4/7/22

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

You might want to consider this Part 2, and last week’s Moment, Part 1. Last week was anticipation. This week, reality. I am in Lafayette, Louisiana, visiting my daughter, Katie, who I haven’t seen for two years and eight months, because of Covid restrictions.

I’m actually going to post this Moment early today, because at the normal time, I plan to be on the University of Louisiana campus, with my daughter.

I’ve become ever more aware this week of the full effects of the pandemic, even if you never caught Covid at all. We were, and are, all affected. We all faced hard times.

As a mom, even as the mom of adults, the Covid years left me pacing. How do you protect your children when you can’t even be with them?

The pandemic reminded me a lot, in emotions anyway, of 9/11. One of the moments I remember so clearly from 9/11 occurred a few days after the attack, when I was watching Oprah talk to Christiane Amanpour. The conversation included a clip of Amanpour asking a senator if he thought US citizens would all be given gas masks, similar to what happened in other countries. “Oh, no,” said the senator, “we’re not in that much danger.” Then Amanpour asked him if he was aware that everyone in the Congress and Senate had been issued gas masks that day.

My fear went into overdrive.

9/11 happened in 2001. Olivia was one month shy of one year old. Katie was 14, Andy 15, Christopher 17. That night, I fled to my basement office and began searching on eBay for gas masks. Vendors were selling “family packs” of four, but there were six of us, including a baby. The prices were in the thousands, which I couldn’t afford, yet I placed bids anyway, and was outbid in seconds. I never went to bed that night, glued to CNN, and feeling like there was no way I could protect my children. I was a failure. I was too poor. My kids would die because of me.

And now, years later, the pandemic. Only one child, Olivia, was still under my roof. My sons were close by, in the same town. My daughter, Katie, impossibly far away in Louisiana, a place she’d only called home for seven months when the world turned upside down.

And again, I felt useless. I saw Christopher, his wife Amber and my granddaughter Maya Mae every night on Zoom. I still saw Andy, because he was over so often, it didn’t make sense to suddenly not see him. Olivia was just down the hall, in her room. But Katie. She was with her husband, Nick, so she wasn’t alone. But she was so far away.

And a thought that kept crossing my mind, as I considered and researched and explored how to keep my kids safe, was that I was high risk. Between my age, the breast cancer, the asthma, and fibromyalgia, I knew if I caught Covid, I would likely die.

And I would die without seeing my daughter.

Today, I said to Katie, “It’s been a hard couple years.” And she looked at me and said, “Yes, it has.”

And yet one of the things I’ve seen over these years is that my kids can handle things on their own. I am not as necessary as I once was. Which is, of course, hard to handle. As I’ve been here this week, I’ve watched the one child I couldn’t see for two years move easily through her environment. She is confident and sure of herself. Which is, of course, what I’ve always wanted her, and the other three kids, to be.

Speaking to a barista at Starbucks this week, I told her why I was in town. “Two years!” she exclaimed. “I can’t imagine being without my mom for two years!”

I wondered if Katie felt the same way. She seemed to be just fine, without me.

I watched her stride. I watched her call out hellos to students and other faculty members. I watched her teach, her hands raised and moving, like mine, her interactions with her students, like mine, her “Gotcha,” my word.

Where did the little girl go? The little girl who was so scared of kindergarten that she wouldn’t let go of me and I had to inch her into the classroom. I had to come up with a plan, where first, she stood just inside the playground fence and I stood outside of it. Her fingers, behind her back, laced through the chain link and into mine. Then, day after day, week after week, I moved backwards. To the sidewalk. To the curb. To my car. Inside my car. And eventually, the day came when she stepped onto the playground and I drove away.

So proud.

And now, two years and eight months without her mother, where was my girl? I didn’t drive away by choice. But she was definitely on her own.

When Katie showed me her office, I looked around and, first, saw the painted mannequin I created for her when she moved to Tallahassee, Florida, for her masters degree. Math words and formulas are buried in long squiggles and curves of color. She has it on a shelf, right above her computer. And then I looked to the right.

“Bowser!”

When Katie was six years old and had given up Pinky, the ragdoll I wrote about last week, she and I found a stuffed Old English Sheepdog at a rummage sale. He quickly became her best friend. Bowser. He went to every sleepover, every vacation, every bed in every bedroom through moves and college and grad school. And now here he was, in her office, in the university where she teaches math.

I rested a hand on his no-longer-furry head.

Katie smiled. “Sometimes students need a stuffed animal to hold onto, during difficult times,” she said.

And sometimes, so do daughters. When their mothers are far away for two years and eight months.

There she was. And she’s just fine. While she may not need me as much as she used to, she’s still very much my girl. Every moment while I am here, beside her, is my moment of happiness despite the news.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Katie and me.
Katie teaching Calc 1.
Katie’s office.
BOWSER!

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