I’m a working mom of two kids, ages 4 and 1.
I’m married to a physician, and during the early days of the pandemic he moved out to protect us.
This pandemic has broken me. Sometimes I wonder if I’m beyond repair.
Before the pandemic, I visited a museum and saw the Japanese pottery kintsugi. It was broken and fixed with a lacquer made with gold — the pots are made more beautiful because of the breakage. I think back on those pots as I soothe my child’s 3 a.m. nightmares. I feel a kinship with them.
It isn’t gold that’s pulling me back together. It’s the incessant cry of “Mama!” from the other room. I hold myself together for them.
I’ve been losing pieces of myself every day
A piece breaks off when the White House says the unvaccinated are looking at a “winter of severe illness and death.” I look at my children and wonder if the president considers their suffering an acceptable risk. But the baby is hungry, so I lift her to me and shuffle the pieces back together.
I contact an old editor with an idea. “I love it,” she says, “but I’ve already hit my quota of pieces from exasperated mothers. Try again next quarter.” I stay up late, finally off of the monthslong waitlist for the expensive masks for our 4-year-old.
“Vaccines for small children will be ready soon,” I hear. Something — is it hope? I’ve forgotten what that feels like — starts to shimmer inside me. “They aren’t ready. Keep waiting.” I’ve shattered again.
Someone suggested I go for a walk in nature and take a deep breath to center myself. As I release the breath I scream, the sound is primal and reverberates through the cracks of my body.
My husband is exposed days before the holidays and isolates away from us. I take a moment to cry in the dark of the bathroom, certain that this is finally where I’ll be unable to pull myself together again. But then I emerge, the pieces held together by twinkle lights, sufganiyot, and the responsibility of creating magic for my children.
Their childhood is fleeting. An elderly neighbor reminds me that if I blink, it will be gone. I blink once, twice, three times, but we’re still in this.
“Kids don’t get really sick!” a childless man on the internet tells me. I think the rage will finally overtake me. It will shatter my pieces past the point of recognition, but I put it aside to pack lunches.
“At this point it’s inevitable,” someone says, and I wonder who made that choice. Who decided that after two years of sacrifice that it was all too hard, that we should stop trying? I want to give up, too — to succumb to the cracks and live like rubble on the floor — but I’m the only one who can sing the 4-year-old his lullabies.
I cannot help but wonder if this cruelty is intentional. To them, perhaps, young children shouldn’t be out in the world in the way mine are. Perhaps they think my children are acceptable collateral damage of my own ambition. I wonder if they think I deserve this, me and my broken pieces.
When this all started, my husband moved out to care for the sick without exposing us. When he returned a few months later, I told him I wasn’t the same person I was when he left. I’d lost her — that woman who had an easy laugh. I was a shell of the woman he married.
I’m less than a shell now. I’m all broken pieces held together by everything everyone needs from me. I’m diapers and breast pumps and tears and Zooms and missed deadlines and meal plans and the search to find COVID-19 tests and the math required to calculate close contacts.
I’m a mother in a pandemic in a nation that’s forsaken me.
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