Standing in the kitchen, fussing with something, tidying up the counter perhaps. I can’t remember exactly what I was doing in the moment. Probably because my brain glossed over the unimportant task I was handling when I was hit with a proverbial 2x4.
We were waiting for my husband to return home in the time of Covid: he was picking up our curbside grocery order. I knew we’d have to disinfect and then unpack the haul. It was 8:30pm on a weeknight and I was tired after a day of working and facilitating two children’s e-learning schedules. I flitted around, finding something to fill my moments before he got back, because if I plopped down on the couch, there was no way my tired ass was going to get back up to unpack anything. I hated unloading groceries before this and now? I loathe it and everything it means and stands for.
Our five-year-old was sitting at the kitchen table, happily going through his ABC Mouse learning path, an e-story being read aloud to him. Oh thank goodness for e-books. At least he isn’t watching more shitty Ryan’s World shows on YouTube kids! Do NOT get me started on that kid. It was a story about shapes, circles seemed to be the focus. All in all, a very 2020 scene for a very average 2020 quarantine-life family.
Then that damn app said something that stabbed my precious sweet gentle five-year-old in the heart.
The melodic voice said something along the lines of being able to find circles everywhere you look. Then she said the dagger phrase. “You can even find a circle of friends!” Or something to that effect. You can’t plan for the pre-COVID nuclear bombs that show up in your children’s educational work. And my sweet, small for his age and talks with a New York accent despite being born and raised in Chicago five-year-old sardonically replied:
“We aren’t allowed to have circles of friends anymore.”
I stopped in my tracks, I think my head turned like an owl’s as I looked at him from in front of the fridge. He didn’t turn and say it to me. He wasn’t looking at my wide, shocked eyes. His little round button-nosed face was still on his screen and he plopped a grape in his mouth. He wasn’t talking to anyone really. He just replied out loud to the book. The nonchalance was sickening. And as my gut sank to the floor, I said, “Oh sweetheart. I’m your friend and daddy and bruh bruh are your friends. We have our own circle of friends here!”
He was unconvinced. Turning he said, “no. That isn’t enough people to form a circle.” I tried to explain that it sure was, but a visual, hands on experience was the only way he would see, and I couldn’t form our family friendship circle without my husband being here.
He went back to his learning path and I went back to waiting and pacing aimlessly. Thoughts of sadness for all of the children overcame me. Their lives were just ripped away from them overnight. One day they were in school, playing, laughing, sharing secrets with their friends. Lunch tables and playdates and buzzing dismissal lobbies. Hugs from their teachers and visiting the administrators of their school, who always seem to have a never ending bowl of chocolate treats that they let the kids snag. Art projects and PTO parties and basketball on Sundays and spending Saturdays with cousins. Walking to and from school every day. Stopping for donuts and coffee before we headed back to our building. Spring was rapidly approaching, the swirl of white Chicago snow and bitter lake winds getting ready to head to their hibernation stations.
All of it just ended with a Thanos snap.
We hurriedly scooped our precious offspring up, put them in our four walls, slapped masks on their too tiny faces, and told them physically socializing with people outside of our family circle was dangerous, for now. That is a lot for a grown ass adult, and for a child? A destructive tsunami.
Eventually my husband arrived home and I filled him in as we put away our disinfectant covered food. Typing that is the weirdest thing I’ve ever written and once I wrote an article for a local newspaper about how there is no dog poop fairy in our downtown neighborhood so could all my dog owning neighbors please, literally, pick up their shit?
Our nine-year-old suddenly manifested in the kitchen as he heard the words more food or smelled disinfected sour cream and onion chips, he has a nose for snacks. And he overheard my whispers of what had gone down. He was in it now, and the need to save his baby brother overcame him too.
We stood there, clasping hands, and we formed our friendship circle. Five was still unconvinced. My husband said, “look, we actually need more room. Our circle could be much bigger but we have to find a space to spread out.” And so we did, letting our arms reach long while we clasped each other’s hands, my husband is 6’4”, so our circle was pretty sizable. Nine chimed in about how we are a perfect circle of friendship. Five smiled but said nothing.
I’m not sure it was a genuine smile. It seemed to be more of an effort for us. That he saw what we were doing and figured he’d throw us a bone, and give a little grin, but still thinks this is all bullshit. And he’s not wrong. I get why we need to do this. It is necessary and I don’t want to get sick or my kids to get sick or get my parents or grandparents sick. I don’t even want to get a stranger I’ll never know sick! Every day I hope that it is the day I wake up and this is over, but alas, we just keep marching, headfirst, toward that ugly and devastating 100k dead mark.
This new way of necessary life is bullshit and I hate it as much as my kids do. I want them to have their childhoods back and despite our best efforts to make this seem like a fun and very extended vacation, deep down we all know it’s just a thin veneer we paint only for the purposes of self-preservation.
And I suppose, that’s all any of us can do right now. Stay home as much as humanly possible, and create makeshift friendship circles in a kitchen at 9p.m. while the scents of Lysol Spring Waterfall and fresh fruit linger in the air.