Published on July 7th, 2020 | by Christina Yovovich3
My son turned eight right before the pandemic hit New Mexico. On a Sunday in March we held his party at a sensory gym for kids. All the expected guests came and the kids ran riot on the swings, the zip line, the trampoline. It was a joyful time. Then on the following Tuesday he celebrated his actual birthday. I sent homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookies in with him to school. His teachers gave him stickers and bookmarks and he came home brimming with happiness. On Wednesday our state had the first cases of Covid-19. My son went to school and I went in and volunteered in his class, using a glue gun to help students assemble crafts. On Thursday school was out for parent teacher conferences. In the afternoon, the governor announced that school was canceled for the next three weeks. On Friday, we had his parent teacher conferences over the phone instead of in person. Our pandemic had begun.
Now it is July and we’ve been hunkering down at home for over three months. I was one of the parents people make fun of; I made a schedule for my son that first weekend spent at home. It wasn’t color coded at least, but it did have an orderly set of instructions for the day. Outside time. Academic time. Creative Time. Lunch. Chore time. Quiet time. Mommy story time, when I’d read to him from Anne of Green Gables. More outside time. (Finally) Screen time. I showed it to my son, negotiated a couple details, and he was all in. He has trouble with change, and tends to need structure, and he latched onto the schedule with relief. Several months in, the schedule has been tweaked a bit. After four weeks of no school at all, distance schooling began, so I had to make room for his morning video conferencing class with his mainstream teacher, and his pre-lunch video check-in with his special education teacher. Even once summer came there were still his FaceTime piano lessons, his FaceTime therapy sessions, and his Zoom occupational therapy sessions. The days are full.
I gave up my writing right away. One day I was a writer who wrote while her child was at school, the next I was I pandemic parent, focused solely on making her child feel things were going to be okay. Now that it has become clear there is no easy end to this in sight, I’ve carved out an hour every day, from 7-8pm, to write. I couldn’t have written at first anyway. I was too full of fear. Helping to focus my son gave me something to focus on other than my abject terror. Now, the fear is still there, but it has become a sort of part of the routine, and I find there is mental space with which to face the page again.
I am aware of the privileged place my family is in right now. I am able to focus on my son and his schooling (and now unschooling in the summer) and his happiness. My husband is able to do his job entirely from home. We have a house with three bedrooms, enough for us to sleep and for a shared office. We are able to hunker down like so many are not. I feel lucky. Terrified, guilty, but lucky.
I think one of the things my son will miss when this is over (please, someday may it be over) is quiet time. It started as a ninety-minute period of time for my sanity. His instructions were to do something quiet and solitary, to leave me alone. But over the months it has evolved. Now, quiet time means that we both go upstairs to the master bedroom and we recline in the king size bed with our respective books. I started by reading young adult science fiction and fantasy and now am reviewing the works of L.M. Montgomery. He’s been reading the Magic Treehouse series. We read, silently and side by side. Eventually I drift off into a nap. He keeps reading until he finishes his treehouse book of the day, which takes him about an hour, and then he wanders off and plays by himself for half an hour until I come downstairs and announce it is time for Mommy story time. We sit side by side on the loveseat in the living room, afternoon light coming in the window and the storm door. I started by reading him Anne of Green Gables, then Anne of Avonlea. Now we’re on the second book of Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark House series. When I read him the first book of the series, I came to a scene where an important character dies from smallpox, and I choked up, then had to stop to sob a little. My son sat quietly beside me, then finally said, “I guess this is a pretty sad part.” He’s protective of “my quiet time” and of Mommy story time. He doesn’t like for anything to interfere with them. I imagine him back in school someday, and I can see that he’ll miss the pause in the day. I’ll miss it too. I’ll be back to my solitary days and will feel too concerned with being productive to take ninety minutes to read and snooze in bed each afternoon.
So much of this time is horrific. This mysterious and terrifying illness. The dead across the nation, the world. All the people who have lost their livelihoods. The isolation. The police continuing to enact violence on Black people. My son mostly seems happy in this strange isolated life, but the sadness for him can come out at bedtime. He’ll be getting ready for sleep, and the tears will come. He misses his friends, his teachers, his school, going places. I tell him I miss those things too, that I cry sometimes too. I tell him it is normal to miss those things, and to cry.
I spent spring dreading the summer. Distance schooling brought a bit of the world into our house. His teacher and classmates’ voices every morning as they did math, or shared paragraphs they wrote. His special education teacher who patiently discussed anything from books to school to Mario Odyssey with him each day before lunch. Those pre-lunch talks were often the highlight of my son’s day. He started crying when he realized there was only three weeks of school left, that soon he’d lose these talks with his teacher. He stopped crying when his teacher said it was okay, they could keep having these talks all summer long if he wanted. Then I teared up, with relief, and at the kindness in that offer.
The empty summer still looms large and long. And here we are, living it day by day. We take walks around the neighborhood each morning and on Monday mornings I’ve been driving him to the Bosque, where we walk among the trees and stare out at the river. I’ve loosened up the schedule a bit, though quiet time and Mommy story time survive. My son has FaceTime dates with a couple different friends every now and then, and twice a week he sees his special education teacher over Zoom. He plays by himself a lot too, becoming absorbed in imaginary worlds I am not a part of. I keep reading things that say we might be doing this for two years. Two years loom large and long too. The only thing to do is to focus closer, on the next day. We can do this for another day, and another day after that.
When the intolerableness of it all looms too large, it helps to look to my son, who seems to have mastered the art of small pleasures. When we reached the end of March, I groaned about what a month it had been. He objected, “Don’t say that! This has been the best month of my life!” He didn’t mean the pandemic. He meant he’d enjoyed all our scheduled times each day, all our walks around the neighborhood, all the letters he’d written to friends and teachers and the letters he’d received in return. He meant he’d enjoyed the moments, divorced from the context they were in. Now that it is summer, he often ends the day by sighing and saying, “This has been a good day.” We go up to his bedroom and he goes over to his window, parts the curtains. “Look at that beautiful sunset.” He appreciates what he has, and I try to appreciate it too. Sometimes his appreciation itself troubles me. The other day he told me he was glad he was good at having imaginary friends, because his only real friends these days were our two cats and the new Roomba. He smiled as he told me this, and I smiled back. It was only later, when I was alone, that I let the fear take hold, and the sorrow, as I bubbled up with tears.