Like many other parents in DC, I went to pick up my children after school on Friday, bracing myself for what was to come. It felt like the end of the year, in a way. We knew the kids would be out for at least two and a half weeks, and the uncertainty about the future was palpable.
Still, the children seemed excited, more than anything else. Austin and Tommy ran around on the field, and I let them, knowing that once we left the school I wasn’t going to let them play much with anyone else. I figured they could have one last game of tag, since they’d been doing it all week at school. Eventually, I gathered the kids to go home. Tommy was itching his head, I noticed.
Do you know why? Because he had LICE.
I mean, I can’t even. It’s a damn global pandemic and my kid gets lice. Because of course he does. I mean, really, universe?
There is only one way to combat lice, in my opinion, and that is with drastic and immediate action. “I’m taking you to get your head shaved,” I told Tommy. Luckily for the rest of us, we didn’t have it. (And yes, I know how to check because I volunteered for years on the school’s lice committee. It gave me some useful skills, actually.)
Anyway, I took him to the barber and told them to shave it all off. Tommy rolled with it, thankfully. We went home and I did loads and loads of laundry.
Two hours into the global pandemic shutdown and I was already totally exhausted.
That night, the boys’ sheets still weren’t dry, so I let them sleep in Grandpa Tom’s bed together. They were excited about this, and snuggled up in his sheets. “I like it because it smells like Grandpa Tom,” Austin said. I went to brush my teeth and when I came back in, they were playing my dad’s music. They clearly missed their grandfather.
I did too.
We all sat on the bed and I talked about what was going to happen over the next few weeks. No, they couldn’t have friends over. No, they couldn’t go to other people’s houses. No, they wouldn’t have school. No, they didn’t just get to have screen time all day long.
Yes, they could ride their bikes outside and we’d do other things like that as a family. Yes, they’d still have school, though it would be in the house and I was going to be the teacher. Yes, we could call anyone we wanted on FaceTime, because that didn’t count as screen time anymore. Yes, we could stay up a bit later than usual most nights.
“When will it be over?” they wanted to know.
“I don’t know,” I said, “though we hope it’s just a few weeks.”
That night, I got in bed and took some deep breaths. I felt so exhausted – that bone-crushing type that comes only with terrible anxiety, or maybe a newborn baby. I hadn’t slept more than about five hours a night for the past week. Yes, some of it was getting my dad organized to leave, but much of it was my own anxiety. I had taken to writing blog posts at 4 am when I couldn’t sleep. And yet, I hadn’t felt that tired during the days. The adrenaline kept me going, I guess.
Friday night, I could feel the anxiety start to ease. I went in and checked on Claire, and then on the boys. Their heads were right next to each other (thankfully, lice free!) and I marveled at how soundly they slept. I stood at their doorway for a long time, thinking about what the next few weeks was going to hold.
It wasn’t going to be easy. I could call my friends and family, and chat with people we saw on our walks, but I’d be without the daily interactions that I had grown so accustomed to having. I knew it would be hard on every family with young children, but at least most of my friends had a partner. How was I going to do this without another adult?
I am just going to do it, I told myself, as I turned back towards my room. It was time for bed. That night, for the first time in a week, I didn’t take anything to help me sleep.
Ten hours later, I woke to the sound of the kids in my room. “Why are you still asleep, mama?” Austin asked.
I was confused. Why was I still asleep when it was clearly morning? I almost always get up before the sun.
The kids all piled in my bed, Claire and Austin nestling themselves in either arm and Tommy laying literally on top of my body. We talked about what we wanted to do that day, and about the rules for our interactions with others. “It’s going to be hard, but this is how we all stay safe,” I said.
They snuggled in with me for a long time. It felt good. After a week of terrible anxiety, I had slept well and didn’t feel a rush of adrenaline. I thought about why things had changed, just as the shutdown began. Yes, I’d need to start teaching online soon, and yes, I was still going to continue writing. It was going to be logistically complicated to balance it all. But I still felt a sense of calm. Maybe it was because I could control so much more now. I could bleach every surface of my house and monitor every single cough or sneeze. I could stop worrying about everyone else and just focus on my kids for much of the day. I could set up the boundaries of my house and say, “this is our safe space.”
It is interesting, in a way, that one of the real solutions to this global pandemic is to turn inward. It is the opposite of what my life experience and training as a teacher tells me to do. And yet, here I am, doing my part by barely leaving my house. In turn, I am reassured that my kids are likely to be okay.
I ran into a few friends this weekend while I was out on walks or bike rides with the kids. All of them said that their anxiety had increased over the past few days, as they were cooped up with their children. “I get that,” I said. And I did.
But my experience has been different. Somehow, turning inward has made it easier for me to cope.
Yes, it is my job to keep my children safe, and I am doing that. But my kids are giving me something too: a feeling of peace. It turns out that all I need to feel calm is their three little bodies curled up next to me.
Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.