This morning, as we raced our way through Meijer (hey Midwest) and Costco, I felt the annoyance begin to build within me. Annoyance that I felt obligated to stock up on everything, frustration that the control measures I thought impossible four days ago are now widespread realities. I was 20 minutes into waiting in line to pay, trying in vane to keep a hungry teething toddler’s fingers out of his mouth, when from his place in a cart of ahead of me, he leaned forward, with face turned and eyes boring directly into my own. He nuzzled sweetly my face and chest, there was pressure and intention, and after holding there for what felt like a perfect eternity, he sealed it all with a kiss.
It was one of those moments, as a parent, when your heart grows and fractures, then each of the thousand new pieces grow as well until you are feeling your heart in your heels and your fingers, its breadth extending past the splint ends on the tip of each of your unwashed hairs.
A sudden sense of relief washed over me that it wasn’t his health the store full of strangers was worried about, as they panic purchased every last paper towel and Lucky Charm. And then suddenly, in that same moment, I pictured my grandmother in the cart in front of me, or rather, in the pram equivalent of the early 1920’s. And as I pictured her there, I began to picture my son, stepping tentatively on painful joints, leaned out of necessity against a tennis ball clad walker, in a complex full of today’s children, grown and grayed, another 90 years from now.
Each one of them vulnerable and afraid.
Suddenly my body felt overwhelmed. Overwhelmed that when that day comes I will no longer be here for him, and can only hope that someone else will love him the way I love him. Will sacrifice to protect him the way I strive to protect him.
That everyone else will shop and cancel and suffer for his safety.
And in that moment, as my emotions swirled, I began to view this all differently, my frustration melted away, replaced instead with a joy and a purpose.
So in the coming weeks, as parents load their own children into carts to stock up for time spent at home,
As we feel isolated and antsy trapped behind our own four walls,
As we experience the heartbreak and disappointment of cancelled plans, both enormous and very small,
As we suffer,
May we focus instead on the opportunity we now have for our children to experience first hand the power of what a society that sacrifices together to protect it’s most vulnerable can do. How those small choices and temporary inconveniences can yield a tangible, even enormous slowing in the rise of a virus spread. Lives spared, losses controlled.
May this spring, one where trips were canceled and schools were closed, despite being painful or even scary, be their most memorable of all. Memorable because it was the first time they experienced their own strength; the power of each individual, no matter how small, playing an important role.
And maybe, when our children are older, the world will remember what they did, with joyful hearts and scrubbed clean hands, and in turn, it will protect them too.
Maybe, just maybe, this has been about our children all along.
I would like to acknowledge that I write this from a place of privilege. The privilege of a family structure that has one parents always at home, a budget that has room to stock up on necessary items, and a home that has space for safe play. So if you read this from that place as well, join me in acknowledging those parents for whom these sacrifices are larger, scarier, more damaging than our own. Be willing to help, in ways that are safe, to provide children a place to be during the days off from school. Offer to turn your grocery run into a supply stop for those who can’t get out, or can’t afford to restock while shelves are still full. It takes a village, let us each be valuable in our own.