While my daughter, Jillian, and I were at “The Most Magical Place On Earth” in March, the unthinkable happened. For ESSENCE’s longstanding partnership with Steve Harvey and the Disney Dreamers Academy, I was at Walt Disney World serving as a journalism instructor for what was supposed to be their annual four-day mentoring intensive program for 100 students. With only one full day in the books for the Dreamers and chaperones, the program joined the long list of events suspended as the novel coronavirus spread. That night, I explained with a heavy heart our special trip would be cut short, but to lighten the mood, I jokingly asked my daughter: “What if we get stuck in Florida?” We giggled at the thought of sheltering – more like sweltering — in shorts and sandals, not realizing that would become our reality.
Jillian and I flew back to New York City and stocked up for the lockdown in our Brooklyn apartment. We were adjusting to the restrictions of our comings and goings—gloves and masks, check—but then international travel bans escalated overnight. My daughter’s father, Max Maura, who has a construction business in Haiti, was working in Port-au-Prince on a two-month contract. After a few hiccups, including booked flights canceling at the last minute and Haiti’s airport closure, Max made one of the flights evacuating U.S. citizens. We began texting about where he’d be quarantined. He did not have symptoms or a diagnosis; he had only the worry and fear many of us felt about getting it the minute we stepped out of our doors. We went back and forth on possibilities, then he casually threw out, “How about Florida?” I sent him a LOL emoji, texting back how much our daughter would love that. Two hours later Max said a couple he knew was offering us their small guest house near Fort Lauderdale. One way flights were less than $100 and one of his favorite cousins would pick us up from the airport. Max would disinfect the space and we could arrive the next day. I had 72 hours to make a decision.
The opportunity seemed like a Godsend except for the fact we, like the rest of the world, were in the midst of a deadly pandemic and our government was telling its citizens to stay home. Getting on a plane with a 10-year-old child felt wild and reckless, but haven’t I daydreamed about waking up to palm trees in the tropics? On my little one’s big sketch pad, we wrote out a list of pros and cons, from potentially being a burden on an overextended health care system if we stayed to missing our friends if we left. But there was one perk that made everything clear: “Papa.”
And there it was. While we were accustomed to spending weeks separated from her dad due to his work abroad, this was a time we needed to be together as a family. Instead of cowering at the very real fear of traveling at such a precarious time, I embraced testing my faith that, God willing, we would get there in good health. We did. And after quarantining for 14 days as directed by Florida’s governor, our family remains untouched by COVID-19. We’ve created new memories: learning constellations by stargazing each night and taking long evening walks.
And waking up to palm trees outside our window has been marvelous.