I am awake and writing at 2 am again. This morning it’s because I am thinking of what to tell my kids about our cancelled Thanksgiving, and how I will have to be positive and flexible about it even though I feel anything but.
I am thinking about all the other stories I have this year that make it hard to put a happy spin on more disappointment.
I have a story about hectic afternoons at work, wiping down exam rooms and hooking pregnant women to monitors and typing up ultrasound reports while sweating beneath my mask, struggling to keep up with all the patients in an understaffed clinic.
I have a story of a woman miscarrying alone because of visitor restrictions in the clinic. Of watching her cry in the dark after telling her the baby had no heartbeat, unsure if I was allowed to put my hand on her shoulder to comfort her.
A story about the night after middle school went remote again and Stephen was sad, and I was sad, and I couldn’t make it better.
The 8th grade story of my teenage son, who went from having a full life with school, Christian club, robotics club, and running cross-country, to spending his days alone in the basement, isolated from his friends.
The story about the morning I spent locked in my room, waiting for my COVID test result, hoping my family wasn’t exposed, and wondering when I would be allowed to kiss my kids goodnight again.
The story about when I got home from work and Reid raced to give me a hug, and instead I had to back away from him, with my hands up, and tell him “Not yet! No hugs and kisses yet! I have to change and wash first!”
His face fell and shoulders dropped, and he said, “Oh yeah, I forgot.” And I felt like a horrible mother, even though I know on some level he understands.
And now the story of the google sheet I created to plan thanksgiving with my family: J was bringing salad and pie; A was bringing relish and cocktails; S was bringing rolls and stuffing. Now they’re bringing nothing, since I cancelled as the COVID numbers spiraled out of control.
So now I have to tell my kids about another disappointment, another cancelled event. It makes me want to cry. I think of the place setting craft I bought, sitting unopened in its bag, and about the names we were going to write on them to welcome the guests who aren’t coming any more.
But I can’t tell them a story about my failed spreadsheet and irrelevant place settings. I know when I talk to them, I have to smile and be upbeat about eating turkey by ourselves. “I know it’s a bummer,” I’ll say. “I’m feeling sad, too. But we still get to eat special food and I’ll make you special drinks and we can eat on the fancy plates!”
And when I go to work early on Monday for another surely stressful day, I will tell myself the stories I need to keep going: I am brave, I am strong, I am a good mother, my PPE will keep me safe.
Moms can’t lie, but they have to edit. One of the most important jobs we have as parents is the stories we tell our children. We have to keep their world safe, and their life stable, even when we feel like it’s crumbling around us.
I wonder: what COVID stories will my children tell? If I do a good job editing, their stories won’t be very interesting–just a blip in their childhood rather than a break.
In the evenings, when I am exhausted after dinner, the house is full of noise. I hear Reid and Will wrestling and giggling on the floor, Stephen playing guitar, and Adrian playing outside. The twins tell me about fun Friday, and about the games they play in gym. Adrian tells me about his friends and drawings. Even as my mind races with anxiety about what the next month holds for work and school, I think: they sound like everything is normal. And I hope they feel like it is. That means I’ve done my job as their storyteller.