This pandemic… I know it’s hard for everyone, but for us parents, it just hits different. Or, at least it does for me. Am I ok? Not today. Today I personally lived a scene that could have won an Oscar in a horribly sad movie. Am I being dramatic? Maybe. But let me tell you, I’ve never felt more alone than I did today… on the ground crying in the middle of a crowded park. Dramatic? Or a perfectly awful representation of what so many of us parents are feeling. Alone. Afraid. And angry. I’ll set the scene…
I’m an openly anxious person. I have what I like to call “catastrophe anxiety”, and basically always assume the worst case scenario when there is a problem. Going hiking; volcano will erupt. Trip to the beach; here comes a title wave. Global pandemic; everyone I love is for sure going to die. I know it’s out of control, and I know that it’s irrational, but I also know that the fear is extremely crippling. This past year and a half has been filled with obsessing over keeping everyone safe, quaretining, masks, tears, wiping down groceries for too long, hand washing, distancing, missing out on all the things, and the list goes on. But, the absolute hardest part of this whole thing has been watching my 3 year old have to live through this. Missing out on her life because I am trying to keep her safe. And, what’s even harder than that is watching the other people around me living their (and their children’s) lives seemingly carefree. I’m not judging anyone, and I know that every parent has been tasked with impossible decisions in this time, but I often wonder what is wrong with me? Why am I so afraid? Why can’t I just get over it, like everyone else? It’s more than my pesky anxiety at this point, and nothing I do feels like the right decision.
We have been so fortunate that Covid has not been affecting the kids much, up until now. And, I’m also very fortunate that my toddler will happily wear her mask, making it possible for her to venture out into the *dun dun dun* public. But I look around, and I see all the other children’s smiley faces. I see parents at target shopping with their kids, I see them at the playground (more to come on that), and I watch them just being mask free kids. Living their normal kid life. I see their parents, putting on a brave face, leaving me to assume that their decisions come easy to them. Leaving me to assume I’m being overcautious. And leaving me to carry the guilt of choosing to keep my child safe from the potential risk over letting her be a kid. Rationally, I know that can’t be the case. I know these parents are just as afraid for their children as me. But emotionally, the feeling is gut wrenching.
So, naturally, my pediatrician has become my bff. Everytime there is an evolution in data about the pandemic, we chat. I ask her what is safe, what I should avoid, what to do, and she helps me to the best of her ability with the everchanging information. Generally she kind of talks in circles because no one really knows the right answers, and our convos usually end with us agreeing that the benefits of socialization at this age outweighs the risk of getting Covid. We talk about the “rules'' stating kids 2 and older should be wearing masks, and to just keep a mask on my kid… even if no one else has one on (that’s a whole nother issue- hello future complex), and we agree that being outside is safer than inside, and that at this age you have to pick your battles. But, it is just never enough. I’m still the parent, so I still have to make the judgement calls. Be a kid and risk catching Covid, or stay safe and miss out on childhood. Like, how is this even real?
Ok, you ready for the plot twist? Here we go… Recently, I have been pushing myself and trying to find that happy “balance” of feeling safe and letting my kid be a kid. After consulting with her dr., we agreed playgrounds are “safe” with her wearing a mask, and to just do some good hand washing after. Against my comfort level, and better judgement, we went to the playground today. My daughter was all masked up and happily exploring the playground with a few kids around. Everytime a kid would come close to her, she would run away from them. Jab #1… I know she is a social person, and it’s not like we have literally been living under a rock, so this was a little surprising to me. It was the first time I had really seen an effect of the pandemic on her. Or maybe it's just her age, but it hit me. The park started to get a little crowded, with no masks in sight, so we would hop around to less crowded sections and do our best to keep our distance. Finally, I had more than I could take and said it was time to leave. Being a toddler, and only having been to the playground a handful of times in the past year, she did not want to go. She started to reluctantly follow, but then pulled back and ripped off her mask…Jab #2… I about had a heart attack (ok, that’s dramatic) and tried to grab her to sanitize her hands before she could touch her face. The dang kid would. Not. Let. Me! She struggled and fought, as toddlers do, and when I finally got a hold of her we were both on the ground. She was on my lap crying as I was waving around the bottle of hand sanitizer just trying to get it on her dang hands… this was not my proudest moment. And in this moment, I could feel what it looked like from the outside looking in. I looked like a paranoid freakazoid waving this bottle of Germ-X around wrangling my toddler. That’s when I lost it. On the ground, crying with my irrational toddler on my lap, in the middle of a crowded park, with my back to the playground full of happy moms and kiddos that didn’t even notice. They didn’t even notice. And I have never felt more alone. And in so many ways this visual was the perfect representation of how I feel in my life. Living on the outside, while the people around me continue on. Jab # freaking 3. I sat there crying for a good five minutes, then picked up my kiddo and my pride, and just went on with the day. Funny how us parents can do that.
Today was heavy. Tomorrow might be fine, and then the next day I may have to make more decisions on what the right thing to do is, and maybe I will know by then. But today, I was alone. I was isolated. I was left out. I was afraid. And I needed a village. To all the parents out there, making the impossible decisions, I want you to know I see you. No matter how you are choosing to navigate Covid with your children, I know your choices don’t come easy. Please see me, too.