My husband and I welcomed our second child on December 5, 2019. Our beautiful baby boy, George, was prayed for and already so loved by all who know us. His sister, Helen James, was born sleeping and went to heaven when I was 38 weeks pregnant a year and a half earlier. I will never forget the joy that my husband, Joel, and I felt when we heard George cry in the operating room for the first time. It was such a stark contrast to the deafening silence when Helen was born. The cheers that erupted from our friends and family in the waiting room could be heard throughout the hospital. It was a glorious day.
I spent my maternity leave soaking up every minute with George. I could not believe that with each milestone we celebrated with him, all that we missed with Helen. It was and continues to be a journey of mixed emotions, true joy and sheer sadness intertwined together. I consulted many new moms on how long they took off work for maternity leave. I was conflicted on how long was long enough home with George and pondered if I would be ready to go back to work full time. As the hours and days passed, I felt confident in my decision that 14 weeks was an appropriate amount of time and that I would mentally be ready. My husband and I arranged childcare for George and I braced myself for what life was going to look like with my return to the office. However, what I could not foresee would be that within two weeks of returning to work on March 2, the United States would shut down. Our office closed indefinitely due to COVID-19 and we would work from home until further notice. On the one hand, all I could think was, how did I get this lucky? I was thrilled to be back at home with George and to get this extra time with him. On the other hand, the state of the world and the unknowns of this pandemic were truly terrifying. Each day brought more chaos and confusion and it felt so surreal to be living through this nightmare.
In January of 2019, Joel and I moved from our condo in Nashville to Memphis and bought a house with a yard in a neighborhood full of kids. I was not yet pregnant with George at that time and in a way felt apprehensive of our decision to purchase a home before we knew if we could fill it with children one day. It felt as if we were almost jinxing ourselves. Our house turned out to be one of the best decisions that we could have made. Not only were we able to welcome our son home, but we also have welcomed my sister and nephew as well. Like many throughout the rest of the country, we have been quarantined in our home for the better part of 2020 and are beyond thankful to spend our days there as we navigate through this unknown time. In the meantime, my sister, Lindsay, and her family live outside of the United States in Panama where their lockdown looked much different than ours. The airport and Panama border shut down in March and my sister and her family could not get back to the United States. They were living in a high-rise condominium and essentially could not leave their home for 10 weeks. Lindsay had to show paperwork if stopped during her designated hour outside and if she did not have them, she would be arrested. My sister spent 10 weeks with her six year old alone while her husband had special permission to work outside of the home. My nephew, Sebastian, did not lay eyes on any other children with the exception of school zoom calls or Facetime with friends. The US Embassy began scheduling flights to the United States for US citizens and my sister jumped at the opportunity to leave. She and her son flew to the states on May 19 and have been living with us with no end in sight as Panama is still on lockdown and the border and airport remain closed. Upon arrival, my nephew was playing outside in our yard and asked if the police were going to come get him because he was outside. It was absolutely heartbreaking. I am so grateful that we have been able to offer a comfortable and safe home for Lindsay and Sebastian in a neighborhood where he can run around and play and enjoy being a six year old kid. This past weekend, Joel, Lindsay and I surprised Sebastian with his own room. He is so excited and proud to have a place in our house that is just for him. Our hope is that this space can provide some sort of permanence while he is away from his father, friends and from the only life he has known in Panama.
I have not spent this much time with my sister since my freshman year of high school twenty three years ago. While we talk multiple times per day on the phone, I usually see my sister and nephew twice a year. I never dreamed that we would get this extended amount of time together. To see George and Sebastian interact and giggle at each other constantly completely melts my heart. Sebastian calls George his brother cousin and would do anything in the world for him. He runs down to see him each morning and tells his mom to hurry and get up because he does not want to miss one minute with him. I also love seeing my sister with George. It is a true blessing to have a sibling who loves your child like their own.
I cherish every moment with my sister and nephew and the time Joel, George and I are getting with them. Eventually, the day will come when it is time for Lindsay and Sebastian to leave and go back to their lives. I know that we will most likely never live in the same city, state or even country with them again and I almost cannot bear the thought when I think about this reality that looms. To say that I am immensely grateful for this time with Joel, George, Lindsay and Sebastian is an understatement. This pandemic is not something I would wish upon any generation and I look forward to the days when we are past it. Quarantine life has provided something that I long for daily with our daughter Helen, the gift of time. Our time together as a family continues to be the true silver lining amidst the chaos in our lives. For that I can only remain thankful.