I was looking Emilie in Paris when my husband walked into our room and broke the news that I had been dreading for two years: our 18 month old son had tested positive for Covid. As the words floated in the air, I was overwhelmed by an emotion I hadn’t expected: relief.
Now let me be clear that there are several main reasons why I haven’t fallen into a pit of despair. First and foremost, my son’s symptoms were already presenting as a mild cold. His positive test came five days after documented exposure at the daycare, and he had yet to show anything other than an occasional cough and a runny nose. Second, we had been in quarantine since we were informed of the close contact, so no one other than our family of three was in danger. In this first holiday season since returning to our midwestern hometown, Jewish Christmas Eve and Catholic Christmas Day with our respective families have been unceremoniously canceled. And finally, my husband and I were both vaccinated, boosted and we felt good. I was convinced that our health – and that of our loved ones – was not in danger.
Of course, not everyone will have this chance. Getting Covid is a dice game and if we had the choice of having it with mild symptoms or not having it all, I would choose the latter a thousand times. But as the Omicron variant spreads at an alarming rate, many parents will soon find themselves in the same position I find myself in now – escaping and simultaneously realizing our greatest fear.
Like most parents, I have spent the past two years playing a win or die game with calculated risk.
As my husband and I briefly discussed the logistics of our extended quarantine, the knot that had been coiled in my stomach slowly loosened. We checked the video monitor to see our son sleeping peacefully, and a few minutes later I was again watching Lily Collins prance around Paris in fancy clothes and get caught up in various romantic misunderstandings. It was as if nothing had happened.
Like most (all?!?) Parents, I have spent the past two years playing a win or die game with calculated risk. Every step outside the house (or open door to let someone in) involved a dizzying computation of ever-changing information.
I was six months pregnant when the pandemic started, and my obstetrician gently but firmly told me to stay home. Leave the groceries and all the other groceries to my husband, he said; I had to avoid all contact with the outside world. The growing baby inside me was the only survivor of IVF. He had already beaten the odds so many times that I wasn’t going to take any more chances, so I took my doctor’s advice and locked myself in for the past three months.
Giving birth in the first months of the pandemic was a singular experience. Stories of partners being kept away from maternity wards were rife. Vaccines were a distant dream and while children were considered relatively safe, it was not clear if this applied to newborns and their underdeveloped immune systems. When I gave birth, there weren’t enough tests in the hospital for my husband and I, so we had a negative result and a “fingers crossed and hope for the best”. Once our son was safe in the world, we crouched down at home. His brit mila, a Jewish baby baptism ceremony, took place on Zoom, just like my baby shower had been months before.
Over time, I have developed strategies to feed my need for human contact outside of my husband and baby. Meals were delivered by friends who carefully placed boxes on the doorstep, then stepped back as we stepped out onto the porch and introduced our newborn son as Simba on the mountain. My husband and I would change our food and prop him up against distant stares as our masked friends cooed several feet away.
Our most difficult decision came at the end of my maternity leave. We thought there was no choice but to send our son to daycare, even though most of the schools were far away. The family daycare has asked all parents to sign a long affidavit stating that we will adhere to strict Covid-safe guidelines at all times to protect the pod. I had to trust strangers whom I only knew in passing masked as we took turns handing over our most precious possessions.
Decisions got complicated once the world started to open up. The first building my son entered that was not the home, daycare, or doctor’s office was a Hollywood Walgreen’s where he accompanied me for my first dose of Pfizer. Eventually, when Los Angeles had a combination of mask warrants and high vaccination rates, I took it with me to the grocery store a few times. You’ll never realize how many balloons there are in a grocery store until you walk the aisles with a newly verbal child who has just learned the word “bubble” and (logically, I think) associates it with n ‘ any round object that floats. He screamed in unbridled glee, and I smiled at the normality of it all.
Now I can worry like a mom before the pandemic. Instead of wondering if my son is going to catch a potentially devastating illness, I can instead focus my anxiety on normal things like: is he eating enough vegetables?
My anxiety increased when we moved to the Midwest this summer. There is no mask requirement here and while all of our family and friends are vaccinated and boosted, each has their own set of personal rules that don’t necessarily match our own.
In order to keep our son safe, we had to assess and sometimes ignore family weddings, birthdays, and holiday meals. I was the only mask wearer in a room of vaccinated and boosted adults at a holiday party in early December, sipping bourbon and cream soda through a straw. Ironically, so far, I am the only person who has been infected afterwards.
When the vaccine became available for ages 5 to 11, I enviously browsed my Instagram feed, watching my friends’ kids proudly display their bandages and fantasizing about when I could finally breathe again.
And now I guess I can.
I always plan to take precautions, but for at least a few months I don’t have to worry about every decision I make. Now I can worry like a mom before the pandemic. Instead of wondering if my son is going to catch a potentially devastating illness, I can instead focus my anxiety on normal things like: is he eating enough vegetables? Does it hurt that I laugh every time he says the clock without the “l” sound?
And surprisingly, I didn’t feel a single iota of mum’s guilt. This variant is too powerful. Every day I hear about another friend who has been infected. We have all done our best. We all racked our brains weighing the potential consequences of each of our actions. Our daycare worked tirelessly to prevent the spread of the Covid, but with children too young to be vaccinated and too young to wear masks, an epidemic was inevitable.
Every day we get closer to a vaccine. I wonder if he’ll have to wait until his second birthday in June or if he’s still under 2 when the shots are approved. The day he qualifies as fully vaccinated? It will be my real moment of relief. What I am feeling now is probably only temporary. But I’m still going to take advantage of it and finish this season of Emilie in Paris.