Matt and I both took the day before Christmas Eve off, to prepare for the arrival of his mom and her husband. Bailey still had daycare, so we had the luxury of being able to clean outside the confines of naptime and without a small, very well-meaning helper getting in the way.
We were in good shape with tidying the house, so we decided to take a quick walk- just the two of us. This is something that never happens anymore. We like to go for walks as a family, but it’s rare for us to escape alone, without Bailey.
Which is why we were so looking forward to having this week between Christmas and New Year’s off from work with Bailey in daycare. We talked about doing a spa day, or getting together with friends to celebrate some much needed alone time.
Then Omicron hit.
With her classmates’ holiday travel plans unknown, we started to question whether sending her back into the lion’s den right away was a good idea. So now she is home with us for at least two days while we try to wait it out and see if any cases pop up in her classroom in these first few critical days after the weekend.
It’s a cliché at this point, but pandemic parenting is brutal. I’m biased, I know, but this feels especially true for those of us with kids Bailey’s age. We didn’t go into this situation with our eyes open, like people with newborns now. When we got pregnant, we still expected fully normal milestones and celebrations, and our childbirth experiences were full of anxiety and uncertainty as the safe havens of the hospitals turned to ground zero in this battle.
We had the worst isolation at the time when we would normally be reaching out and relying on friends and family the most, and our children’s entire infancy drifted by with relatives and friends barely getting to see or engage with them for that first full year.
We had a lovely reprieve this summer and fall where Bailey got to spend time with her cousins and grandparents and we could enjoy more outdoor adventures. We even managed to have one indoor playdate shortly before Omicron hit, which was so wonderful, yet also so sad- a glimpse at what could have been.
Now that Bailey is older, I am so eager to take her to museums or play groups, but we don’t feel comfortable having her at indoor public spaces or around other unvaccinated kids her age.
As each age and milestone ticks by, I grieve the loss of what I thought that experience would be. Without any reassurance of when or if her childhood will stop being overshadowed by these safety limitations, it’s easy for depression and anxiety to creep in. And guilt. It feels like we’re hoarding this wonderful secret: a child full of so much joy and creativity and love, who we’re shielding from the world to keep her safe.
Of course, even this is somewhat performative to say, as we have to send her to daycare five days a week: arguably one of the riskiest activities we could engage in. I am so grateful for the opportunities she has to socialize with other children and adults at daycare, and yet I have to turn off my brain to not panic at how much exposure she faces on any given day.
This leads to more questions: is it worth it to protect her from seeing her six cousins once a month when she sees seven other unvaccinated toddlers every day? And yet, for that brief time period, it doubles the risk, especially with the number of different schools her cousins attend. So I tend to cancel on a lot of family gatherings, including our Christmas get-together.
This constant negotiation is extremely tiring, and rife with inconsistencies as each decision catches us in a different mood, with different numbers, with different levels of anxiety.
It leaves me with a deep fatigue, and it’s hard for me to know how much of this is normal ennui of parenting and how much is accelerated by COVID. I have never known parenting without the pandemic- to me they are one in the same. This means that by default I have some resentment towards parenting, as the many life changes that come along with parenting comingle with the life changes that came along with the pandemic (and bipolar, for that matter). It is not an exaggeration to say that few things in my life look the same as they did before March 2020, which I know is true for everyone to a certain degree, but it doesn’t make it any less jarring.
This means that I am wracked with guilt at how bored I am with spending so much time cooped up in my house, even with the child (and husband) I love so much. Bailey is adorable and extremely good at playing, but there are only so many times you can drive the same cars around the same room. So many new episodes of Elmo you can watch. There are only so many times you can read the same book.
I found myself overly excited for the toys she was getting for Christmas, as I knew it would shake up our standard play routine: something I desperately need to make it through these days without daycare.
I feel guilty for the time I spend goofing around on my phone when I could be actively engaging, and yet my attention span and emotional bank account are only so expansive.
Luckily Matt and I have gotten better at supporting each other’s self-care routines and taking turns parenting to give each other a break and a chance to recharge, so that we can be more engaged when it’s our turn to be “on.” I am trying to get more creative in organized activities that Bailey can participate in at her age, and to remember that I can recharge through intentional play with her instead of boring myself with vague supervision.
It goes without saying how grateful I am to have the life I have, pandemic and all. But if you are a parent in the pandemic, I hope this makes you feel less alone, and reminds you of the enormity of the task you are taking on: even if the task is just surviving.
Thanks for Reading,
92 miles down, 8 miles to go