger community at large. 

Thus entered the chickens. 

If you ask Johanna what her first “job” was she will likely tell you that she collected chicken eggs and was paid in eggs on our neighbor’s farm, before we moved to our current home. Truthfully, she probably only collected the eggs 10 times in the nearly 20 years we lived there. But it made a huge impact on her — second only to folding boxes at the donut shop and coming home with her favorite Samoa donut. 

Soon Jo will be collecting our own chicken eggs from the nesting boxes in a coop that was adapted to be at the correct height to accommodate Jo’s balance and abilities. We will consume what we can. (Omelets anyone?) But Jo will also be selling them out of her surrey bike to our neighbors and friends! Johanna is very excited to develop this new entrepreneurial adventure and create her own opportunity to work from home.

One phrase has come to mind throughout this pandemic time and has helped guide our strategies for keeping our daughter safe. The phrase “bloom where you are planted” means so much more to me and gives me hope for Jo’s future.

Though Jo’s community habilitation program is likely to be centered at home for the foreseeable year at least, there are so many wonderful opportunities for growth and hope. 

Some of us are in this for the long game. You won’t likely see us having dinner at local restaurants — outside or inside. But you will likely see us picking up dinners to go or on walks (or surrey biking) to the beach. 

Please remember that wearing masks in public helps to contain any possible spread and gives people like us the opportunity to leave the confines of our house to get ice cream or pick up some local produce at the farm stands without concerns for carrying infections back to my daughter at home or in the car.

As we enter each phase of reopening let us practice caring and respect for each others’ lives with deference to personal liberty and concern for our neighbors. The two go hand in hand. 

May this summer be a time of new growth and beauty for all of us to bloom — wherever our lives are planted.

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Eileen Benthal
Eileen is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a bachelor’s degree in theology from Franciscan University. She and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Email Eileen