Mothering in a Pandemic
“Mama did you wipe it down yet?” my 5-year-old asks about a package of candy my dad sent the kids I had just opened from the front step. 2 months ago, our almost 3-year-old and 5-year-old would’ve been snatching it out of my hands before I had a chance to even utter the words package from Grandpa. Now they wait knowing the routine we have to ‘keep the germie bug away” as they often describe this apocalyptic way of life.
“Not yet sweetie” I reply and he confesses he accidentally touched the package briefly before I opened it and immediately runs to the bathroom to wash his hands. How much psychological damage is this doing to these kids? Am I going to give them a complex about washing hands? Will they be forever germophobic after all of this? Questions no one has answers to fill my head with every decision.
Time for school, which begins with the older two grabbing their 4th snack of the day at 9:45am, still in pajamas. My daughter scrambles to sit in the rocking chair from my childhood. My oldest son sitting in the kid IKEA chair. Never thought these chairs would be used for homeschool yet here we are. “Days of the week . . .” we sing the tune my eldest’s teacher usually sings every day in “real” school, my attempt at the beginning of all this to keep some semblance of normalcy. It’s become one of the only ways we know what day of the week it actually is. I can’t tell you how many weeks it has been, whatever 2ish months equates to. My world is filled now with crafts, using any and all things I can find to use to keep the kids entertained. My youngest, 6 months, wakes from his morning nap so I try to balance and bounce him on one knee as I review with the kids what thing we are going to create today. “Mama we’re hungry” resounds right as the baby fills his diaper.
I just remembered an email I needed to get to 3 days ago. I need to remember to let my husband know I need a moment without the kids to get that out. My middle child begs for one more snack, even though she’s had what seems like 10 already, but it’s too close to lunch. My refusal triggers the first meltdown and tears for the day. 11am. I consider that a good start to the day to get that far. Baby is hungry, I need to breastfeed him. I should really get everyone outside; the walls feel like they are closing in. I convince the older two to go for a walk right as the package arrives.
Once outside the kids chase one another along the sidewalk with fits of giggles and I wonder if their laughter lightens the hearts of the neighbors whose windows are open. Does their innocence break the deep despair so many of us feel? And yet is their innocence cut short because of this odd way of life? What will they remember about this time? The first few weeks it was breakdowns and tears over missed friends and school. Now instead of asking when those activities can happen again they simply state “when the germie bug is over” with whatever it is they’d love to do. Some days it’s seeing friends. Others it’s visiting with beloved grandparents, many of which it now has been the longest they’ve gone since seeing them, and I don’t dare share that it very well may be another year, 6 months at least, until they will. My youngest has yet to meet my father in law. To think when he was born in November I had no idea how frivolous many of my worries and fears were.
If I dwell too much on that though the tears will come again as I mourn the loss of a “normal” first year of life I had once envisioned for him. I miss my mom friends. The ones who coaxed me out of my house finally 4 weeks postpartum. The ones who invited me to play dates knowing my postpartum anxiety was too high to go to social gatherings of fear of getting baby sick. If only I knew. The friends I wish I had said yes to more when they asked, I wish I had hugged more and shared how grateful I am for their friendship in person. The ones who love my children as if their own and make up my village in raising them. Now from a distance further than I’d ever wish.
The depression is crippling again. My doctor doubles my dosage of anti-depressants the first week. Every other week my back room becomes my therapist’s office as we have our remote therapy sessions via telehealth. But through tear streaked eyes I admit to my husband that the thoughts are back again on the worst of days. The scary ones. He knows what I mean without me having to say it. In a twisted state of things, they have shifted to occasionally wondering, maybe hoping (?) the virus will take me. Some days it weirdly seems like the only way out of this immensely isolating time as a mother. My meds kick in and the numbness takes over allowing me to finally drift to sleep snuggled next to my youngest. While I mourn what I had hoped his first year would look like my last thoughts are gratitude for his clueless happy go lucky squishiness that makes me smile regardless of the pain of the world I feel.
One friend text about how they don’t know how they’ll make bills the next month. I make a mental note to drop a meal to their doorstep next month so they don’t have to worry about food at least. Another friend texts about a family member lost, and yet another whose lost a friend. It’s all so heavy. Again, I pause to recognize how privileged we are based on the color of our skin, my husband’s job reliability and our health. Another mental note- share whatever we can with whomever we can.
What are we? My husband asks the kids. “We are a team and family is everything” they repeat in unison. One day at a time, one minute at a time. Are we enough? Am I enough? My eyes close, another day is done mothering during a pandemic.