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Mom Talk: Marking Milestones In Quarantine

Written by Alison Silverman


As school years come to a close over these next few weeks, many parents are probably feeling just what Alison Silverman is feeling. In today’s Mom Talk, the New York-based mom of three (ages 16, 13, and 10) writes about watching time tick by in a surreal state, without the regular markers and milestones we as parents have become accustomed to. Read on for her thoughtful perspective on marking milestones in quarantine. 

It is easy, sitting at home with my children, caught in a quarantine routine (a quaroutine?) in which every day seems the same as the last, to feel as though time is standing still. Wake, make breakfast, attend to online school/work, make dinner, beg my daughter to wash the pan she dirtied making herself a special meal, watch Ugly Betty, sleep. Repeat. Clean the house on the weekends. Go for walks together if time permits. The news on my television set, from CNN, seems the same every day. We have been home on our version of this lockdown for over two months, but we seem to know mostly the same information about COVID-19 as we did while we were still going about our old life.

As a busy parent, I sometimes fall into the trap of forgetting about my children’s growth until there is a reason to mark it. The public milestones we commemorate with big celebrations, and the private milestones I notice alone, like handing a ski jacket off to Goodwill after my last child outgrows it, or taking the board book Hug off my little daughter’s bookshelf, knowing that there will be no more board books in our house.

I have a history of being moved, too much, by these public and private milestones. June is a difficult month each year. I have been this way since I was a child, when I dreaded the end of the school year and saying goodbye to my elementary school teachers and the surrogate parenthood they provided. I wasn’t a particularly happy child, but I was always looking back fondly, always sad to say goodbye, always longing for what once was or might have been, tracing autographs in my yearbook from kids who weren’t even my good friends. As a parent, I continue this tradition by breaking down in tears when I say goodbye to my children’s teachers each June. I am much sadder than my children as they turn the page on each year. I have hidden in my car at pickup on the last day of school, afraid I wouldn’t be able to stop crying long enough to hug the teacher and gather all the art projects. This year I will likely be spared the ordeal, since the last day of school probably happened some time in March, and we won’t be going back to the building for the art projects.

As the quarantine weeks wear on, and we contemplate the possibility that normal life may elude us for a long time, people situated like me, who are privileged to be able to shelter in place without having to mourn a lost loved one or fear immediate financial insecurity, have the luxury of a new challenge: how do we process our children’s endings and beginnings without those last days at school, when we can’t gather for commencement celebrations, and when we don’t know what the future will bring? How does a parent of a high school senior deal with the end of childhood and face the prospect of coaxing an adult out into the world, when there is no prom, no graduation, and when the child might not be going anywhere in September other than the living room?

I am not the parent of a high school senior. I was expecting to attend 5th grade and 8th grade graduation in a few weeks, and my daughter and son had planned on the attendant overkill of events for these small accomplishments, events that are typical for a suburb of New York full of people who have too much time on their hands. Each of my kids will get a yearbook that will capture school life through mid-March. There may even be a couple of Zoom graduations. But the end-of-year field trips to Washington DC and Camp Echo have been canceled, along with the class graduation parties. There will be no autographs for my children to trace at the back pages of their yearbooks. Even I will have a hard time getting choked up over an onscreen commencement.

Ceremonies or not, though, time is moving along. Quarantine days are sometimes tedious, but 30 of them still add up to a month. March becomes April and April becomes May. I can’t escape the private markers of time which have not been impacted by this virus. The too-small clothes and too-young books continue to move out of the closet, and off the bookshelf. I have to find those markers in the mundane, and see this time for what it can be for my kids and for me, as opposed to treating it like a punishment to be endured. Because at some point in the future, maybe six months, and maybe two years, I will be sitting in my car, watching my kids go back into their school buildings, with longer legs than they have now. I have a hunch I might be crying in the car as I watch them go, longing for these quarantine days.

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