I am one. I am one of millions of mothers out there trying to understand this COVID-19 pandemic. I want to cry, scream, throw my fists in the air and punch this invisible enemy. I am scared, panicked, even paralyzed by fear. Hearing the news just turns my stomach into knots. Putting my gloves on to go buy some food for my child makes me equally sick. I am exhausted – mentally and physically – and this is what a pandemic does to you. You feel an isolating grief that grapples at your air supply. You are worried about its financial impacts and how to sustain your household in the coming months of social distancing and mandatory lockdowns. My two-year-old son misses his family; he has started to bark like our dog when someone rings the doorbell, as if in response to outward social interaction – any interaction. Hello. Bark. Bark. Bark. I am here. It’s the kind of moment that makes you smile and want to cry at the same time. This is our new normal.
We wake up, we make breakfast, and he puts his sleeping toys away and waits for his vitamin. This little vitamin reminds me that I am trying to keep his immunity strong. As a mother, little fortitudes like these give me that odd sense of security. “Thanks for keeping me strong, Mom. This helps keep my inner soldiers hard at work while COVID-19 threatens the lives of so many,” says the little voice, particularly because I feel powerless in these moments, even when I stay home and stay safe. Yet, there are parts of me, even when a downward spiral hits and waves of panic paralyze my mind, that I am relentlessly hopeful. “Don’t give in,” says the little voice, almost like my three-year-old, fearless self – don’t give in to fear, Denise. It will deplete your energy, breathing a dragon-like wrathful fire upon your fragile metallic shield and leaving you truly powerless. And it’s in that moment when I reach for that glimmer of strength that I choose courage. I power up and I go to the safe place: my rocking chair.
It’s an ordinary rocking chair – a gift to help me breastfeed and rock my newborn to sleep. It’s grey and white and is stained where spit-up and wipes have made their forever marks. It reminds me of a modern colonial-style rocking chair. Ha. Inside joke to myself – “coronial rocking chair”. Now in quarantine and working from home, I still put my son down for his nap in it. It’s my safe place, my fort of protection for my son and myself. He usually takes half an hour to go down, along with a plethora of images, songs, movies, books, and quotes that often make an appearance in a carousel- like fashion.
I rock you back and forth, back and forth; the chair is now our vessel. It’s now a majestic ship made of oak, intricate wooden carvings of waves under a starlit sky and a figurehead mermaid with calm assertive eyes. We set sail on a bed of waves that grant us safe passage. My womb used to be your vessel, I think to myself. I used to rock you in there, perfectly content and happy. Your first home; my second shield and heart. There, I created your heart and kept it inches away from mine. I start humming along to Hamilton: “Look around, look around – how lucky we are to be alive right now.” I tear up. “Look at where you are, look at where you started. The fact that you’re alive is a miracle. Just stay alive, that would be enough.”
It’s day 439 of quarantine – or who the hell knows. We’re rocking together but you are resisting. You want to be outside again. You want to look for lizards, play with the sprinklers, and make an endless mess of fishy soup featuring 500 fish crackers scattered across your play kitchen. I’m constantly trying to calm you – you are testing the waters by answering with full-on tantrums. Sometimes I dig my nails into my palms because your high-pitched screech makes my eye twitch. I take a deep breath. It’s okay to not be okay. I am trying. And although I may feel like a failure, I will keep trying. And it will be enough. I am your caretaker, your captain guiding you, navigating alongside you as we cross the choppy waters on the horizon. Right now, this world frightens the hell out of me and your father. Are we failing you? I don’t know, but I am totally with you, particularly concerning the rollercoaster of emotions you are processing. One moment I’m enraged with the pandemic and the next I’m overjoyed that you’re pointing at our succulent that bloomed overnight. It’s a gentle reminder that, even during chaos, growth is prevalent. I’m worried you’ll forget how to socialize with other children; you’re not feeling the virtual playdates. This is our new normal, and it’s a journey that makes the fellowship of the ring look like a piece of fucking cake. Throw the one ring into the fire of Mordor – the end. Then again, it’s not so easy; the ring tempts the strength and will of humans and other mythic creatures alike. And this is what COVID-19 is doing to me. What it’s doing to us all.
You like the sound of falling rain; it soothes you, even as I’m steering our ship into choppy waters – we need that larger-than-life rocking motion. You’re clinging on to me as we go; we’re sailing in this together. The mermaid stares onward, unconvinced. Meanwhile the rain droplets pattering the sill trickle down, making nautical hums just like when you press your ear to a conch. Is that what it sounded like inside me? Your eyelids are getting heavy; you are fighting to keep awake. But alas, you’re giving in to the rocking. I hear your breath – sometimes you let out a deep one – like a sign that you’ve entered a deep sleep. Back and forth, back and forth. You’re still clutching your ducky, who has been with you since you were born. He is worn, his velvet feathers stained with muck from his journeys alongside you. I smell the scent of your hair, a combination of sweat and shampoo. I am reminded of my strength, my hope, and my greatest creation: you. I am reminded of the beautiful Jenn Pastiloff, and say, “I got you.” I got you baby; Mama’s always got you.
My mind wanders to all the mamas out there who must be feeling as isolated and lonely during this quarantine. Be kind to yourselves; what we are facing is hard – we’re isolated. When I reached for virtual connectivity for some support, I didn’t find it, and so I created the “Virtual Mom Collective”. From my panic and grief, it forms and stares back at me. Powered by words of courage, love, and strength. “Help me help you,” says the voice. I am here. I am safe. As long as I have you, I will rock back and forth, back and forth. And in my coronial rocking chair, I birth hope.