“Run!” I ordered them. “Just stay off the playground equipment!”
What a strange request from a mom of four children, the average age of six. Yet they didn’t blink before they jumped out the car door, eager for their chance to run free.
They took off like last-century’s kids, racing the perimeter of the grassy field. It was strikingly primal, their instinct to break free after a seven-hour school day, to escape the car that confined them.
I watched silently from the driver’s seat lacking further instructions, knowing I was about to get hit. Hit with hysteria, more panic, less joking about who bought out Kroger’s toilet paper. But I didn’t want to buy it, any of it. I wanted to remain calm, to soak in how happy my children looked as they raced each other playfully, their smiles unrestricted, their minds oblivious to the fear enveloping the outside world sickened with a novel virus named COVID-19.
To my kids, it was an ordinary Thursday, mom picking them up from school before the start of the usual extra-curricular circus. But unbeknownst to them, the circus had been called off as if an asteroid hit the planet, the elephants and tigers all suddenly extinct.
I watched silently from the driver’s seat lacking further instructions, knowing I was about to get hit.
I checked my inbox to mark the time, 3:12 p.m., March 12, 2020, the moment I realized I may have just picked up my kids for the last time this school year. These kids for the moment plastered with smiles would not resume their regularly over-scheduled lives.
I wasn’t supposed to be here at this park. We were supposed to be changing into soccer clothes with little time to spare. The bag, the ball, the water bottle, the snacks, were already packed, sitting in my passenger-side seat.
But moments earlier, as I hustled to line up for carpool, packed for an all-American field day, I got the sense that life as we knew it was about to look very different. The incoming cancellations were being crafted and drafted. It was just a matter of someone pressing SEND.
Then, with one boldly-worded email, the soccer season was likely done: “…effective immediately, we have decided to suspend all affiliated soccer activities through April 30, 2020. This is an unprecedented & unfortunate situation…”
The soccer suspension was quickly followed by a paragraph-long text from a neighborhood mom, who also happens to be a doctor and a close friend. I couldn’t read it. It was written in a language of worst-case scenarios much too dark, too impossible to comprehend.
Her CDC-sourced statistics, alarming numbers to put all the neighborhood moms on notice, were just putting me on edge: the percent of children who’ve been infected worldwide (none severe and no deaths reported yet), the percent with flu-like symptoms of a fever (50 percent) and cough (1/3), the number of days their respiratory droplets shed (up to 30-38 days), how it’s showing up in their stool (22 days after contact), how children are to be treated as “vectors” of the virus.
STOP! I yelled inside my head like a petulant child. Don’t tell me my kids are droplets of death! I don’t need numbers right now. The panic. The fear. I need calm. I need this moment. I need to be a mom and soldier on.
Then, as if I’d been the one to infect the entire world, I turned the questions on myself. Isn’t this moment what you’d been longing for? For time to slow down? For the rat race to stand still? More time for mom to catch her breath. A moment to just be still.
And now it’s here, the stillness. I haven’t driven my car in three weeks when I used to live in it several hours a day. I haven’t shuttled my children here or there and everywhere. And so far, they’re not complaining so long as the fridge and pantry are well stocked and aren’t padlocked!
My kids don’t know this panic unless I inject it in them, pull them into the darkness. They know their lives are different. But for now, it’s novel, their newfound freedom. For them, it’s more time in the sunlight — at a distance.
For mom, the novelty may be wearing off almost a month in. But may it last long enough for me to finish this moment. Long enough for me to embrace this moment, when I can’t embrace others, to capture what it was like the moment mom went from saying, “Run!” to “It’s okay to be still.”
This is the first of a series written during the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information on masks, see the CDC guidance here.