A painting of a woman in a blue floral dress holding and kissing her toddler
Mary Cassatt, "After the Bath," 1901. (via Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

It Would Appear We Are The Grown-Ups Here

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My husband and I have been talking a lot lately, because who else are we going to talk to, and what else is there to do? We unspool all our anxieties to each other as we also attempt to educate our two young kids at home, run our small businesses, sanitize everything without resorting to paranoia, take fundamental care of our children, and check in with our parents and friends. Tax time is also coming! Maybe.

Under self-isolation since March 13, there are no other grown-ups here — we are the grown-ups — and we can’t leave the house, and we made a vow to be there for each other through the good times and bad, and here we are, the bad.

Mentally, it helps me to repeatedly run through the things we have going for us right now in Chicagoland, where we live. I shopped before the panic set in. We have a backyard to send the kids to, and they get along with each other more than they don’t. It’s warm enough to take walks. We have a puppy to distract us (and eat, if we have to... haha). Nobody is immunocompromised. I’m not pregnant. We have friends and Skype and FaceTime. Our appliances are still working. And, the worst of the coronavirus seems to be (largely, hopefully, for now, please God) sparing kids.

I don’t know what I’d do if the disease had the same mortality rate among children as it does among the elderly. I suppose we’d just deal the way we’re dealing now, the way parents of very ill children do all the time. But it’s a nice state of normalcy, I guess, to be able to just regular-yell at my kids these days.

I wonder what this so-called “homeschooling” and lack of socialization is going to do to our kids over the long term. How behind will they be in their education because they suddenly got untrained, nervous, distracted substitute teachers? Will it even matter if they’ve all been in the same situation? I feel sad for them, missing their friends who can speak their age-language, their teachers who can expertly redirect when they go ham instead of snapping at them with all the fear and exhaustion that we parents have. Will there be any sort of upside to this, the enforced family time? Will they be singing for 20 seconds each time they wash their hands even when they’re old, the way people who lived through the Depression or Holocaust hoard money and food after the danger has passed?

Then there is the fear that seems most likely to come true, the one I try hardest not to dwell on — about our parents and grandpeople and other beloved seniors. I wonder if I’ll ever hug my parents again, if my mom will get to bestow Salerno Butter Cookies on my kids’ pinkies again, if I’ll sit next to my dad at a baseball game.

I still wouldn’t trade this experience for being a child during the Cuban missile crisis.

At least my parents take the coronavirus threat seriously and have been staying home, canceling trips, not protesting our distance. I know many people whose boomer family members don’t seem to be taking the pandemic very seriously, asking indignantly why their kids aren’t saying yes to family visits or blithely showing up to large group events (while they were still allowed to). Maybe they’re online less and less scared than we are. Maybe they’re listening to people giving bad advice. Maybe it’s because they’ve lived through things worse than this — I still wouldn’t trade this experience for being a child during the Cuban missile crisis. Our older loved ones have already seen some friends die “naturally,” and perhaps they are a little more comfortable with the idea of death. Or maybe they’re just counting their own small blessings, grateful that they are not us, worrying about our kids and our elderly families and ourselves, and that gratitude translates as flippancy to us, their worried adult children.

I’m grateful my parents are at least healthy seniors. They both smoke, but I long ago gave up worrying about that for them because they’re adults and they can yell at each other. I’m grateful for all the good time we’ve had together, happy that I can talk to them every day, and that there is nothing left unsaid. I’m going to end this paragraph now before I start to cry because I don’t really have anything to cry about, yet, and yet, I’m worried if I start I will do this all the time.

Well. Who knows what things will look like on the other side, or where the other side even is. Once we get there, at least we will look back and say, “Damn, I can’t believe we had it in us to get through that,” and maybe free time will feel that much more free and delicious, and maybe we will give teachers way more credit and pay. I can’t wait to see my friends. I really can’t wait to see my kids’ teachers. Maybe when we are old, and the next time something like this happens, we too can enjoy the experience of peace and knowledge that we got through it before and maybe we’ll get through it again.

If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here, and Bustle’s constantly updated, general “what to know about coronavirus” here.

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