The Unplanned Voyage

White embroidery on black cloth of a two-masted ship attached to an external tank and solid rocket boosters

A small embroidery I made hangs in the bedroom that I share with my husband, my cat, and, sometimes, my kids. It depicts a two-masted ship soaring straight into the heavens, sails unfurled. But the ship is not propelled by the wind. An external tank and solid rocket boosters are attached to its hull, exploding it into a starry sky. The idea for the design came to me several years ago, while I was reading Leaving Orbit by Margaret Lazarus Dean ’94, a beautiful, melancholic book about the end of the U.S. space shuttle era. I stitched it thinking of frontiers and exploration and Neverland.

These days, I spend a lot of time gazing at this piece of cloth and thread. Our bedroom has become an office for both me and my husband since our town, Natick, Mass., closed public schools on March 13 to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Our room is the preferred location for Zoom calls if you want a fighting chance of not being interrupted by one of our kids, ages 7 and 10. (Our cat, Maddie, abides by rules of her own and has shown her fluffy haunches to many of our coworkers.)

When I study my ship now, I think less of travel and adventure and more about long-term isolation in small quarters. Early in the days of the quarantine, I brightly told my kids over dinner that self-isolation in our small, 1880s-era house would be decent practice for making a trip to Mars. The next day, my daughter and I watched The Martian together. (Maybe it could count as science class, I thought optimistically.) I commented that while we may be low on flour, at least we didn’t have to eat potatoes for a year like Matt Damon’s character.

Suiting up for grocery-store shopping certainly feels as complicated as preparing for a spacewalk. My husband and I leave the house wearing homemade masks (who knew my sewing skills would be so useful during a national emergency?), toting a precious bottle of hand sanitizer that we deploy before and after leaving the market.

Perhaps my love of space travel comes naturally; before I was born, my father worked as a software engineer at MIT’s Instrumentation Laboratory on the Apollo project. He is currently weathering the pandemic with my mother in their Concord, Mass., home, with some frustration. I was distraught in the early days of quarantine to learn that he had gone to the Five & Ten to get a replacement button for one of his jackets. “Why did he think that button was mission critical?!” I yelled over the phone when my mother told me about his unsanctioned trip. She sighed.

There is plenty of turbulence on our own little ship, which doesn’t have much soundproofing but does have a 7-year-old who communicates mostly at a shout. I’ve developed a deep admiration for my children’s elementary-school teachers, who have had to rework their curriculum, on the fly, using online tools that work with varying degrees of success. (I loathe Seesaw.) But as the weeks have gone by, my goals have shifted from replicating my kids’ pre-pandemic lives to just making sure they’re not complete jerks and spend some time reading instead of playing Minecraft or Roblox. I have also, perhaps, slightly lowered my own expectations for myself as an editor. (If you discover a misplaced comma in this issue—my bad.)

I’ve also learned to emphasize the small things that bring us joy. My husband introducing us to Dungeons and Dragons, a long-dormant passion of his. My son’s delight with our old Calvin and Hobbes books. Chrissy Teigen’s banana bread recipe. Allowing my kids to put on bathing suits, hop in the tub, and empty a couple cans of shaving cream. The unexpected thrill that comes from taking clippers to my husband’s head. Schitt’s Creek.

While my family is decidedly grounded for the foreseeable future, some things miraculously move ahead anyway, regardless of the stay-at-home advisories. On a particularly beautiful April morning, we all took our bikes to the empty parking lot at the end of our street. My son, who had abandoned training wheels last fall but hadn’t quite mastered balancing on his own, decided to give it another go. After much cheering and encouragement from his sister, and a little push from my husband, he wobbled past one parking spot on his own, then another, then another, keeping up his typical all-caps commentary the entire time. Lift off.

Lisa Scanlon Mogolov ’99, a senior associate editor at this magazine, wrote this essay in late April. When this issue went online in August, she was nervously awaiting word on her school district’s plans for the fall. She is still doing the best she can.

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