The heartburn bubbles up again as the subconscious worry creeps around the crevices of my brain. It’s a worry that has become so commonplace I could almost forget it’s there, except for the physical toll it’s taking – not just the heartburn, but thinning hair, lackluster skin, and a nagging sense of fatigue. It’s not just me, right? The depleted antacid section at Target doesn’t lie – people are literally feeling this.
Eight months ago I remember sitting on the couch, noticing an empty journal I had picked up on clearance snuggled in a stack on the bookshelf about an arm’s length away, I grabbed it and debated – should I use this lovely pink hardcover journal with its ironic silver embossed “Cheers” on the cover to document our family’s COVID experience? I flipped through the empty pages, already knowing I was going to, but laughing at what a waste of a journal it would be – I’d probably only use a dozen pages of it. At first, I wrote daily, jotting down the positive cases, tests done, those no longer isolated, deaths, St. Louis County numbers along with a little bit about our day and what was happening. Over the summer as things drastically slowed down and pages in the journal started to dwindle, I entered updates weekly. Last weekend, after writing, I noticed there is only one page left.
As a skim through the pages now, from March 18th, just as the “Stay at Home” order started through today, I’m reminded of what a roller coaster this has been. From the horrifying news coverage of doctors having to choose which patients got ventilator treatment in Italy last March to the heartwarming appreciation for healthcare workers in New York – arriving and leaving to applause from those stuck in surrounding homes. And at home, the first trip to the grocery store after the “Stay at Home” order, with my crappy hand-sewn mask and my children pleading for me to be safe, while they waited at home ready with paper towels and cleaner to wipe down everything I purchased. The sadness of my tween when his birthday was just an average day with no grandparents, cousins, or friends. The struggle of managing distance learning with each child on a different platform and everyone needing to use the internet at the same time. The cancellation of the community team baseball season, my oldest child’s last year to play whisked away with no consolation.
Most of my entries focused on my children and the experience all children are having in as the media likes to say “this unprecedented time”. I would guess most parents are having a similar experience. It’s hard enough to make the right decisions for your kids in ordinary times, how the heck are we supposed to know how to make the right decisions in these extraordinary times.
Most parents I know want their children to be in school. They know they learn best there and have the benefit of social interaction and more physical activity that they don’t have at home. But as the bus door closes behind them a vexing feeling tickles at the edge of your “have a good day smile” and slows your goodbye wave while your brain regurgitates yesterday’s St. Louis County positive case numbers: 320.
Competing thoughts fill your head as you go on with your day from “Kids are at low risk for getting, spreading, or getting very sick from COVID”, to “A 5-year-old in TX died from COVID”, or “Schools wouldn’t be in-person if it wasn’t safe”, and “A St. Louis County 11 year had a rare response to COVID.”
Meanwhile, at school our kids are afraid to sneeze or sniffle, let alone get a little tickle in their throat that may trigger the teeniest cough, earning them a long stroll to the nurse’s office for temperature checks and the COVID interview. Even more nerve-wracking is when the school nurse comes to the classroom, collectively drooping the shoulders of the students while they wait to find out who is being escorted to the office and sent home for two weeks.
In a decade and a half of parenting more than the average amount of children, our thermometer has never been used more than in the past eight months. A random cough has never been so “sus” (as the kids say, it means suspicious, if you were wondering). I’ve never had say “no” to so many things I always want to say “yes” to (spending time with friends/family, participating in activities, etc). And I’ve never worried like this.
COVID is on the rise again, and this time, closer and closer to home. As a parent, it seems we always try to weigh the options – what is the best choice for our children. Does what is considered “safe” now still look good in the long term? Where should we sacrifice? Where should we take risks? Are twelve hours of screen time okay? Because some days that is both the sacrifice and risk that will get us to the next day where we’ll have the energy to feel a little more optimistic. It turns out I knew the answer before these questions even formed when I wrote “There is no easy fix for this” in my “Cheers! Coronavirus 2020” journal on April 24th.
There is no easy fix. As a “fixer” that is maddening to realize. As the holidays approach and it appears they will be without fanfare and the fun chaos of family and friends, it’s heartbreaking.
But maybe COVID isn’t something that needs to be fixed. Maybe it’s like a stretch of dirt road between two highways, where you have to let off the gas a bit. Instead of the normal speeding through life, we slow down and actually feel the road beneath us. We pay attention a bit more to avoid the frost heaves and shoulders washed away by rain. We focus our attention to our immediate surroundings. We make minor adjustments, but we stay the course. We know the pavement will pick up again in a bit, but we can make the best of this by looking for what we can learn along the way. Like learning how to use technology to keep in touch with family and friends. Being more active in what and how your kids are learning. Finding out how amazing e-visits to the doctor are. Realizing how working from home gives you more time to prepare meals or play a pick-up game of basketball in the driveway. Knowing that as long as you “Keep Calm and Carry On” your children will feel safe enough to the same.
It’s okay to feel sad, mad, or worried… in fact, this might be the one time that people are excited to be “negative” (vs a “positive” COVID test.. Haha… see what I did there? Okay – give me a break these times aren’t all that conducive to brilliant humor).
With vaccines on the horizon, the hope is that very soon we can socially distance kiss COVID good-bye. In the meantime, serve dinner with a side of TUMS, buy a cute hat to hide your dismal hair, be grateful your mandatory mask covers most of your lackluster skin, and focus less on the virus wrecking everyone’s fun and more on the people, especially our kids, that need the reassurance that with a little more time and a bit more effort from all of us, we’ll be just fine.