Quarantine Made Me a Better Mother

“My favorite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.”

– Steve Jobs

As a stay at home mom who is accustomed to regularly traveling and hiking with my son, quarantine started out as a depressing venture. The walls of my home no longer felt like a refuge or comfort from the world; they felt like a prison holding me captive from it. Time ticked by in an ever so slow and dull manner. I don’t know how long I can do this.

Reading headlines did the opposite of ease my concerns and anxieties about the virus. They heightened my awareness like some kind of dark cloud of impending doom worn over my shoulders. I became a zombie under those emotions when the outbreak started. I started following the events in Italy pretty closely once their DNR plans started making headlines. Then the same headlines that had me shaking in my boots were coming from cities on U.S. soil. Los Angeles. Chicago. New York. I started waking up at 2:00 A.M. every night like clockwork. I would just lie there, wide awake for two hours while my thoughts were off to the races. I was exhausted. I numbly perused social media searching for a distraction from the noise, but that only made me more anxious and afraid. Virus everywhere. Panic everywhere. I had nowhere to escape.

Staying at home full-time certainly had its challenges when the world was “normal,” but we could always find a playground to climb on or an errand to run on the days we needed a little distraction. When quarantine took away our regular coping outlets, I had to face this reality head-on. I wasn’t prepared. I was bored and lonely, even with FaceTime, phone calls, and texting. I thought it bizarre that we were all facing the same challenge, yet I still felt so isolated. Everyone kept exclaiming, “We’re all in this together!”… but were we really?

I let Gavin just wear his pajamas all day. Who cares? Not like we’re going anywhere. So I stayed in my pajamas too. The only regular personal hygiene we participated in was brushing our teeth, and that’s namely because consuming comfort and junk food helped me cope. I tried to give my son healthier options, but I didn’t harp on making sure he got so many veggies or so many fruits. He could eat a pouch of applesauce here, or a handful of popcorn there. So long as he was eating something.

My “normal” guilty-pleasure-TV-escape was true-crime documentaries, but that didn’t last a week once lockdown started. I started becoming overly paranoid by every creak in our 1970’s home. Triple checking that the front door was locked at all times of the day and night. Closing the curtains before dusk. I had to find something else to pass the time, because watching the retelling of murders was far from productive while being stuck at home with nowhere to go but the grocery store.

I remember sitting on the couch on a Friday night and staring out the window. Our street was completely silent and the adjacent highway didn’t seem to echo anymore. No one was going anywhere. Flights started rapidly canceling and my shifts at the airport were dramatically reduced until they were non-existent. I haven’t worked since the first week of March and I don’t know when I’ll even be back to work. My husband, who works in airport management, whose job is thankfully secure, started working from home around the same time.

My husband broke his ankle back in February. Not just a little break; multiple bad breaks. All these months later and he still has to crawl up and down the stairs. So not only was I taking care of our toddler during this time, I was also taking care of my husband. I would bring him something to eat or drink in between his conference calls and Zoom meetings while also trying to corral our son and keep him quiet enough to not be distracting to Ian and his work.

Everything seemed to be working against me. I couldn’t breathe because of COVID, even though I never contracted the illness. I was inhaling all of these hardships, with no way to exhale. I think in my exasperation is where I found my solution. I am a bit of a neat freak and I absolutely detest clutter. But suddenly having clean floors and organized toys didn’t matter. The maintenance of our home was too overwhelming with everything else going on in the world. So I let my dishes pile up. I stopped sweeping and vacuuming. And I definitely never touched the mop.

And then something changed in my perspective and the ways that I’m raising my son. Since we had nothing but time and I had thrown my obsessive cleaning to the wind, I realized no task was too bold and no playtime activity was too sloppy.

So I let my kid make a mess with soap and water in the kitchen sink.

I let my kid run through the sprinkler on a cold day in a soggy diaper.

I let my kid crack real eggs at breakfast, even though the majority ended up on the floor. I let him make the toast to go with it, even though he burned it.

I let my kid use Play Doh as a ball. Yes, it picked up all the hair and crumbs off the floor. And yes, I let him continue to play with it anyways.

I let my kid stir the muffin batter, even though it ended up on his hands and in his hair and in his ears.

I let my kid go outside anytime he asked. I let my kid swing anytime he asked. Rain or shine, didn’t matter.

I let my kid play with his cars in the back of daddy’s truck because he wanted to.

I let my kid use his crib mattress as a jungle gym in the living room.

I let my kid go “grocery shopping” through our (once organized) pantry.

I let my kid stand in the driveway while he waved at the cars and trucks driving by, which would normally be so boring that we would otherwise never do this. Some drivers even honked back and waved. So yes, we will definitely do that again.

I let my kid have screen time. Lots of it. What normally served as a “distraction activity” so I could be productive became an activity that brought us closer together. Screen time became quality time, all because we simply had the time and I wasn’t thinking about all the dishes or laundry. So we watched “The Grinch” while he sat curled up in my lap. We sang and danced to Cocomelon songs on YouTube. He played games on Amazon FreeTime while I cheered him on. Every once in awhile he would hold my hand. Or look up at me with a smile. Or pat my leg.

Since screen time had become quality time, I started teaching my son how to help me with the laundry, dishes, and cooking. Certainly these tasks take an exponentially longer amount of time thanks to his curious hands and million questions, but we had nothing but time. When I asked for help, he would run into the laundry room, grab hold of his step stool and push it alllll the way to the kitchen, right up against the counter. His eagerness was infectious.

I also started watching my son play. Really watch and study. I watched him scoot his trains across the tracks, sometimes getting frustrated but always trying again and never giving up. I watched him play with his cars in the window sills or roll them down his slide. He always cheered and jumped and made sure I was watching and shared his enthusiasm. I watched him prepare a Michelin Star meal of plastic food on plastic plates in his plastic kitchen. I watched him gently tuck in his stuffed animals and give them a kiss goodnight. For the first time ever, I was really seeing my son. He looked different to me because I had the time to watch him and study him — not just oversee him. I had no idea just how distracting “normal” life could be; how much “normal” life had distracted me away from watching my precious boy learn and grow.

I didn’t want to ever forget how magical this season of life had become, despite the rocky beginning and the devastation around the globe. I wanted to remember this season as joyful. I started taking photos of our ordinary days and of all the otherwise insignificant tasks of motherhood. Every night, I looked through the images while my son slept. I showed my husband the photos of our homebound adventures and told him the stories of how our son spent the day. Those photos came to life, and it’s like they gave mine back to me. I could hear Gavin’s laugh or his car imitation noises through the images like I was listening to the soundtrack of our lives. Sharing those photos and stories with my husband brought us closer amid the chaos of this pandemic too.

I have never felt closer to my husband or my son than I do right now, in these simple, ordinary, and quiet days at home. I realized that before coronavirus, I was so caught up in traveling and adventures in the mountains that I took for granted how nice it is to be home. To just be in the moment with my son. To just… be.

He is growing up faster than I want to admit. The changes are so subtle at first that I don’t even notice, until one day the stark changes are the only thing I see. His hands were barely larger than my fingernail when he was born, and now they fit in my palm. He not only walks with confidence, but runs, jumps, and skips. He says new words everyday. I know he will always be my little baby, no matter how tall he grows or how much he ages. But my little baby is no longer little. He’s no longer a baby. He’s my boy.

I know the pandemic is serous. I know the pandemic is scary. I know the pandemic still feels heavy; I am not discounting that. But in the wake of this pandemic’s destruction, I’ve found magic. Magic that would have otherwise gone unnoticed, all because I didn’t have the time. Quarantine gave me that time… And investing it into my child has given me the greatest return.

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