By: Kathleen & Caroline McCown
Kathleen is a Communications Consultant. She is a former Director of Public Affairs for a Fortune 500 corporation and the recipient of several awards for excellence in communication. She has served on the Boards of the Pound Ridge Library and St. Luke’s School.
Caroline, 26, is a Management Consultant based in Philadelphia. She graduated with honors from Johns Hopkins University and The Hotchkiss School. Prior to that, she attended St. Luke’s, Pound Ridge Elementary, and Pound Ridge Montessori. Her roots go deep into the Bedford/New Canaan community.
Not long after becoming aware of the virus in Wuhan, I felt the familiar pull of Pound Ridge. From my sister Deb’s winter get-away in Palm Beach, my husband, John, my sister, and I followed news reports of increasing concern.I mostly resisted the urge to call my 26-year old son, Jack, and my 25-year old daughter, Caroline, to give them a parental ‘Pay Attention’, ‘Take Care’. After all, they’re adults, and I try not to be too involved.
Jack is a successful software engineer, lives and works in Murray Hill walking distance
from everything, and doesn’t need me to tell him what to do.
Caroline is a management consultant based in Philadelphia, reveling in the richness of her young adult life from her perch on Rittenhouse Square.
They live in their own worlds of energy and optimism, blown by youth and good fortune. Their worlds are anyways impenetrable to my cautionary texts and calls.But I wasn’t going to just sit quietly forever.
Kathleen McCown and her sister Debra Coughlin on the back porch of their Pound Ridge home
When my kids’ employers mandated that they work remotely, I saw my opening.
I honestly couldn’t wait to have them under wing and in the nest. Although our family has had different residences over the years – a mountain retreat, a beach house, a mid-town apartment – our nest has always been at Miller Road in Pound Ridge.
My husband, my sister, and I packed our bags and started the drive back home from Florida, and I texted the kids and suggested that it would be fun to meet up in Pound Ridge… and held my breath!
“COME HOME!” my mom texted, shouty caps telegraphing her insistence. After a week-long drumbeat of calls and texts from her, it was a mandate, not a suggestion.
My knee jerk reaction was, “No!”
I was happy with my full plate of work and play, living in Philadelphia and on assignment in Manhattan. I like meeting friends, any time and all the time, for drinks, for dinners, for parties, for shows. I like morning runs and evening walks, and hanging-out in the City with my brother, Jack, and his Aussie, Taz (the favorite McCown). Would responding “Yes” to my mom’s text be saying “No” to all of that?
But, as much as I didn’t want to acknowledge it, the tomorrow I had planned for myself wasn’t happening. It was early March and the impact of coronavirus had hit. My consulting firm suspended all travel to my client site, and the aisles of my local Trader Joes were alarmingly empty. The Pure Barre Rittenhouse studio I frequented was closed (bye bye for now, toned tush). Friends postponed plans in rushed retreats back to their families. ‘Social distancing’ was cementing itself into the common vernacular.
At first, my mom’s demand seemed characteristically hyperbolic. Was a move home reeeally necessary?
When I thought about it, staying alone in my apartment didn’t seem quite as comfortable as being home in Pound Ridge – a place I love, with people I love, and who love me. I figured I’d be back in Philly at the end of the month to reunite with my boyfriend! The prospect of what I thought would be a couple of weeks in Pound Ridge, with a pool, made some sense.
So, I answered, “Yes” to my mom’s clarion call, and headed home to chez McCown to do some hunkering.
Living together again has been a once-in-a-lifetime gift. When else would my millennial children settle back into the rooms of their childhood for more than a weekend or brief holiday visit? Covid returned all of us to the comfort and safety of Pound Ridge. We picked up from where we left off, before the children departed home. It was this mother’s dream.
Our home is open-armed in accommodating our needs – space for working, for working out and “vegging out,” for reading and writing, for cooking with and for each other. Space to Zoom. Space for Jack’s wonderful dog, Taz, to run free. Most important, the house holds us close. Days are filled with work commitments, home projects, checking in on family and friends, keeping up with Covid news. In the evenings we come together for dinners that last longer than the meal. We indulge in every dinner table talk taboo. We argue about politics and religion. We are presumptive and pepper each other with personal questions. We laugh with and, yes, at each other.
While the world closed down to Covid, in Pound Ridge nature opened up. ‘Going out’ once meant enjoying a cappuccino at Kitchen Table, dining at The Inn at Pound Ridge, shopping on Elm Street in New Canaan, catching a film at The Bedford Playhouse, racing to the City. Now, ‘going out’ means a walk or a drive.
First the forsythia woke up, then the daffodils, finally the deciduous trees. Black branches against gray skies receded behind masses of green against blue. The two lane roads that tie Westchester and Fairfield towns together in our neck of the woods, invited us to come out. And so we did. We rode by old haunts, walked familiar trails, discovered new ones. From the horse farms of Bedford and the openness of Pound Ridge to the more cultivated streets of New Canaan, all roads boast beauty. Without the usual demands of time and commitments we traverse those roads slowly, thoughtfully. We feel them as they curve, arch upward and relax down. Surprises reward us. “Look – a fox!” “Did you see the hawk?” “Turkeys!” “I never noticed that cottage tucked back by the pond.” “I never noticed the pond!”
By looking outward, we looked inward. So much of what we see – how each of us looks at the world, how each of us determines what’s of value – is through the lense of living here. Appreciation of nature, community, family – all largely honed by our life in Pound Ridge.
Covid has taken many of the world’s freedoms, but at home it gives us time. Time for my husband and I to be with our newly adult children before they’re absorbed by families of their own. Time to see them as grown-ups against vivid recollections of them at home growing up. Time to appreciate all of it.
Months later…still stuck in Pound Ridge. No trips back to Philly. Travel entails exposure to potential infection that could put my virus-vulnerable family at risk. A long weekend in Philly, disregarding expert advice to stay put, could mean weeks of solitary confinement. So, for the sake of my sanity, frontline workers, Dr. Fauci, and my mom, I remain at home, and learn to live a new life of Covid confinement.
Pre-Covid, my morning routine consisted of ‘getting cute’ (cue: blow drying hair; applying mascara and gloss; dressing in whatever imbued my psyche with confidence) before buying an overpriced oat milk latte and embarking on a walking commute from my hotel to my client’s offices. Now, at home, my morning routine consists of brushing my teeth (always), brushing my hair (usually), changing into non-sleeping sweatpants (sometimes), and descending the stairs to drink Keurig coffee and watch Morning Joe with my pajama clad dad (always).
Pre-Covid, socializing consisted of going out with friends to explore the cities that we were lucky to share. In Covid confinement, socializing consists of Zoom, Facetime, jackbox.tv, and joint NYTimes crossword sessions.
And most of all, pre-Covid, staying in touch with family meant texts and calls to catch up on each other’s news. In the omnipresence of Covid confinement, my family’s news is my news too, and visa versa. For a long time, we saw only each other in person, everyone else on screen.
My life at home is:
- Laughing at my dad’s corny jokes: “Can’t have the usual people help us out with the property for a while, so I’m stepping in. Your mother is now sleeping with the pool boy.”
- Watching my dad respond to my brother’s progressive political ideas and poke fun at his newly grown facial hair:“What have we here, son? The new Karl Marx?”
- Cozying up around the firepit at night and listening to stories about what life was like for my parents before we were a family: “You and Dad did what?!?”
- Sharing long walks together.
- And the very necessary freedom of running alone, far, through all that sweet, fresh, Pound Ridge air.
I only half-joke that it can be sometimes suffocating. The reality is that coming home to my family in Pound Ridge is some kind of wonderful.
One activity I’ll never forget is enduring a 9+ hour Godfather movie marathon in one protracted sitting to satisfy my mom’s desire for me and my brother to be sufficiently versed in cinema classics. When the final closing credits rolled, my mom looked at me and asked, “Ladybug, wouldn’t you like some buttered noodles?” She gave me a hug and every bit of my twenty-five-year-old independence melted in her embrace. I couldn’t help thinking – ‘just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in’.
AT WHAT COST
Covid hit pause on our lives and I’ve been happy to freeze in place. My appetite for lapping up my son’s humor and my daughter’s brightness is insatiable. I may never tire of watching my husband teach Jack how to master the outdoor pizza oven. I will never stop looking forward to Caroline’s s’mores at the firepit after sundown. And all the 24/7 tech support!
Yet, I am aware that what nourishes my maternal leanings, starves my children of continued independence needed for growth. As twenty-somethings, their professional and social development had been on warp speed. As Covid has slammed the brakes on their lives, I wonder what the long term effects of the resulting whiplash will be.
Zooming is better than nothing when a boyfriend is missed or a friend’s birthday calls for celebration. But a screen is not a person. Will existing relationships survive? Will some that normally should have waned, be cemented for lack of alternatives? What will the full cost of Covid be on my kids’ lives and for all of us? Only time will tell.
All I know for sure is what Covid confinement with my family means to me. It means everything.
It’s impossible to know now what the cost of being pulled back will be. When the virus ripped through the fabric of life, I was extremely fortunate that my family pulled me back, to be all together, in Pound Ridge. Our home is perfect for shelter-in-place. I know I’ll be forever thankful for all of it.
I also know that I can’t wait to get back to the life I put on hold. I can’t wait to say “Yes” again…but not to my mom…to my life – the one I was just beginning.