By Sara Ahronheim
You run to me, arms outstretched, as I drag my weary limbs to the garage door. You have been anticipating my arrival, and burst through the backyard gate upon hearing my car door close. Sunkissed and joyful, the two of you delicious little people want nothing more than to be scooped up in mommy’s arms and snuggled. “Stop!” I call, “Stay back, wait till I have my shower!”; alarm rings in my voice as you hang precipitously before me, a few feet from possible contamination. Your faces fall when you realize that, yet again, mommy can’t hug you right when you need it most.
This is the toll that the pandemic is taking on my family, and on so many families like mine.
Today, I am in mourning. I grieve the loss of our daycare; ten years of joy, friendship, warmth and love stolen away in a flash by sickness. Covid destroys so much more than we know – besides killing hundreds of thousands, besides overwhelming health care systems and hospitals worldwide, besides tanking economies globally – the worst part for me is the effect it is having on our children’s wellbeing.
On June 1, the government of Quebec is forcing daycares to reopen to the general public, after two months of being a safe refuge for children of essential workers like me. Though they are putting in place safeguards like small class sizes, masks and visors for teachers, and increased sanitizing, as a health care professional I know that none of this is enough. The likelihood of one of the children or parents transmitting Covid to the group is not negligible.
So today was my son’s last day at the daycare that raised my two children, nurtured them, loved them. These were his final moments in his, and our, second home. It was going to happen anyway at the end of August, but with a graduation ceremony and joy instead of sorrow and pain. Luckily, being so young he will be very unlikely affected by the arrows that pierce my heart at this separation, and I know we will ensure he has a wonderful summer at home with us. But the end of this phase of life, daycare, in this way, hurts.
My daughter, ten years old and blossoming, is suffering. She, like all kids right now, misses her friends with an intensity of emotion that only the young can feel. The hardest thing I’ve had to do so far during this crisis, is the one I did a few weeks ago when I had to collect her belongings from school. On March 13 we had come to school only to be told the doors were shut, and home we went with the most important of her schoolbooks. Two months of online learning later, and the decision was made that schools would not reopen until September. I pulled up in front of her school, which had been my high school, and felt ill as I donned my mask and headed in the doors. One parent at a time was allowed in, and I spent twenty minutes wandering the hallways of her innocence, opening her locker, touching her big girl belongings and stowing them carefully in a bag. Going through her desk and her classroom to collect the rest, my heart felt ripped up as I, for her, said goodbye to grade 4.
Who would have thought, at this time last year, that our world would be so changed? That coming home from work would be an ordeal of decontamination, that I wouldn’t be able to hug my children at a moment’s notice, that I would fear for my own and their safety every time I entered my Emergency Department? How could we have known that grandparents would be isolated, families unable to touch each other or have Sabbath dinners for fear of exposing each other to a fatal disease? Thankfully my parents taught me very early in life to love and love hard, like tomorrow would never come. I am so glad that we had dinners with my parents and my sister every week, for years, before covid. We are blessed to have had so much time to be happy, to be together, so that we could save up those memories and get ourselves through these hard times.
For now, we will continue to be strong for our children, to love them, and have them love us, as fiercely as possible, as if the world is ending. Because it is not, and one day we will remember how much we loved and how much we pushed so that we would stay safe, and keep eachother safe, so the world will go on.
So for now, run to me, my children, but stop a few feet away. In half an hour when all the fomites have rinsed off my body and many tears have spilled in the shower, we will snuggle and reassure each other that we are still here, we are still alive. One day this will all just be a time we lived through; we will tell your children about how “once upon a time, when your parents were just little kids like you, the world changed – and changed back.”.