The Adjusted Age of Parenthood in a Pandemic
On loving your child and losing yourself
In March 2020, my son was born three weeks early in a Brooklyn hospital just as news reporters started to flood New Rochelle and the CDC debated the merits of masking. We didn’t know it at the time, but those extra three weeks meant that we could enjoy his birth unmasked, as a family, in a state of naivety that would soon be washed away by near-constant ambulance sirens. Now both he and the pandemic are turning two. Early on, he was sluggish in his milestone development, with a neck and spine content to round and slump rather than support. Luckily, his adjusted age graded him on a curve. Medical professionals gave him a little more time and space to reach his goals. It has benefited him so wholly and allowed him to grow into himself in his own timeline. Two years later, I think parents should also be given the same grace with an adjusted age of parenthood.
Some wear motherhood well. Effortlessly, it suits them like flushed cheeks after a jog. But that’s not me. The evidence that I have a toddler is on the walls of my kitchen and the pain in my lower back — but yet, in so many ways, I still feel like a new mother. Blinking at the sun after a period of extended hibernation with a volatile and unwieldy roommate. My relationships have atrophied, professional progress has been as smooth as a stick shift, and my sense of self has been so worn down that I purchased a necklace with my name on it to perhaps remind myself that I am not, in fact, MAMA.
The pandemic and subsequent erasure of supports forced me to contort into a SAHM shape. A flavor of motherhood that I had no taste or desire for. I know that all of us have had to contort, and that many of us are angry, sad, and/or numb. My issue has less to do with the feelings that have come up and more to do with society’s unwillingness to tolerate the reality of these emotions and relentless hammering on blessedness. I am angry, and a smattering of $300 checks and the occasional like-minded parent focused op-ed do little to soothe my rage. For the last two years, I have been the baby stuck in the container, desperately wanting to get out, crying fat round tears, with red grasping palms. I see you baby. I feel you baby.
There is a biological imperative to put my son’s needs first. Do you want more Cheerios? Did you throw your cheese? Are you thirsty? Meanwhile, my stomach works endlessly to distill sour lukewarm coffee into sustenance. It is hard to take care of yourself when every fiber of your being is thinking about someone else while multitasking a looming sense of dread. So you fall off to the side, like one of those cowboys riding a horse while clutching a gut wound. The horse keeps going and a woman in front of a pizza shop says that it gets so much harder when they’re older.
In September 2021, the pandemic settled into a low simmer of anxiety and we started to look into childcare options. All of my hopes and aspirations were stuffed into a small family daycare in a second floor one bedroom apartment off Church Avenue. The staff there will never understand the fullness of my gratitude each and every time they physically take my son from me. For the first time we felt as though we had a village. They knew him and witnessed the last glimpses of his babyhood. Unfortunately, this sense of community was accompanied by a monotony of childhood illnesses that I was wholly ignorant of as a childless person. HFMD, croup, RSV, the adenovirus. Daycares became more vigilant than ever to protect against you-know-what and therefore my son’s attendance hovered around 50%.
Work ground to a halt and became untenable with a young toddler. The scale by which I measured joy was recalibrated to a child yelling “BLUE SHOES!” when he was in fact wearing blue shoes. Seeing the moon for the first time and now looking for it every single night. Learning how to spit intentionally and loving his mother’s wet grimace. His joy became mine. I tried to do more, I tried to have my own, but it was too hard and I gave up.
He has become my whole world; my reason for living. I say that with less starry-eyed admiration and more so with quizzical astonishment at how my life became so single-minded. How did my life become so small? This child. This city. This season. He is all I have and I am all he has. It’s not sustainable or healthy. It’s just what it has been for nearly two years.
Recently, my son has started to mimic the sounds of the alphabet with a confidence that astounds me. Pointing to letters, making random sounds, and grinning with absolute conviction that he has gotten it right. I’d like to take this moment to steal a bit of that audacity and pour it into myself. We have all done what we needed to do. Some of us have even survived. It’s crucial to grieve what’s been lost in this adjusted age of parenthood. The moments that just washed away with an infancy that was never witnessed by friends and family. Our stunted growth as people outside of our children. I will not let the love of my child distract me from my anger at the loss of myself. I will use it. To propel myself forward and reach the next milestone. I will try to build the block tower again and if I fail I will try again, and he will see me trying.
We’re stepping forward into ourselves at the same time; twins in a pandemic born 35 years apart.