“Wherever there are four Episcopal priests, there is always a fifth,” it has been noted, with a sly smile. In particular, Mary Laurie Cece’s father used to say this (an Episcopal priest and college professor himself).
Mary Laurie recently recounted this to her four grown kids, living at home.
“What’s a fifth?” one of them asked.
For those under 25: it’s a handle.
These are the sorts of things you teach – and learn – when you’re stuck under one roof together, simmering in a flavorful stew of love and annoyance.
I’m so delighted for Mary Laurie and her daughter Margaret to spend some time in the Bacon Neighborhood today, talking about what they’ve learned in the time of corona…
Hi Mary Laurie and Margaret! Let’s start with where you are, and where you’ve been. Where were you on January 1st? Where are you today? Where have you been in between?
ML: I left our home in Kiawah on December 31st and had a wonderful calm New Year’s Eve dinner with my sister and her family at a steak house in New York City. I also had so much fun once I arrived back home as daughter Margaret and many of her St. Andrew’s friends had landed in our apartment for an impromptu New Years’ party. I was asleep before midnight but was awoken to a bit of drama with kids not feeling too well from all the celebrations. Let’s put it this way, two of my daughters spent the wee hours of January 1 in different hospital emergency rooms taking care of friends who didn’t fare so well on New Year’s Eve. We as a family vowed never to have a January 1 like that again, but I have to say in the complexities of traversing the new Covid world, I miss the simple chaos of only have to deal with kids who have too much to drink.
Today I am in Kiawah. It is beautiful and the sun is setting in its multitudes of yellows and oranges over the marsh. I have only gone back to New York once since mid-March, so I guess, my in-between would be I-95.
Margaret: I started the New Year in New York with friends and family. I ended up having an impromptu party with St. Andrew’s friends which was a blast. I am very superstitious of starting the New Year off on a good foot, it typically doesn’t end up this way. This New Years I spent the first hours in an emergency room with a friend, but even though the stress of the moment, my St. Andrews family was there for me and reminded me how important they are in my life.
I am now in Kiawah with my mom and siblings. It’s hard to complain while quarantining on a beach, but I am very ready to return to D.C. and my college life. I have not left this island since March, so the cabin fever is starting to set in.
What is your state of mind?
ML: My state of mind is in a constant state of flux. I wish I could say I was one way or another, but it depends on the hour, the weather, the crisis of the moment. In general, however, I would say I am feeling hopeful. It is really nice spending so much time with young people, my four children in this case, who are in the upward trajectory of their lives. They are so excited about their futures. Their anticipation is infectious. They see the world as full of possibilities even in the time of Covid. They know it will be over and then the world will be there for them as a place in which to succeed and flourish. I remember having the same feelings of optimism at 21-23. It’s enviable and makes me feel hopeful for the state of our country and world.
Margaret: I agree with Mom that I am constantly in a state of flux. At times I feel beyond grateful for the opportunity to focus on myself and my tan, but there is frustration with losing my senior summer. To be completely honest, the state I feel most consistently during this time is anxiety. I feel anxious regarding someone getting sick, FOMO (fear of missing out) as all my friends are in DC, the future of my college career, and my professional life. I am glad my mom sees how excited we are about our futures because, at the end of the day, that excitement outweighs any anxiety I have about how my future will unfold. If there’s one thing Covid has taught me it’s that life is unpredictable, so I have to take each moment in stride and make the most of it.
Do you feel like you’re adjusting to a “new normal” or waiting and hoping to get back to “normal as you knew it” before Corona? Margaret, do you know if you’ll be going back to school in August?
ML: I miss my old normal. I really don’t like Work From Home because I recently started a new job and had not been quite acclimated to my new firm when we started work from home. I would like WFH for one day a week in the future, but I like getting dressed and going to an office and meeting face to face with colleagues.
Margaret: I am lucky to have my “new normal” feel like a childhood summer to me, so I haven’t felt the impact of Covid that many who live in cities are feeling currently. I just got the news that we will be returning to school in August with strict prevention measures in place. This will mean no frat parties, no breaks, and we will be returning home permanently after Thanksgiving and taking our finals online. I am graduating this fall because I decided to spend this summer filling my days with summer school and my internship. I do hope that my senior fall will have some aspects of the “normal as I knew it”.
Please send me a few photos from Life in the Time of Corona – and why did you choose these?
ML: I chose a few pics of the wonderful dinners we have cooked on an almost daily basis and then a pic of my children and me on our one dinner out in three months celebrating Charlotte’s 23rd birthday.
Margaret: As you can see from the pictures, I have dyed my hair brown out of quarantine boredom. I chose these to remind myself and the world, that I should remain a blonde. These other pictures are of my social life adjusting to Covid. The 6 feet apart hang out with my friend Theodora has become a staple for my sanity during this time.
ML: I am happy to answer. And it has been stressful but wonderful at the same time. The stress of family dynamics is a constant. I had hoped the older my children got that they would outgrow some of the old patterns of conflict. But, alas, the patterns remain. And we don’t deal with them much better than we did when the children were 10 years old. But, what I have learned is that we get over them. The desire to be together and have the fun times which include lengthy discussions about books and movies, playing bridge (which Margaret seems to be the killer player), and preparing wonderful dinners has outweighed the stress and conflict. I hope that when we are not all together for such a long period of time in years ahead (i.e. when fiances and grandchildren come to visit and Covid is something we read about in history books) that the conflict will diminish and the happiness and fun times will far outweigh sibling rivalry.
Margaret: I have learned a lot during this time with my family. As with any family, there are a lot of ups and downs and often just moments apart. I have not lived with my siblings for the past 7 years, so being with them has been challenging for all of us, navigating the personalities we have now with the person we knew then. Mom had 4 children within 3 years, and having us all so close in age breeds a special bond, but also special struggles. As difficult as I have found this time with my family, I am so grateful to have it because we are working together to create a family unit that will last a lifetime. The memories of this time will remain with us forever, and with all the good, bad, and ugly, I wouldn’t trade my relationship with my family for the world.
What are you most worried about right now?
ML: I am most worried about having enough internet capacity so that I can work and the kids can do summer school and/or virtual internships at the same time. I have been in the middle of contract negotiations and have been knocked off of Zoom… it is not fun.
Margaret: I am most worried about going into the job market. I am glad I will be graduating in December, so I have a buffer during the spring to job hunt, but this isn’t the best time to be on the search. The field of art galleries, consulting, and museum work does not have the best track record when it comes to finding jobs, so I’m sure it’ll only be more difficult in the post-Covid world. However, I am learning how to adapt to the new art world in a technology-based environment through my internship, so I am hoping to engage with that in my professional career.
What gives you hope?
ML: Black Lives Matter, I have fully recovered from breast cancer diagnosed 16 months ago, my children and their friends care about the environment and a warming planet, my church has been doing incredible outreach in New York City in the midst of such a crisis, and my friends have stayed in great touch during Corona, among other things.
Margaret: I would say it is the willingness of her generation to be a part of the conversation. As a St. Andrews alumni, I have always had a passion for these causes, but have found it difficult to have conversations with my parents about the gravity of the situation. Through these conversations, I have learned just as much as my parents have about how to navigate what the future of our country holds.
What did you learn in high school that you still remember today?
ML: Watch and listen and it will serve you well. I grew up in a small cotton mill town in Alabama, which happened to also be a University town (lots of confederate monuments there). My parents were college professors who valued education and they sent me to a private high school 30 miles away. I learned so much from my friends and their families. I learned that I was smart and should/could reach for the stars in terms of education and career (you never believe it when it’s just your parents saying it). I was an exchange student at Scarsdale High School when I was a junior (1979). Most people now laugh when I tell them about my AFS exchange from deep South to Westchester County, but I learned a lot from that experience! I heard about Bruce Springsteen long before anyone else in Alabama, ate at Benihana long before hibachi was passe, and dated a guy whose family owned a Gutenberg Bible. I didn’t even know that was a thing!
Margaret: St. Andrews was the most important four years of my life. I thought it might be difficult to try and find a sense of self without parents to be there for me, but I had such a unique opportunity to learn and grow that has shaped me into the person I am today. The most important thing I learned in high school was the importance of listening to others. Just like my mom, I came from a small community where most people seemed to have the same opinions. My freshman year roommate was from Guyana, a country in South America, and had a completely different upbringing than I did. While I learned a lot of hard lessons about my own prejudices and ignorance, the way me and my friends taught each other was so unique and empowering. I try and take the lessons in empathy and willingness to listen in to every conversation I have as an adult.
Since we’re talking about education – and we all have a little time on our hands – let’s stretch back to middle school. What did you learn then that you still remember today?
ML: I didn’t much like middle school. This was the time that I realized I wanted something more out of life than what I saw in my small town. One thing I do remember is a particular lesson in humility. There was a boy in my 8th grade English class who sat in the desk right in front of me. I noticed he wore the same pair of brown corduroy pants every day. I told my mother that I wanted to spend my allowance to buy him another pair of pants, anonymously of course. My mother informed me that his mother was a department head at the local university and a single mother of four. One of her sons was at Princeton and his siblings went to the private school thirty miles away. I was not to buy him a pair of pants because he was not poor, rather his mother was making choices.
Margaret: While middle school was still a long time ago for me, some of the lessons still feel a little too fresh to pinpoint. In hindsight, I think I learned that popularity does not equal happiness. I had a lot of friends in middle school but struggled with my personal happiness and satisfaction. I would say that middle school taught me to find my own passions, even if I didn’t fully allow myself to see them at that time. I fell in love with reading and history but focused more on school dance outfits, which I think was typical for most middle schoolers. The lessons I learned about myself then I am still grappling with through college, so I will get back to you on this one.
Let’s come back up for air. What are you reading/watching/listening to right now? We all need recommendations!
ML: The Heart”s Invisible Furies and Between the World and Me (for my bookclub).
Margaret: I am going to second The Heart’s Invisible Furies. I just finished A Farewell To Arms, which I highly recommend (no one else in my family likes Hemingway though). I have recently gotten into podcasts and love to listen to “This Week In Art” which is hosted by Christie’s that will not only appeal to art lovers but also people interested in what the world will look like after Covid.
What advice would you give others – if any – for keeping spirits up in these uncertain times?
ML: I am more in need of advice than giving advice! But, if pressed I would say watch old movies… you may never get the chance again: Mildred Pearce, The Way We Were, All about Eve, The Sound of Music, The Graduate and Sabrina. Enjoy! We love them.
Margaret: Reach out to friends! My St. Andrews friends have weekly zoom calls. At the end of the week hearing a familiar voice can be the most reassuring thing. I also would recommend doing one thing you keep meaning to do but have never felt the time to. For us, as mom said, watching classic movies is something that we can easily do and brings us all together.
Let’s wrap up with some speed dating questions…
Favorite beverage in the Time of Corona?
ML: Wine, any flavor so long as it is not pink
Margaret: Wine as well, but any flavor.
Favorite ice cream?
Margaret: Vanilla with fresh South Carolina peaches
Most annoyed by?
ML: I don’t think I should say as it relates to our current politics.
Margaret: Seeing people at bars rather than being respectful of the situation at hand.
ML: Spraying my pillow with lavender night spray and going asleep to the Calm app
Margaret: A handful of chocolate chips and a glass of wine before bed.
More or less cooking?
ML: Much, much more (I normally live and work in New York City)
Margaret: Less, just because mom and my brother Griffin have taken control of the kitchen.
Sick of Zoom yet? HATE Zoom yet?
ML: Not a fan of the Zoom except my siblings and I have all reconnected in a weekly Zoom call. That is progress!!!
Margaret: I love Zoom with the right people, but I am sick of Zoom school.
Favorite place to be outside?
ML: Walking on the beach
Margaret: Tanning on the beach.
Favorite place to be inside?
ML: In my bed reading a book
Margaret: On the beach reading a book.
Are you more or less yourself in the Time of Corona?
ML: I am still trying to figure that out… I am in the middle of lots of transitions. I hope coming out of Corona to have moved forward in lots of ways.
Margaret: Less… but trying to show my family and myself the new person I am that they haven’t seen before.
Most interesting thing you have learned in Time of Corona:
ML: See introduction. My children do not know what a fifth of liquor is.
Margaret: Honestly, I have to give a shout out to my siblings for this one. We are all so passionate and know so much about our respective majors that I have learned more about middle eastern society, media culture, and fashion over the past few months than I would have ever known in a lifetime.
P.S. We did this interview next to each other but did not discuss our answers till after. It was surprising and endearing to see how much we have in common. Mother and daughters tend to think they live on different planets, but at the end of the day, we both have the same values and have learned the same lessons. Thank you for reminding us of this!
I loved every moment with both of you. Thank you so much!! Xoxo