Mom Talk: A Letter to My 1-Year-Old During The Pandemic

Written by

Laura Lane

9:00 am
05/15/20

PHOTOGRAPHed BY JULIA HIRSCH

We profiled comedian, writer, and new mama Laura Lane just two short months ago, but looking back on it now, it feels like a lifetime. Laura lives in Brooklyn, and when we spoke with her last she was getting ready for a string of events and readings connected to the release of her new book, and thoroughly enjoying introducing her 18-month-old to all that NYC had to offer, from museums and music classes and some of the coolest playgrounds around. All of that ground to a halt just days after her profile was published and COVID-19 tore like wildfire through her beloved city. So, when the wildly talented writer approached us with a letter she had composed for her son to memorialize this moment in time for him, we were thrilled to share it with our MOTHER audience. In today’s Mom Talk, Laura perfectly captures how losses both small (no more playgrounds) and large (the death of a friend) wound us simultaneously, if incongruously. Especially, when as mothers, we can’t help but view the world through the eyes of our children. Read on for a beautiful expression of emotions that so many of us can surely relate to right now. 

When I first started wearing a face mask to leave the house, you found it rightfully terrifying. You cried “No!” and tried to yank it off my face in your carrier. Now, as I write this, almost two months into quarantining, you barely notice. It’s as if I’m putting on shoes before we go outside.

Your smiles help me forget about everything happening, briefly and momentarily. You live purely in the moment. Your laughter made me think you didn’t notice our anxiety or fear. I thought you were enjoying quarantine. I thought you were thriving, seeing more of us. But then, after a walk for fresh air with the dog the other day, as I approached our front door you started crying, “No home! No home!” Children are resilient, but not immune from the stress, the stir craziness of it all.

I miss the museums, I miss the cafes, I miss the music classes. I miss everything I took for granted as existing at our disposal. I miss everything that might never be there again in our vibrant city. The city we decided to raise you in. You’re just a few months shy of turning two, a birthday that will undoubtedly be in some degree of social isolation. “This too will pass,” so many people keep telling me on Instagram.

We took a virtual baby sign language class the other day. You liked the first 15 minutes and then you wandered off. I played guitar and sang, “mommy’s hosting music class!” You made me play “The Wheels on the Bus” ten times in a row. But then I tried to do it again this week and you said, “no mommy gee-tar!” I thought maybe I’d potty train you during this time, but I’ve learned I am not in control of anything any more. We walked by a playground. You pointed “eh eh eh!”

“I want to go there, too, so badly,” I tell you. “I’m so sad that it’s closed. I’m so sorry. I wish more than anything that everyone wasn’t sick.” I promised myself I’d tell you the truth. I keep saying I need to document this all for you, this moment in history so I can tell you about it accurately when you’re older. How is it possible you won’t remember any of this?

Before you were two, people used to shake hands, I’ll tell you. People used to pack themselves into theaters and concert halls and restaurants where the chairs scratched each other’s backs. I used to ride the subway with you during rush hour to head to some adventure in the city, my arm gripping the pole, your tiny face inches away from a stranger’s breath. I used to let you play with snotty toddlers with two-week-old coughs. It was this completely out of nowhere thing that scientists had been telling us for a long time would definitely happen.

While I was pregnant with you, I threw away the bleach and products with chemicals my books deemed “toxic.” We cleaned with what was essentially essential oils. Now I’m scrambling to find the same products I threw away to keep us safe. How funny, I think. But it’s not actually funny.

I didn’t think much about the virus until late February. I asked your dad to pick up some hand sanitizer and he came back home and said he had gone to five stores and that they were all out, and that he had checked Amazon and there was none available for purchase. “What?” I said. “How is there no sanitizer anywhere?”

“I know,” he said. “It’s weird.” He made some for us with alcohol and aloe vera, back when that was available.

I was so focused on my book release—a book that is dedicated to you—and the events I had been planning for months that I failed to observe the gravity of the situation. Then the readings got canceled. The trips got canceled. The bookstores that had put the book on the front table all shuttered before I ever saw it in person. And to be mildly disappointed about launching a book the week coronavirus struck New York feels grossly insignificant to, well, really anything else. Will the indie bookstores even be there when this is over? The news is suffocating: the closure of businesses people have given their souls to, the staggering numbers of unemployed, the suffering of so many, the food banks that are overrun, the loss of loved ones. The frustrations of our cabin fever are negligible in comparison. I click the GoFundMe’s in my mailbox while you play with your train and feel I am doing absolutely nothing.

My neighbor worries her daughter will need to retake second grade. I worry you will have forgotten how to play with children and you will have certainly forgotten the Hungarian your nanny was teaching you. It’s perhaps not the most helpful language for you to learn anyway, but it was a tie to your ancestors and meant something to your grandmother, who escaped The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 as a toddler and whose eyes welled when she heard her 1-year-old grandson call his toy vacuum a “porszívóz.” I find myself confused by what even matters anymore like I’m lost in a maze climbing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs pyramid. I float around with an overall sense of dread that I do my best to hide from you, dare I puncture your curious wonder.

You fall asleep in my arms for your nap and I whisper, “thank you for being my son. I am so grateful for you every day.”

For now, we have our health, which is all that really ever matters, though I forget and take it for granted constantly. I am terrified of getting sick and being away from you, because it already happened once this year. I survived one close call, after my appendix ruptured and an infection spread throughout my body. I was separated from you as I was tied to tubes and IVs in the overcrowded ER that had patients packed in the hallways, months before there was a pandemic. The worst part was being away from you, attempting to pump milk from my hospital bed. I could barely get an ounce, the blasts of antibiotics and lack of food dried me up. You would visit me in the hospital with your dad and cry when you had to leave. After a series of unlucky complications, I survived. My infectious disease doctor (four words I never thought I’d write) emailed me back when the virus started spreading saying that my body responded normally in the face of my infection “so it is a healthy immune system.” A relief. However, I was born with one kidney so she reminded me that “severely ill patients can have kidney failure, and this would impact you more than most if you did become very ill.” This virus feels like roulette, no one knows how their body will react.

So, we leave the boxes outside. We avoid grocery stores. We try for days and sometimes weeks to get a delivery slot. We wipe down anything that enters our home. We wash the groceries like they’re covered in glitter, as the YouTube tutorials tell us to. It’s ironic that you loved playing with mops and vacuums even before this all went down, because we spend so much time cleaning now. We try to keep a safe bubble but it’s not fully impenetrable. Packages arrive. We walk the dog. We wear gloves. We wear the masks that no longer frighten you.

I am terrified of going back to an ER. I am even more terrified of accidentally infecting someone else. I beg you not to touch the elevator buttons, because it feels like touching anywhere that’s not our apartment is a risk. You seem confused by this but not upset. You are immune to how scary and disorganized and awfully cruel the world can be. You notice every small novelty. A loose bead that fell into a crack on our hardwood floors. The site of a cement truck brings full-body excitement. Tracing your tiny finger along the fogged up glass of the shower creates mesmerizing art. The other day you came up with a game, where you took a rock and you held it as high as you could and dropped it on the bed. Then it was the next person’s turn. “Papa’s turn. Mama’s turn. Rilo’s turn.” The beautiful small joys.

We walk in the mornings to your dad’s art studio with the dog. We recently got you your own easel there. “Papa’s art studio!” you say, smiling as you run around the spacious room, thankful for a change of scenery. Your dad, the painter, and I, the writer, take turns watching you during the week. One of us stays at the empty studio to work. One of us takes you home. Three days on and three days off. One full day together on the weekend. I feel both grateful and guilty to have creative jobs and a financial situation that allows us to scramble for whatever scraps of work time we can get to try to make something beautiful (or at least decent) happen during a time of global distress. We have the privilege of choosing creativity as a distraction. The work itself feels both important and worthless. Healing and frivolous.

And then just when the sun came out and we had mostly found our rhythm and it seemed like things would be alright, my friend died from the virus, at 29. I walk in a haze now, feeling a certain despondency that didn’t exist before. It could happen to anyone at any time. She was a thoughtful, talented firecracker of a light that’s now gone. She was someone’s child. She was my witty friend I would go to for notes on my work. One day I’ll show you the jokes she added to the book that’s dedicated to you, and I’ll tell you all about her.

“I don’t have great survival skills,” your dad replied when I half-jokingly brought up getting a bunker. “I’m not sure how long we would last in a bunker.”

There’s recently been worrisome reports of some children having complications from a COVID-19-related syndrome. Despite this, I feel grateful it seems to minimally affect children for the most part. But it feels cruel to feel that gratitude because all that thought means is that it mostly affects someone else. My friends with cancer. My pregnant friend with asthma. Your grandparents. I am nauseous over the thought of losing one of your grandparents, before you’ll ever remember them. Your grandma, my mother, turns sixty this month and we won’t be there to celebrate. We’re stuck on the other side of the country unsure when we’ll feel comfortable seeing each other again. I lecture them as if I am the parent. “You have enough groceries for a year! Stop going to the store!”

My friend gave birth recently while her husband watched on an iPhone, at home with their older son. I was hoping to start trying to give you a sibling this spring. But that seems like a very bad idea to do during a global pandemic. You were a high risk pregnancy and your sibling would be too. And then there’s the likelihood of a resurgence of this awful virus right around the time your sibling would hopefully be arriving, in the fall or winter. Who knows what hospitals will be like in nine months. That is if we can even get pregnant right away. It wasn’t easy the first time…

Your dad has been cooking dinner a few nights a week. After ten years together, I found out that he is quite a good cook. It turns out being a painter makes you a very patient and detail-oriented chef. Tacos, bread, pizza, stuffed peppers. We are finally doing regular family dinners. Before, there was always somewhere else to be.

We’ve been having breakfast in bed while we read books and then watch Sesame Street or your new favorite show, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. I hold you close, feel your soft skin and I smell you. I once read a mother describe her baby as smelling like fresh bread. That doesn’t feel quite right but I can’t think of a better comparison. I love your eyes. I love your nose. I love your mouth. I love your toes. “I love your cute rolls!” I said last week while you ran around in your diaper. “Rilo rolls no more!” you said. It’s true they are less distinct each day. You’re growing up in quarantine. Couldn’t we freeze time until this is all over?

Your current favorites include ambulances and fire trucks, which makes it both lovely and awful to see your face light up when you hear another one racing by outside our window. They’re more frequent than ever.

“Nee-no, nee-no, nee-no!” you shout, smiling.

“What do we say when we hear that noise? ‘I hope everyone’s okay!’” I respond as I scoop you up to peer out the window and watch the lights flash by.

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1 comment

Paula Handler

Hi Laura,
Your mom keeps us updated ( a little) on mah jongg FaceTime. We are your quiet fan club in Orange:)
Like you, we worry, perseverance about the distancing for all ages, and what the future holds for everyone.
Thank you you for sharing your thoughts with us. Looking forward to your new book.
❤️Paula

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