My almost-six-month-old daughter can sit up independently now. She rocks her bouncy saucer so hard we sometimes think she’s going to tip it, or give her herself a head injury. She’s got two teeth and has started solid foods of vegetable purees. None of this was true before we began to shelter in place, which means my husband and I and our 20-month-old son are the only ones who have seen these things happen in person. We are the only ones who have held her for the last two months.
And our son … he is picking up more words every day and beginning to form short phrases and sentences. He climbs the stairs now without getting now on his hands and knees. He can stack blocks and helps us mix waffle batter. He likes his sister and wants her to sit next to him on the couch and go down the slide with him in the backyard. He brings her toys and blankets. He recognizes family members through photos and video calls, and asks for some by name. But he, too, hasn’t been held or hugged or tickled by anyone but our little family in two months.
Every person, every generation, experiences events that change things, events that change history, that change society, that change who we are. It might be a war, significant scientific achievement, natural disaster, economic depression, tragedy, a civil rights movement … These events have befores and afters. Things change. Things are different.
Most of us — and most of our kids — are going to remember this pandemic. It will be a “Where were you when …?” era. We’re going to remember the before and after the way we remember other events that happened in our lifetimes.
I was in eighth grade when the Columbine shooting happened. Before Columbine, and the school shootings that have followed since, we felt safe in school. After Columbine, we started doing active shooter drills in school. We heard frightening rumors about outcast kids in our school or lived under threat of something terrible happening. Those of us who were Christians were told about the girl from Columbine who said she believed in God and was killed, and we were asked, what would you do?
I was in eleventh grade when 9/11 happened. Before 9/11, there had never been an attack on U.S. soil in my lifetime. War was something far away. At the airport, we could walk our family members to the gate or meet them there to pick them up. After 9/11, we were a country at war. Surveillance and security became every day topics of conversation, and the creation of the TSA changed air travel in significant ways.
For this pandemic, I’m at home, a mom with two small kiddos. Before this, I could take my kids to the grocery store whenever we needed to go. We could go to the playground and library without too much concern for safety or health (a privilege not afforded to families with immuno-compromised kids, I know). We could go see Grandma and Grandpa, and have Nana visit without worry of anyone getting sick. Before this, Chad would commute into New York City every day, along with more than 1 million other people who work there, but live somewhere else. After … we will see.
Everyone alive right now, of all ages, will be changed by this pandemic. It will be a defining event of our lives, whether young or old. It will take a couple years to know the long-term effects it will have on our every day lives. It will take many more years to know the long-term effects it will have on our psyches and our children’s development.
I keep thinking about those of us with tiny ones to care for. Some of us had our babies before this all began. Some are pregnant now, wondering what it will be like to deliver a baby amid a pandemic, wondering how and when friends and family will meet the new one. None of us knew the first year of their little lives would be consumed by this.
Babies grow so quickly. So much happens in the first year. We didn’t know that family members would miss out on them changing and reaching milestones. It is painful to be unable to share it all with grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins, with close friends who are honorary aunts and uncles. We are lucky to live now, with technology that allows us to see each other over computers and phones, but it’s not the same as being face-to-face. Seeing a baby on a screen is not the same as holding them in your arms.
We don’t know what impact it will have on them, what kind of world they will grow up in because of it. What effect will it have on them that they couldn’t be held by anyone but their immediate family for months on end? Will it have any effect at all? Our babies won’t remember this time after all. They won’t remember that they were stuck at home with us, trying our best to entertain them every day without going out and visiting family. But the world will be changed. There will be a before and after. We just have to hope it is a better, safer place for them to grow up.