“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our date banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”
As the pandemic continues to unfold, I will be spending the next months reflecting on the lessons we have learned in the past year and a half. Lessons such as 1) there is no such thing as buying too much toilet paper and 2) it doesn’t matter how much you love your family, you will wish you lived alone after only a few days of quarantine. Also, deeper and harder lessons like what it means to go from being a normal parent to being a Pandemic Parent. What will we take away from this experience? What will we leave behind?
The first lesson of the pandemic: We’re Going to Need a Bigger Band-Aid
March 15th 2020. I lie on a hotel bed while my children play in the Jacuzzi next to me. My mind is elsewhere as I scroll through my phone and try to understand new phrases like “social distancing” and “shelter-in-place.” The kids are oblivious to all this. Despite the troubling news, we decided to go through with the mini-vacation we had planned for this weekend. Last night we stayed in a hotel a mile from our house so the kids could use the pool and in-room Jacuzzi. This morning we enjoyed a very strange breakfast at the hotel buffet. My husband went golfing and now I am back in the hotel room, letting my kids enjoy the Jacuzzi for a few minutes before check-out. I’m not ready for this weekend to end. I don’t know what Monday will look like.
Suddenly, my daughter Hazel slips on the wet floor and bumps her chin on the tile. Blood is everywhere and she is screaming, naked and wet, grabbing her face. I run to her, making a note of the time. It is already five minutes past checkout. I throw clothes on the kids and carry them, along with our suitcase, downstairs to the car. Hazel is screaming. My son Fritz is screaming as well, either in empathy or because he can tell how stressed I am. I drive to Walgreens and buy a giant Band-Aid, antibiotic ointment, Tylenol and two lollipops. I bandage Hazel in the car, give her Tylenol and pop a lollipop in her mouth. I breathe a sigh of relief. I look at my kids, dried and dressed, happily sucking lollipops and ready to go home. Problem solved. Crisis averted.
The next day, we go into a COVID-19 lockdown and our new life begins. For three months, I work full-time while caring for my kids at the same time. Eighteen months later and we still don’t know how this will end. When. If.
On March 15th 2020, I was a mom responding to a crisis. I bandaged my daughter and then she was fine. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was my last day of that kind of parenting. Our world changed. I became a different parent. A Pandemic Parent.
The two week school shutdown became three weeks and then two months and then over a year. School is back in session now but things are not normal and they may never be.
The first lesson of Pandemic Parenting is this: there is no Band-Aid big enough. The world our children were born into is gone. You and I are not just parenting during a pandemic. We have become Pandemic Parents. We are different now. Our kids are different. The decisions we make and the way we make them are completely transformed.
We don’t know how this story will end. We don’t know how history will look back at this moment. As the crisis continues to unfold, it’s impossible for us to understand its impact. But the transformation from being a normal Parent to a Pandemic Parent is something we understand. One day, you are bandaging a bloody chin. The next day, the playgrounds are all closed.
If you do anything for long enough, it becomes who you are. If you swim every once in a while, you are someone who likes to swim. But if you do it enough, you become a Swimmer. We have now been raising children during a global pandemic for a year and a half. We are no longer parenting during a pandemic. We are Pandemic Parents.
The first lesson is this: there is no Band-Aid big enough for this wound. Instead of bandaging, we are re-growing. Our families are shape shifting in response to this crisis. Who we will become is yet unknown. All we know is that we are in the midst of a metamorphosis. Growing, transforming, becoming something else entirely. We cannot expect to return to a new normal because we will never be the parents we once were.