Pandemic Parenting

On March 3rd 2020, I delivered Wells with my husband, grandmother, father, and photographer in the room. If I would have had him on his due date, just two weeks later, I would have had to birth him alone. While we packed up our bags from our hospital stay, breaking news declared a mask mandate in Chicago and we feared Ohio would be next. We asked my nurse for masks; “I’m sorry, we are down to our last two boxes on this floor.” Chris immediately regret discarding his mask from labor and delivery.

My mom planned to stay with us for six weeks; helping with Millie and the housework while I focused on healing and bonding with Wells. Chris didn’t get any paternity leave so my moms help was a Godsend. A week after we came home from the hospital, the government shut down the state boarders around New York; my mom couldn’t stay with us indefinitely if Ohio chose to follow suit. Selfishly, I wanted my mom to stay and help but alas, my mom went back to Virginia.

Planning for this pregnancy, we knew that I would not get paid for the entirety of my maternity leave. My sick days accrue; if I work a month without taking a sick day, I earn a day of sick time. I had proudly saved twenty sick days which meant I would get two pay checks during my six-week maternity leave. After my sister passed in September of 2019, I used three weeks of my sick time, grieving her loss. On top of being pregnant and losing my sister, I was definitely stressed about the amount of unpaid leave I would have to take. Fortunately, I was able to borrow a weeks worth of sick time from myself so we would receive at least one paycheck during my six-week, maternity leave.

I had one sick day left to use when I got a phone call from a friend and fellow teacher that we were going to start teaching, virtually. Could I also work virtually (make money) while still on maternity leave? I was able to convince my OB that I could, “return” to work as long as work meant teaching from my couch. I fed Wells, Millie watched Mickey Mouse Club House, and I was posting music assignments at the same damn time. The pandemic allowed me to stay home for 21 weeks without a single, unpaid day.

As if new mothers aren’t paranoid enough, add a global pandemic to the mix. Thankfully, Chris’ company assigned his department to work from home so we weren’t getting germs from his job. Groceries were bought through delivery services and bags were sanitized at the door. Once Wells gained back his birth weight and was no longer jaundiced, we didn’t take him to another pediatric appointment until he was six months old. I should have gone to my six week OB appointment – I didn’t. I had a terrible, terrible pain in my right nipple from a latch issue – I didn’t receive outside help. My cousin unexpectedly passed away and we didn’t attend her funeral. I wasn’t comfortable breaking our “bubble”, so we stayed in.

Chris working from home turned out to be a blessing. He was able to hold Wells during his lunch hour and help change diapers between meetings. Wells definitely got more time with daddy due to the pandemic. I had planned on spending quality time watching Cubs baseball during my maternity leave, but the season was postponed and there was no baseball to be watched. We used this time at home to potty train Millie. She didn’t like feeling poop in her diaper so she would take the diaper off and the poo would get everywhere – it was time. We stripped her naked, packed away the diapers, gave her tons to drink throughout the day and constantly encouraged her to sit on the potty. We rewarded her, even if she sat on the toilet just to toot. We bought her cute undies with Frozen characters on them. We experienced more victories than accidents, but there were many accidents, especially when we would play outside. Within the month, she was completely potty trained.

The week before Wells was born, our realtor called wanting to show us a house that checked every box on our “wish list”. We dropped Millie off at my dads and I waddled through the open house. It was in a neighborhood with better schools, gave us a thousand more square feet, and had a fenced in backyard. Also, homes in our neighborhood were selling quickly at above asking price. The market was right, the house was perfect, but I was doubting how the timeline would work for us. The same day Wells was born, our offer on the house was accepted.

The worst part of selling our home during the pandemic was having to leave the house during showings; there was no where to go because everything was closed so we would load both kids in the Jeep and drive around, praying that no one entering our home was COVID positive. I would sit my postpartum butt between the two car seats and read to the kids while we ordered French fries through the Burger King drive through. The house inspectors and appraisers were weeks behind because of the shutdown. The contractors that installed our new floors had to break for two weeks because they had been in close contact with COVID-19.

All of our activity memberships expired; COSI, Franklin Park Conservatory, the Zoo. Zumbini went virtual and we tried classes through Zoom but Millie lost interest. She was getting stir crazy staying home; heck, I was too, so we would do at least one activity together everyday. It was nice to spend some one-on-one time with her because well, Wells. She loved when I would ask her to wash the dishes in the sink or when I’d let her scrub her toys. We made multi-colored foam in her water table. I taped shapes on the floor for her to organize her blocks. She loved to finger paint. We colored eggs for Easter. We became quite the bakers; she loved watching the baking competition shows and trying new recipes. We jumped in puddles on rainy afternoons and watched for, “sworms”. We would adventure in our yard where she found some fallen pine cones which she called, “coconuts”. If we were blessed with good weather, Chris would take Millie to the park across the street on his lunch break; until yellow caution tape was wrapped around the slides and the playground was off limits to promote social distancing.

The holidays were different, to say the least. We celebrated Palm Sunday by fanning around artificial leaf decorations left over from Millie’s second birthday and blowing bubbles in the back yard. Thankfully, I bought Easter gifts early because most stores were shut down. Church was virtual and we watched Easter service from my phone. Maw surprised us by decorating our tree in the front yard with eggs shaped like rabbits and ducks. She didn’t come in because she knew she’d want to hold the kids and she just couldn’t. (She had been in and out of the hospital after our cousin’s liver transplant and it just wasn’t safe to be around each other.) There was no Fourth of July parade and although we heard fireworks all through the night, we could not see any.

In November, Millie turned three and our governor had given clear instructions that no more than 10 people were allowed to gather together. Realizing I couldn’t throw Mill the birthday that I wanted for her, made me empathetic towards those who had to cancel their events due to the pandemic; weddings, trips, graduation parties, etc. It broke my heart to tell family members and friends that they could not come over to celebrate with us. So on Millie’s third birthday, my parents and the in-laws came over to celebrate and we FaceTimed others while she blew out her candles.

One very ordinary evening in December, Chris had a sore throat. Neither of us thought anything of it until he had chills throughout the night. He called our family doctor who then scheduled him to be tested for COVID. By the time of his test, he felt like he had been hit by a truck; even sitting was painful. Chris received a positive covid test and two days later, Wells and I had symptoms; body aches, fatigue, and a fever to follow. Wells slept the worst he ever had in his life. I could tell by his cry that he was in pain. Following suite, within the next two days, my grandmother who watches the kids during the week was symptomatic. Her and I both lost our taste and smell. Covid had infested our family.

Five days after Chris tested positive, Mill still had no signs of the virus. We were so impressed with her immune system! We must not have knocked on wood quick enough because without warning, my energetic fire ball was melting into the couch. Millie was lethargic and had a fever of 100.3. We called the pediatrician and she told us to give her children’s Tylenol and monitor her symptoms. We put her in the bath tub and encouraged fluids. Once the medicine was in her system, she was back to her normal self. You could tell when the medicine would start to wear off – she’d slow down, get rosy cheeks, and her eyes would gloss over. She took her medicine while I sang, “Just a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Sweet girl didn’t fight it at all. Her symptoms lasted 48 hours.

The virus did not keep us from:

  • Worshipping the Lord
  • Celebrating birthdays
  • Going to VA
  • Playing in the snow (Millie makes the best snow angels)
  • Moving my grandma into a new condo
  • Making Christmas cookies and giving them to our neighbors
  • Sending Valentine’s cards
  • Going to the zoo
  • Dedicating Wells

Not everyone had our same comfort level for socialization during the pandemic. We were not fearful of a virus with a 98% survival rate, we had faith in our immune systems, and we agreed with Pastor Doyle when he spoke about togetherness. Unfortunately, many family members missed out on important birthdays, holidays, and other once in a lifetime events because of their own anxieties about safety. The thought process was, “I want to be around for the holidays that they’ll remember.” but no one can guarantee tomorrow. [Millie (3) and Wells (1) just because you might not remember this year, doesn’t make your experiences any less valuable. I’m blogging so that if one day you don’t remember, my words may be enough.]

“If you’re a pandemic baby and you’ve been in quarantine your whole life, you get overstimulated by everything ’cause all the strangers that you see have masks on, and you’ve never really had a playdate in your life.”

I worry about how much this year has affected our children. One year out of my thirty is nothing, but one year to my three year old? That’s a third of her life. Wells? His entire life. Children aren’t as resilient as we like to think, you know? Why do so many adults find themselves in therapy – childhood trauma. We have absolutely no idea the ramifications of living this closed off, pandemic life. Millie was supposed to start dance this year and Wells doesn’t know what it’s like to be around other children. I’m heartbroken and concerned for our children, this generation now labeled as, “Gen C”.

Crazy things about COVID:

  • This started during an election year.
  • People hoarded toilet paper and sold it for obscene amounts of money on the internet.
  • Your Great, Great Uncle Bobby, who is bedridden in a nursing home (suffers from strokes) survived the virus!
  • There were directional arrows on the floors of stores and MawMaw became the aisle police. Although, she told me if I needed to go down an aisle with an arrow facing the opposite direction, to just walk backwards and act like I “forgot” something.
  • Millie was told she had to wear a mask upon entering the Disney store.
  • People were also concerned about murder hornets (I’m still not positive about the murders – were they murdering bees? People?)
  • The sports stadiums were empty (they broadcasted with fake audience cheers, it was bizarre) but some stadiums offered fans to buy cardboard cutouts of themselves to place in the seats. Gam got Millie a cutout for the Shoe so she was “at” the Buckeye games.

I thought I’d finish this blog post months ago (I began writing in August of 2020) but the pandemic trudged on. Ohio is now in a state of “purple” meaning we are worse off when we were in the “red” during our initial shutdown (the colors are arbitrary). Children are back in school full time, sporting events are being held with spectators, vaccines are being administered through drive-thrus – I don’t know what’s next for parenting in the pandemic but I’m glad this blog can be updated because I’m sure it’s not over.

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