Right after my son was born, a nurse came in to prick his heel for a test. She took his leg and he let out a yowl, one of those newborn sounds that shoot like electricity into your bloodstream. I leaned over, laid my hand over his whole chest and told him I was there. He paused; a final scared shudder rumbled through him before he took another deep, sturdy breath to calm himself. It felt holy, this touch of motherhood.
I wish it were still that easy to calm him now. He's going through a bout of strep throat, and, given how sequestered the kids have been during 2020, I was flabbergasted when his fever appeared. "How on Earth did he get it?" I hissed at my mom and spat to my husband. Then, I focused on the offender who I control the most: Was it me? Had I brought it back from a trip out? Was it my fault?
I've already been feeling guilty. My son is not a classic quarantine baby. Still, he is young enough for the Before Times to seem more mythic than I'd like. It pierces my soul every time he asserts things to do "after the coronavirus is over."
He should have been spending the last few months in the same pre-K program that his older sister thrived in just a few years ago. It's right at the entrance to our block, blessed with the same old-growth trees that appear in our whole neighborhood. The program did wonders for my daughter, helping her learn to write, make friends and do entirely more art projects than I have any type of patience for.
In keeping with the needs for the school's state-supported program, we've had to drive over to the school, pick up packets and paperwork and assess his physical development, if not so much his educational development. Every time, he sits in the back of the car and comments assertively about how this is his school. Every time, it's another jab at my soul. Soon, I tell him. Soon, you'll be able to go.
Our county is debating hybrid school, which we knew it'd head into -- our numbers have thankfully dropped from a terrifying daily count of over 500 new cases to a steady count of around 50. Two weeks ago, we again went to pick up a packet, and when we drove up, most of the kids were without masks. In early Zoom meetings, teachers explained that they had tried but it's harder to enforce with the young ones, and that's understandable. Yet, in every discussion I hear, it's the youngest students legislators want to send in first.
One evening later that week, an emergency text came through from the school's assistant director: A child had tested positive for COVID-19. It was the school's first, with some students having been sent home to quarantine for exposure but never a positive case in a student. The director explained that he was happy they had lasted that long without a case and was disappointed but not unprepared for it. A few days later, a second child from the class tested positive.
I'm unsure when to send my kids back to school. I worry about the vaccination rate in my county, which lacks compared with the substantial numbers offered to other metro areas in the state -- it's questionable enough to have local reporters, readers and legislators thankfully start asking those questions.
Another problem is the variety of factors in play. One weekend, one of my daughter's teachers from the pre-K school greeted us warmly at an auto supply store. I don't begrudge the teacher's work there, but I felt sad that, for all the full-time work she already did, which enabled so much growth for my daughter, she seemed to need a second job.
It's situations like that that stretch to our pandemic bubbles through no fault of our own. And, it's one more variable in the chaotic reach of nature where even the touch of motherhood cannot come through to protect, heal or even soothe.
Cassie McClure is a writer, wife/mama/daughter, fan of the Oxford comma, and drinker of tequila. Some of those things relate. She is also a National Society of Newspaper Columnists ambassador and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Cassie McClure and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.Copyright 2021 Creators Syndicate Inc.