Here We Go Again

drooping dead flowers in a vase
Credit: Jörg Farys / EyeEm / Getty Images

Omicron Means Parents Are Doing It All Again, Except This Time Dead Inside

At this point in the pandemic, I feel nothing.

by Amil Niazi

Here I am again. It’s 9 in the morning, my 18-month-old is screaming the words “Coco” (short for Cocomelon, of course) so compulsively I wonder for a minute if toddlers this young have ever been exorcised. My 4-year-old tearfully begs to eat a candy cane for breakfast and I relent because the will to fight the crushing tide of an impending tantrum left my body long ago. He’s also taken off the clothing I dressed him in this morning in favor of his preferred outfit these days: a Spider-Man mask and the haunting reflection of my own mortality. All of this while I try to navigate the flurry of emails bidding me a “happy new year” and reminding me of all the work I’ve been putting off for when I was rested and ready to face 2022 as a refreshed version of myself (lol).

It’s a loop I and other parents have been stuck in for almost two years, willing ourselves to keep it together just a little bit longer, thinking this time will be the last time, that is, until the next time.

Because here we all are again and the thought of being rested for the year ahead, of being a little more prepared for it now makes me laugh that special, unhinged kind of laughter reserved only for the Joker and women in Lifetime movies right before they’re committed. In fact, don’t even whisper the word “restful” at me anymore. As the parent of two small kids in the middle of a pandemic I get, at most, pit breaks. A brief interval when someone is napping or everyone’s sleeping and there’s a panicked dash to fix everything that’s broken before I have to reenter the race. Only there’s always a part missing or I’m a man down, so I enter the next lap just slightly less dented than before, perpetually waiting for a new driver to take over.

And this latest trip around the track feels extra cursed, the wheels have all come off, the driver’s passed out, and the race threatens to go on forever.

I’m angry, sad, frustrated, obliterated, abandoned, but more than that and worst of all, I feel nothing.

None of us can believe we’re doing this two years later, facing the same challenges and heartbreaks we’ve faced since 2020. Omicron has tipped the scales we’ve all so desperately been trying to balance, scales that were already precariously perched before this variant. And whether you’re boosted or not, no one is immune from the mounting anxieties and pressures this latest round of spiking case counts, reemerging lockdowns, and school closures has brought. Parents are facing impossible choices, abandoned by our leaders, our employers, and increasingly, our sanity.

If schools are still open for in-person learning in your district, you face sending your kids into the unknown, risking not just illness but the isolation and disruption to your entire household that comes with it, and asking teachers to put their lives and families at risk, too. Or you’re dealing with another round of closures, staring down an unwinnable battle between care and work, negotiating who gives up what in your partnership, knowing women will once again bear the brunt of it. And that’s the burden for those with someone else to share the ever-mounting load; single parents are surviving on fumes.

PCR tests are impossible to get, rapid tests are expensive, and someone on the group chat keeps saying they don’t work anyway. Some schools aren’t keeping track of positive cases, the CDC says if you have Covid you only have to isolate if there’s a new moon, and no matter what happens and who gets sick and how much you don’t think you can handle one single extra thing, you still have to work.

There’s no good or right way to proceed other than the one that keeps you sane.

Every day I get multiple messages from other parents asking what my plans are, silently pleading for someone else to echo the heart-wrenching choice they’ve made themselves, to reinforce that any of us are doing the right thing even though the decision to either send our babies to day care or keep them at home demands a toll most of us can’t afford to keep paying, and no matter the choice in the end, we’ll all bear the scars for years to come.

I’m angry, sad, frustrated, obliterated, abandoned, but more than that and worst of all, I feel nothing. Because to feel something now, knowing deliberate indifference and avarice led us here over and over again, knowing how loudly we’ve been screaming for years only to be ignored, that would be to let myself be mortally wounded by the reality that I am and we are inescapably in it alone. And I need to reserve my energy for keeping myself and my family alive.

But how much longer can we ignore the fact that fundamentally, our leaders and institutions don’t care about children? How many more times can we plead and bargain with employers to extend a deadline or let us leave early for another family emergency before we have to admit we’re working at odds? Acknowledging that it’s all gone to shit is just not enough anymore.

An email that simultaneously offers platitudes about how bad things are but concludes with a demand to return to the office in a month is not corporate care — it’s blackmail.

And I don’t have the answers or even a way to end this obvious cry for help with anything other than the reassurance that this is f*cking awful and whether it’s seven consecutive hours of Bluey or $200 worth of dollar store crafts and everything and anything in between, there’s no good or right way to proceed other than the one that keeps you sane. Hopefully, I’ll see you on the other side.

Amil Niazi is a writer and producer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Elle and Refinery29. She is also the showrunner of the weekly CBC pop culture podcast, Pop Chat.