The pandemic has hit everyone, but it certainly hit me — as not only an able-bodied sibling to a brother with highly involved special needs, but as an allergy mom with a gender-bending (“sparkly”) son — differently than many. That singularity in my experience, that uniqueness of my perspective is not at all new. In fact, it is actually characteristic of me. But it is no less lonely.
I began the pandemic not overly concerned about the virus, itself. Not to say I didn’t take it seriously, but I didn’t fear it. I’d experienced ample medical melodrama — my own, my brother’s, others’… — throughout my life. However, what really built the emotional callouses was my medically alarmist family members. I was so accustomed to people insisting that they, and everyone around them, were in dire straits and facing near-certain death that it was no longer unsettling.
I was well-trained to shoulder the burden that my special needs brother was at serious risk. Drinking from a cup or facing a seasonal cold was equivalently dangerous for him, and that was daily life. In fact, he began the pandemic hospitalized for weeks with kidney stones and bowel obstructions. The virus was no more or less threatening to him than aspirating dinner.
I was adept at remaining steady while others spun out. It was a scenario not unfamiliar to me. If anything, it seemed oddly normal.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the ease I discovered amidst the pandemic. The lessened weight on my heart despite the increased burden on my shoulders.
My first and third graders had a half-day planned for that cursed March Friday, which was abruptly canceled, and by Monday the entire archdiocese was up and running seamlessly with online learning. The first day went as expected: horrendously, painfully, brutally awful… because new technology and change is hard. But each subsequent day things got easier. By the second week, we were in a steady rhythm of learning. Even my preschooler’s teacher pieced together educational packets, so not even he missed a beat!
To my children’s delight, every day was costume day. (Every. Single. Day.) One day all three kids would be soccer players, no doubt strong-armed into the collective ensemble by my tiny-yet-tyrannical third grade daughter. Another day, one would be a businesswoman, my sparkly son would be a fairy princess, and my youngest son a stormtrooper. It was a complete upending of the school dress code. And my sparkly son LOVED it.
Though my elementary schoolers were thriving academically, due to the hard work of their teachers and learning resources instructors who had somehow managed to pivot their entire syllabus on a dime in a matter of days, the benefits of not being in the school environment became clear. The camaraderie and independence were undeniably lacking without the standard classroom, but so were other elements.
No uniform meant no hair length rules, no confinement into easily digestible gender norms, and no bullying by educators who refused to be allies. It meant no judgment from strangers at the playground or store, no battles with administration to ensure true inclusivity, and no exposure to individuals who sneered at my efforts to safely include every single child (even their own.)
There weren’t even allergy fights anymore! No more cafeteria mix-ups placing my deathly-allergic son in the middle of peanut-eating classmates. No classroom events requiring triaging (Every. Single. Time.) in order for my own — and others’ — allergy kids to be safe and included in what were intended to be unifying class events. No pushback from non-allergy parents refusing to see the potentially lethal harm and notable unkindness in their attachment to keeping allergy-unsafe food traditions unchanged. It was a great time to be an allergy parent!
In this upside down world of masks and anxiety, isolation and Zoom ballet classes, financial ruin and grassroots community efforts, I’d found a bizarre sense of ease rooted in all of the struggles — past and present — that shaped me, my life, and my perspective. Yet still, as always, I felt quite alone in my position.
I felt alone in so many ways. Despite having no personal space and no independence, I was lonely. I missed my friends, my yoga students (adult and child), my autonomy. I ached. I cried. I felt lightness in my heart but a solemn pit in my stomach.
One day the pandemic — well, not the pandemic, exactly, but its related impacts — were so heavy that I sat down with a pen and paper to write down my list of pros and cons. Yep, I am so Type-A that I wrote a pro/con list for a worldwide pandemic. Who does that?
Me. I do that.
Five sheets of paper later, I felt a bit better. All that had been attempting to process in my head for nearly two months was finally evacuated. I had, at last, released the thoughts that had been continuously interrupted by my suddenly increased life responsibilities.
I had gone from an already busy life to a differently busy life. There were aspects I appreciated and parts I loathed. There were many elements that tested some of my fundamental shortcomings. Realizations demanded deeper examination into areas I truly did not want to peruse. But that list was more healing than I could possibly imagine. The “pro” side grew longer than I’d ever expected, though it was absolutely much shorter than the “con” side. I realized I was doing more than just existing.
I was surviving and savoring parenthood in a pandemic one day at a time. And that’s exactly what I needed to do.