Before my son left home on the first day of school, I took a picture of him – trying, like generations of parents before me, to press the “pause” button on life for a few seconds, capturing the beginning of a new chapter of childhood. The photo contained 5 years of excitement and anticipation leading up to this point.
But it also captured another reality: the relief of having arrived safely at this milestone and the fear of what lies ahead. Beneath the surface of this seemingly normal childhood experience was an anxious mother, hopeful that this new beginning would not bring about an end. As an immunocompromised mom living during a pandemic, I know my child’s daily experiences and my health are inherently kept in tension. It is an unfortunate aspect of my life that allowing my child to have the full range of childhood experiences – going to kindergarten, playing with friends – will sometimes cause my health to deteriorate. Sometimes this decline is minimal and temporary, other times it is enough to justify further treatment or absences from work; but with Covid at stake I fear it could be worse.
My son’s entry into this world was traumatic and frightening: we both arrived at the moment of death, but thanks to the quick action of my gynecologist and the hospital team, we narrowly escaped the tragedy. After 36 hours of labor, my uterus unexpectedly ruptured and we were rushed to the operating room for a 3-hour life-saving surgery. I remember lying in my hospital room, while my body was slowly recovering and my son was in the NICU, and I was thinking, “I hope he goes to school someday.” I daydreamed about a future where I had a contemptuous and ungrateful teenager who wanted nothing to do with me.
In the months that followed, I was diagnosed with several chronic diseases: an autoimmune disease called Sjogren and a rare immunodeficiency called CVID (Common Variable Immunodeficiency). As a result, I do not produce antibodies and are unable to fight infection or set up a response to vaccines. If you’ve made a list of diseases you shouldn’t get during a pandemic, CVID would likely be near the top.
They say that a near-death experience can crystallize the fragility and preciousness of life. Our encounter with death, my development of chronic life-limiting diseases, and now our experience of experiencing a pandemic have all been scary and sad. But they also left me with an appreciation for the routine aspects of our daily life. The daily chores of brushing my son’s teeth, arguing over bathroom time, negotiating long before bed – none of these moments would happen if neither of us were here. While I’m not immune to parental frustrations or daily fatigue, I appreciate that life is delicate, like a house built on stilts: the foundations aren’t terribly strong, but the view still feels worthy to me. I remind myself to soak up the beauty by whispering “peak moment” when I experience a simple pleasure: reading a bedtime story, doing a family survey on what kind of birthday cupcakes to make, running for a hug when my son is high. bad. Muttering these words reminds me that our lives are just a collection of moments.
At the end of February 2020, my illnesses dragged my family into strict isolation when Covid hit our area. Since that time, we have not been home with any human who does not live with us, who prepared food outside the home, walked into a grocery store or restaurant, or touched anyone other than the other. . We didn’t see most of our extended family members, we didn’t take a leisure trip or attend any “reopening”. Everyone has “risk dollars” that they can spend during Covid, but each of us had a different starting balance; mine was much shorter than other moms I know, so we were more cautious.
The decision to send my son to school is therefore 180 degrees from the ultra-restricted lifestyle we have become accustomed to. While I know there has been significant debate over the safety of school reopening, I remain confident that I made the right choice in spending my risk dollars this way. We cannot stay in this folded position and hold forever. Pandora’s box has been opened and Covid is well on its way to becoming endemic. Our task now is to find ways to move forward with a semblance of normality, recognizing that the risk-benefit calculation of our lives may never be the same again as before the pandemic.
The last year and a half has been a time of alienation – from the lives we once knew, from the closeness of friends and family, and from the places we lived. But for our family of three, it was also a time of deep connection and mutual attunement. If it hadn’t been for Covid, I would have continued to do my full-time job outside the home, seeing my son for those few frantic hours that include dinner and bedtime. While I had the privilege of moving to virtual work at the start of the pandemic, I also scaled to fit living without external childcare providers. For the first 14 months of the pandemic, before there were vaccines, my husband and I reconfigured our work schedules so that we could both continue working without childcare. It was exhausting, but I treasure the closeness it gave us. It turns out that even after so many months spent together every day, I still care deeply about how my husband and son spend their days and how they feel. My son’s entry into kindergarten marked the end of this conjunction of our daily rhythms.
All parents in our society must sooner or later face the truth that raising a child and creating an environment in which he can thrive sometimes requires letting go of a piece of himself. Becoming parents means giving up our bodies as we have known them, our sleep, our time, in exchange for one of life’s greatest rewards: the beauty of watching and supporting another living being as it grows in this world. I wish I didn’t have to face this choice of Sophie and that my son’s experiences weren’t juxtaposed to my physical health. I wish I wasn’t the only mom I knew who had her advance directives updated on the back-to-school to-do list. But if I had to do it all over again, I would.
So, before he entered kindergarten, I spoke to my son about the importance of adhering to Covid security measures. Surprisingly, like many boys his age, he took these precautions with lighthearted indifference and laudable alacrity. Not a big deal, Mom, that’s how we do things now. One thing this pandemic has taught us is that, overall, children are more resilient than we give them credit. Their ability to adapt to fluctuating rules and restrictions offers a lesson in parenting: Children have a lot to teach us about resilience and adapting to an ever-changing environment.
As I photographed my son on the first day of school, I embraced the normalcy of the experience. But I also carried the weight of concern that lurked in the background. I hope I can continue to experience the best moments in life and my son’s ordinary milestones for years to come. I hope to live long enough to look back at this photo decades from now, just as I still look at the photo of me holding it for the first time. I imagine it will take on a similar luster: of consummate relief, joy, terror, and a deep appreciation for normal events.
So I offer this appeal to my son, the universe, or any other party that might be in charge: Please send him home every day with his backpack full of craft projects and letter writing exercises. Send him home with insights into the world, new friends, and a willingness to share. And if that’s not too much to ask, please don’t send him home with Covid. I fear that the mechanical parts of me that have struggled so hard for years to remain intact may finally break and if possible I would like to continue being his mother for quite a while longer.