To the mama who feels the year of isolation in her bones

It's been almost a year since the pandemic started.

woman grocery shopping with mask on
Alex_eg/Twenty20

My family made a point to celebrate the 2021 New Year. We did an early countdown and drank "fancy juice" (aka sparkling cider). I indulged my noise-loving children with a pair of mini airhorns. We sent out cards with their pictures. And we actually got some replies—by and large, from friends and relatives astonished at how big the boys have gotten. I noticed the same thing with others' holiday cards, too, wondering if it was just the kids' ages. My three-year-old and his peers are all outgrowing babyhood, and the newly-double-digiters are becoming preteens. Those are dramatic transitions. But the real reason for everyone's surprising growth spurt isn't surprising at all—it's simply that we haven't seen each other in a terribly long time.

Sometimes, in the thick of these wild and weary days at home, time hardly seems to pass at all. But to an outsider looking in every now and again, it flies. Babies become toddlers. Toddlers become preschoolers. Small children become big children. Big children become small adults. And right in front of our very own eyes, as if by magic. It's not magic, of course, but it's completely paradoxical: As parents, especially right now, our eyes are almost always open, so the change is too small to see.

And yet, one can hardly believe that in just over a month, it will have been a year since the first shelter-in-place orders. Because that's how time marches on in Pandemic Land. We'd never lived anything like those first few days of lockdown. Our communities—our kids!—were in danger, and the fight-or-flight instinct pounded through our blood. We steeled ourselves and heeded orders to bend the curve. "As long as we stick together," we said. "We can do hard things."

It was fresh. And it was springtime. I remember the daffodils in our front yard, with their cheerful little faces, and the birthday parades trailing bunches of helium balloons. And the kids with the rainbows and the handmade signs for healthcare and grocery store workers. "An essential worker lives here! Thank you for your sacrifice."

Kids were home. There was virtual schooling…or home schooling…or no schooling, depending upon the infection rates in your area. Parents set up offices in basements, garages, or kitchen tables. There was less work. Or more work. Or dangerous work. Events were canceled. Milestones were missed. Patience wore thin. Someone got ill, inevitably. They got better. Or they didn't. There was stress. Fatigue. Trauma. Loss. Setback after setback—they just piled on like layers of clothes.

We wore them. We're mothers—it's what we do. Think of yourself with the infant in your arms and the diaper bag on your back. You have a bottle under your chin, a burp cloth over your shoulder, and another child wrapped around one leg. You're juggling snacks, toys, car keys. The phone rings and you have a critical conversation with a boss or a friend or a parent, focused as a laser beam.

It's because we came to motherhood with several layers already on. We practiced with the cargo we carried into adulthood, and we pick up more along the way. My ten-year-old has autism. This year, I developed an autoimmune disorder. The layers don't always fit quite right at first. But after awhile, you wear them in. And what you can't wear, you carry, knowing that, eventually, someone will help share the burden, at least for one quiet, blessed moment. And you get some rest.

That's how I've seen moms take on the pandemic. We gave it our very best selves, and we taught our kids to do the same, knowing that a better day was coming.

Then spring turned to summer, summer to fall, fall to winter, and now we pile on the extra winter layers, particularly rough here in the Northeast: No more outdoor gatherings. No holidays. No playgrounds. No running laps around the yard. No walks with Grandma. No relief. No light.

I don't hear "We can do hard things" so much anymore. I hear "I can't." Or nothing at all. It's hard to be heard under all those layers. It's hard to see out from underneath.

So what do women do? When there is no light, we make it. We hold up Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, the Black woman who led the science behind the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine. We join those calling for a "Marshall Plan for Moms"—a way to recognize the two million women who've left the workforce this year by compensating them for their labor at home. We elect the first African-American, Asian-American woman to be our Vice President; and all over the country, we gather our children in our laps and have them bear witness to history being made.

And that's just what we can see with our eyes.

For each day that passes is just slightly longer—about two to three minutes longer—than the one before. It's not much. But soon, two to three minutes turns to fifteen, fifteen turns to thirty, and in few more weeks like that, spring arrives. The winter layers get packed away. The flowers show their faces. The kids run laps around the yard. There is light. You just have to rest your eyes for one quiet moment in order to see that things have changed.

Theresa Trinder is a writer for children. Her new picture book, There Is a Rainbow, inspired by kids' resilience during the Covid-19 crisis, was published by Chronicle Books and called "the perfect pandemic book" by School Library Journal. Learn more about it at theresatrinder.com.

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