You are four months old, and we are in a pandemic. Pandemic- it’s such a word, isn’t it? So evocative, so enthralling, it’s something out of a movie. And my darling, this does feel like a movie. But movies are a work of art, and, to quote Mark Twain, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”
While you discover your hands and your laugh, while you live in your tiny world of diapers and bedtime stories and milk, the rest of us analyze the news. And while you channel your loudest babbles, the world talks of death and recession and doom.
This horror happened so fast, my love. Last week, Daddy and I spent almost half an hour deciding where to eat for lunch. Thai or Mexican? And today, we count eggs and cans of beans and wonder if it’s enough. I count because it gives me a semblance of control. You’ll learn all about the concept of control one day, and you’ll discover that it’s never really yours. I’m still learning this lesson. Why is it so hard to accept?
I count the rolls of paper towels and the number of times you cough, and I count the moments until Daddy comes home from work. Oh, yes, that’s the other thing. He isn’t working remotely just yet - he’s almost there, just another day or so, but his absence makes me anxious. I obsess over every surface he touches, and I catastrophize all the interactions he shares.
But your father is so patient, my love. He listens to my concerns, and he validates them. He will do this for you as well. He loves you with a fierceness unlike anything else. He knows the right things to say. He always has. We had a ritual this week. In the mornings, as we sipped our morning coffees, he held me as I cried. I cry because I’m scared, and you’ll soon realize that even adults get scared.
Your parents are therapists, sweetheart. This reality may be unfortunate- particularly when you are a teenager and want nothing to do with us, but we will always embrace your emotions. We will always encourage you to express your feelings. And yet, feelings are hard. They hurt, they consume, and they can be downright debilitating.
Right now, I don’t really know what to do with my feelings. I want to hide. I want someone to take care of me and promise everything is going to be okay. I want to wake up when this is over. I often wonder if having you in my life makes this experience easier or harder. I think it’s both. Sometimes, it’s easy because you are my light, and you provide me with immense joy and purpose. But sometimes, it’s hard because I feel scared and distracted, and I worry this makes me less attentive to you and your needs.
You don’t quite understand the nuances of feelings yet. You know happiness and hunger and discomfort. You express through giggles and coos and sobs. But as you grow, these feelings will mature and evolve. Soon, you will use language that matches your needs. Soon, you will know sadness and fear and shame, and my heart will ache when you experience that inevitable pain.
But right now, it’s only innocence. You’re only a pure, perfect, unadulterated baby. You are utterly helpless, and you don’t know you are a part of life-changing history. You don’t know that life will divide, that we’ll remember March 2020 as the time the world shut down and ran out of toilet paper. You don’t know that people are terrified and directionless. And you don’t know that nobody has answers.
People are getting sick, and some are dying. They say we’ve only scratched the surface. They say it’s going to get much worse. They keep wanting us to “flatten the curve.” The schools are closed. Some of our friends have lost their jobs. Last night, our governor mandated a shutdown. Californians cannot leave the house unless we have an ‘essential purpose.’ People over 60 and those with underlying medical conditions must stay home. If out in public, we need to remain at least six feet apart from others.
Some people take these orders seriously. Others think this is just a ‘bad flu.’ I’ve heard the word ‘hoax’ thrown around. As for me, I believe it’s entirely real, and I worry. I worry about our family. I worry about you. And I know that worry is a treadmill going nowhere, but it’s challenging to stop imagining the worst-case scenario.
Right now, there are no reported infant deaths. But I don’t take that as any sign that we’re invincible. In America, you see, we aren’t testing. Our healthcare professionals don’t have enough equipment; we don’t have anywhere close to enough hospital beds. How can this be the case in 2020? We think we’re so modern, and we think we’ve progressed, but we’re just a mysterious virus away from anarchy.
Earlier this month, you and I went to the beach. I taught you about the ocean and the fish, and we sang off-key songs with made-up lyrics that didn’t rhyme. We walked on the pier, and we watched the surfers, and I asked you if you wanted to surf when you were older. I don’t know how to surf, but maybe we’ll learn together.
Over the past few months, we’ve spent our days on hikes and coffee shops and friend’s houses and Mommy & Me groups. At home, we do our tummy time. We look at your books. We dance to rap music. We take walks with the dogs, and our neighbors always smile at your tiny face. You like the world best when you’re strapped on my chest, babbling to yourself or snoozing. We didn’t know what was coming.
I have never known this world. Nobody knows this world. It doesn’t feel real.
I was a child of 9/11, and you’ll be a child of the coronavirus. Where I only know a world of stringent airport security and a decade of war overseas, you may only know a world of hand sanitizer and the concept of social distancing. Will handshakes become obsolete? Will we finally move towards a more flexible, work-from-home work culture?
Are we going to survive this? What will the history books say?
You can’t see your grandparents or your aunts and uncles or friends right now. They miss you, my love. I want you to know that. They miss your ecstatic, toothless smiles. They miss reading stories to you and watching you splash in your whale bath. Your milestones happen so fast. Nobody wants to miss this period of undeniable growth.
Instead, the Internet bolsters our social relationships; we live in scheduled Facetime chats and text message threads, and I am grateful for this technology.
I used to think parents had all the answers. But I don’t have these answers, sweetheart. I am waiting like you are waiting, and we are all impatient. But this is where we are today. And I will hold you and sing to you and rock you. And life will keep turning, and the news will keep changing. But in my arms, you are safe. And in my world, you are loved.