We're all trying to keep on the sunny side these days, which somehow reminds me of that horrible game, Red Rover.
In my childhood neighborhood, we often played Colored Eggs, Statues and our own invention, the Around the Block Game, a team challenge that involved a great deal of conspiring, sneaking up on and furtive trespassing in the yards of childless neighbors.
We also occasionally played Red Rover, but it was never worth the terrifying suspense of watching a taller, heavier kid hurling himself directly at two small clasped hands and spindly wrists.
Now, in the time of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, staying upbeat feels similarly fraught.
"Let COVID come over!" we say, bracing ourselves and clenching our teeth behind our face masks. Even the words "staying upbeat" sound silly, as if a word from Shirley Temple as Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm will fix everything right up.
Still, some of the pandemic's side effects are not so bad.
Early on, for instance, when chilly weather made coats and jackets perfectly reasonable, it was easy to make my infrequent trips to the store wearing only comfy clothes, with no constricting garments at all.
Even then, I wasn't quite as casual as the shoppers I see wearing flannel pajama pants and bedroom slippers. But for a couple of weeks, I had the pleasure of understanding exactly how knights felt when they didn't have to put on their gauntlets, pauldrons and plackarts to run an errand.
Summer soon put an end to that luxury, but we can still, Rebecca-like, find joy in face masks.
Granted, covering our mouths and noses in public has its downside, but masks also make even the most cursory swipes at makeup superfluous. Lipstick, not that I own any, is out of the question, and I don't even remember what else I used to put on my face.
Better yet, masks allow us to talk to ourselves, as long as we talk quietly and without a lot of noticeable lip movement. Oh, the freedom of walking around the grocery store, commenting on the price of melons, the condition of the apricots and shoppers who have chosen to wear their masks tucked under their chins like a feed bag, while singing whatever song was on the car radio right before I came in.
I'll pay for this habit should we ever shop bare-faced again, but right now I never shut up. "Fruity Pebbles cereal looks like a broken pinata left out in the rain. ... Good heavens, you can either buy pine nuts or educate your children; you can't do both. ... And you can tell everybody that this is your son. ... Hey, thanks for hogging both sides of the aisle, leaving your cart square in the middle, while the rest of us stand 6 feet away, waiting to ... I hope you don't mind, I hope you don't mind that I put down ... "
Not that mask-wearing is easy. About 20 store minutes is my limit. When I reach the car, I fling myself behind the wheel and tear off my mask all in one movement, saying, "PAAAAH!" like a fifth-grader in a breath-holding contest.
Masks feel like somebody has his hand over my face as I'm trying to open a plastic produce bag or decide what I feel like making for dinner. I figure they're building my character, similar to how riding the school bus and surviving middle school built my daughters' characters.
Kids, I've noticed, always are having their characters built, while adults' characters are left in whatever condition they were in when their own parents stopped building them. It will do us all good to update our old characters, which in real-estate ads would probably be described as "a handyman's paradise."
After all, what worked when our characters were new builds might not work today. Nobody wants their character to be a knotty-pine rec room in a walk-out, lower-level world. Updating our moral fiber is at least as satisfying as changing the furnace filters.
So there's that, along with saving money on blush and what-not.
It doesn't add up to much, the sunny side of COVID-19. Some would say it amounts to nothing more than a few song parodies and the pleasure of keeping our less-popular garments in a drawer.
Still, it's possible that those things will brighten all the way – as long as the way is no longer than, say, a week from next Friday.
Write to columnist Margo Bartlett at firstname.lastname@example.org.