Published on March 21st, 2020 | by Jade Sanchez-Ventura0
Raising Babies in End of Days: A Daily-ish Accounting of Parenting in Extraordinary Times
Fuck, these are scary days.
I live in Brooklyn. We have 4,000 confirmed cases of corona virus and we’re being told to stay at home so as to “flatten the curve.” This feels something like being told to stand still in the sand while a tidal wave comes bearing down on you. Although it’s also like a test out of a fairy tale; the stiller you stand in the face of that wave, the smaller that wave will be.
In 2018, I wrote a piece about what it felt like to live in the Trump era. And now, here we are, sheltering in place while the corona virus encircles the globe. It’s been a rough stretch.
The other morning (yesterday? last week?), my anxiety crested while I prepped toast and “apple circles” (as my kid calls them) and I thought, “Well, at least it’s not zombies.” And meant it. And it actually calmed me down. Like, at least sprinting zombies are not zipping through Prospect Park, or walking the depth of the East River and emerging again on the other shore (Thank you World War Z for that image), because maybe that too is possible in this world of pandemic that I never guessed at living in.
Before 2016, though, I’d also never guessed at living with authoritarianism lapping at my feet. There’s this tidbit that wasn’t reported widely: The president by executive order proclaiming that all federal buildings only be built in the classical style. It dropped into my belly, another stone of fear. This president wants to be that supreme leader, he wants to dictate what we know and what we see, and I keep wondering…Isn’t this how it happens? One decree and law at a time?
The election is coming. My father, who is a son of political exiles, wrote me with dire predictions of attempts to postpone it, of the president leveraging Covid-19 to extend his time in charge. I pray it’s impossible here. I don’t know that it is.
So here we are. Fear. And trying to learn how to be in care of each other, as this virus swells among us. Here in the U.S., in New York, we are accustomed to ambition, competition, the self over the whole, the nuclear family as extension of self. And now we are told that to safeguard the community we must isolate into that unit of self, of nuclear family, of whoever we live with right now. (I want to know more about how the culture of semi-acquainted roommates in New York is managing this! Please write in if you’d like to share.) The isolation of the individual as a commitment to the care of our neighbors. Many of whose names we do not know, even if they’ve lived alongside us for years. Nor do we likely know the names of the people who sustain us right now; the sanitation workers, the people stocking the grocery stores, the orderly at the hospital.
This is not the first time in the last three and half years that I’ve felt that I’ve stepped into the pages of a future textbook. They will write about this, I think, somebody will have to study this for a test someday. It’s a reverse sort of comfort; to place that which scares the shit out of me into the context of history’s tragedy and brutality. People have lived through totalitarianism before, and past the decimation of AIDS, and many of us are related to survivors of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. (Don’t get me started about the naming of these viruses.) I’m not the first, nor will I be the last.
There is another, gentler comfort I offer myself. The history books record only the terrible. When they write of Covid 19 they aren’t likely to include the video of an unknown Spaniard who dressed in a full T-Rex costume to take out their garbage. The recording of the pianist and saxophonist joining to serenade their neighborhood in Barcelona gets viewed hundreds of thousands of times not because it’s trite but because it’s important. Yesterday I did a loop of my one square block, my kid on his scooter, and in that one loop came across a trio with a fiddle, an accordion, and a banjo playing Irish music for St. Patrick’s day, all those listening standing our six or more apart. I went one more half block and saw a man playing a harmonica on his stoop. A minute later he pocketed it. I was one of the few folks to hear it at all.
Who the hell knows why we continue to make babies into these times? Yesterday (aka day 2 of no school in NYC) ended at 9pm with my infant asleep on the boob, my 4 year old having just finished his dinner, now naked under a blanket, as we all finished watching Moana, my own dinner cold on the counter. Some may read that and think it sweet, and others a horror. (And who knows how both will feel after several weeks isolated in our homes.) For my part, there have been plenty of days since this all began when all I’ve wanted to do is go to a bar (before the bars were shuttered) and get semi-drunk while smoking other people’s cigarettes and trading internet theories. And there have been other days like yesterday. That one went into the sweet category for me, and also the proud one. I was exhausted, but also satisfied, surprised, impressed with my own capabilities as a mother of two holding it down with my partner away at work for the evening.
My mother last week: “Why don’t we react this way to war?”
The news will always report the fight in Trader Joes. They will not report what those women did when they got home, who they made food for, if they apologized. Nor will they report the names of the people stocking the shelves over and over again.
The question I can’t keep away from: What will be the versions we choose to tell?