Mothering in a pandemic

Below is the sermon Amy wrote and read/shared on Mother’s Day 2020. 

 

So, I did it.

It’s all set. The space is clean ~ Ok, honestly, the dishes aren’t done but hey, the rest of the apartment looks great! ~  My 8-year-old son Taber has entered the land of Narnia. He loves listening to our Audible collection featuring professional actors reading the entire CS Lewis series. We read it together first, and now Patrick Stewart has taken over. I’m good with that.

Yes, it’s all set.

I don my pink headset and soft piano music calms my spirit. I open up my inbox. Flooded. Yep, I expected that. So much coming at me these days. Lots of increase in my work load as our grief and mourning phobic culture takes an important U-turn. With over 80,000 deaths in the US due to Covid-19 ~ and around 2,000 added daily to this toll ~ talk of death, illness, and sorrow become less and less taboo. Given that my professional work entails holding space for life’s transitions, my inbox is flooded. And now I’m diving in.

While I can make some headway with work during the day ~ my main focus is, and I believe should be, centered around crafting a healthy, spacious, academically stimulating, and play-based/get outside and bike or we’ll go bonkers kind-of-day with my son. Given this, I usually do the heavy lifting with regard to working from home as a writer and teacher at night. When it’s really quiet. When the moon shines through my large office windows. I usually dive in then because I can. Because I have hours of uninterrupted time and finally the spaciousness needed to craft words together ~ to weave them as one weaves cloth to keep loved ones warm. But today, wow, today it looks like I’m going to make a serious dent ~ in daylight hours.

My cup of black tea is at hand.

I begin to type.
I begin to work.
The flow unfolds.

And Then….

“Mommy! Mommy! You’ve got to see this!”

I feel my stomach tighten and a certain expletive comes to mind.

“Mommy! Please! You’ve got to come here and see!”

I take a deep breath and release it slowly. Then I take another one. I remember what is more important than my inbox. I remove my headset. Goodbye soft piano music. I stand up and walk out of my bedroom turned office space to see what calls me forth.

“Mommy!”

A big smile greets me. An extended hand. “You’ve got to see this!”

Narnia has been usurped. Set aside. Something more fascinating than Marsh Wiggles and Bulgee Bears has seized the moment. Interested, I follow my son and he leads me to our screened-in porch. He points to something that has landed on the other side of the screen. I look at his face, he is entranced. I follow his finger point and find myself staring at a very extraordinary beetle.

“Mom, this is the coolest bug I’ve ever seen.”

I look more closely.

It is iridescent. The back of the beetle is bright green, shining like an emerald. Its long antennae perch atop a head full of eyes. Wow!

And for a moment we are both quiet. For a moment, there’s no Narnia. There’s no Covid-19, no email land to conquer, no dishes in the sink. There’s just this. This amazing and unexpected moment of staring at a very cool bug with my son.

“It’s beautiful,” he says.

Taber emphasizes the word “beautiful” and I know he means it. I look at my budding scientist fascinated with all creepy crawly cool creatures. I kiss the top of his head.

“Yep, it sure is.”

And then: “Thanks for showing me.”

***

Seven years ago, when my son was barely one ~ a dear friend from Lawrenceville, New Jersey burned me a CD. Remember those? She burned me a CD featuring a playlist on her computer. It included a collection of her favorite children’s songs.

“These won’t drive you batty. They are actually cool.”

She also included some of her most beloved songs about being a parent. “Oh, I love this one!” she said as she selected “Manhattan Moon” by Lucy Kaplansky. That song ended up being my favorite track, too.

Lucy sings:

I used to travel in a straight line
Now I’m walking on a road that winds
You take my hand and we take our time
Oh we take our time
We take our time

That is how it felt for so many of the early years of mothering. I slowed way down. I got on the floor and played trucks and blocks over and over again ~ amazed by the trillions of neural connections being made between world and language and colors and shapes and animals and wonders in the precious child in front of me.

I learned to take a long road that winds as we went to the park, the library, the grocery store ~ as we gardened together and colored both inside and outside the lines. The days flowed into each other, activities repeated and cycled in the circuitous routes of organic growth. Soon, I found myself teaching Mommy and Me Yoga classes with a classroom of other mothers and many, many 3-year-olds. I discovered that I had developed an extraordinary capacity to tolerate ~ and even function well within ~ a level of chaos that I would have deemed inhuman in my pre-mother days.

I used to travel in a straight line
Now I’m walking on a road that winds
You take my hand and we take our time
Oh we take our time
We take our time

Yes, I learned to take my time and be more generous with it then I ever thought possible.

“The days are long, but the years fly by,” my sister Rachel once warned me. It was a wise warning that proved to be all too true. Yes, days could be long especially when things repeated over and over and over again~ think of a motherhood version of Groundhog Day. Yet, the years flew by, too.

Today, when I look at the toothy grin that greets me upon waking my heart skips. Eight years old already. I vividly remember being eight. And then I think, what will he remember.

What will he remember of this pandemic? “The sickness,” as he often refers to Covid-19. For it isn’t only my world that has been upended into the stacking of schedules and lives on top of each other 24/7 like pancakes in a pressure cooker.

Suddenly, he no longer attends scouts, aikido, and a school he loves. Suddenly, we no longer go to the beach where we would soak in hours of rejuvenating refuge ~ waves of play, shouts, swimming, laughter. Suddenly, he sets up Facetime with friends and friends ~  and he spends all day, every day, all day, every day with me. And I know, for having been privy to 46-years of direct experience, that I’ve got my very fair share of failures, foibles, quirks, faults, and qualities that Taber recently has started calling just plain old “weird.”

In fact, I recently ordered Taber a shirt that reads “Having a weird mom builds character.”

Lately, he’s been wondering: “Mom, when will that shirt come?”

And then there are these moments:

“Oh! I love you so much Mama!” he declares this with great enthusiasm. And then, “Only I love someone ~ who is not really a someone ~ even more.”

“That’s interesting, who’s that?” I ask.

“Aslan, my God.”

He answers with the utmost seriousness and I wonder about the theological implications of the hours spent listening to Narnia.  For one thing is certain ~ when Taber looks back on the days of Covid-19, he will remember the Pevensie children, wardrobes that lead into other worlds, and a friendly giant named Rumblebuffin. I’m glad for this.

But I also pray he will remember how we navigated harder edges of this time ~ a time that we are still very much in the midst of navigating.

I pray he will remember the day we ran with Maud.

“That’s racism!” he said after my fiancé Barak and I explained the basics of the fateful day in Georgia just a few months ago.

“That’s racism!” he repeated. Later the three of us went out for a 2+ mile loop ~ Barak and I running ~ with Taber biking ahead of us. We ran with more seriousness than usual that day. Taber could see it and feel it. As white allies in the work of uprooting racist oppression, I want my son to remember.

For I think of Wando Cooper, Ahmaud Arbery’s mother on this Mother’s Day. “I haven’t viewed the video,” she said in a recent interview with CBS. “I don’t think that I’ll ever reach the mental capacity to ever watch the video. You know, I saw my son come in the world, and seeing him leave the world, it’s not something that I’ll want to see, ever.”

And yet, in this pandemic ~ we are all seeing people we love leave this world. Not only are we seeing images of an increase in hate crimes against brown and black people and an increase in hate crimes against Asian people ~ but we see ER Covid-positive patients turned on their bellies in desperate attempts to release fluid from lungs. We see Covid-positive patients hooked up to ventilators knowing that they have a 20% chance of ever coming off of the machine alive. We see fear and misinformation spread. In an unprecedented age of widespread painful unemployment and uncertainty, the allure of conspiracies about microchips a la Bill Gates appealing to our need to understand “the truth” of Covid-19 spreads nearly as fast as the virus itself.

I want my son to remember that he was encouraged to utilize his emerging critical thinking skills to distinguish fact from fiction at this time. I want him to remember that our family took this virus seriously. Consider there’s been a 6-fold uptick in the total death rates studied in 7 states, according to a recent article in the New York Times. Six times more people are dying right now than they did at this same time in May a year ago, two years ago, five years ago. While I shield him from these harder stats, he does understand that Covid-19 is real and we take wise and important precautions. I want Taber to remember how we used our freedom to wisely wear masks when in public and bike far around those we may meet on the trails. I want him to remember why we didn’t run up to his grandma and hug her when bringing needed supplies.

“We do these things because we love,” I remind him. “We wear these masks because we care.”

Parenting author Peggy O’Mara once wrote: “How you speak to your children becomes their inner voice.”

How are we speaking to our children during this time? How are we speaking to the child within ourselves?

I consider all the women before me, all of the women in my lineage going back to the brave souls who converted to Mormonism in Norway and braved the Atlantic to join the saints in Utah. That’s my history. Those brave women. How did they speak to their children who became my great-grandparents? What would they say to me?

For these women faced difficulties far beyond the challenges of taking sanctuary-at-home. My ancestors, like yours, faced world wars and great depressions. They faced jarring uncertainties and heartbreaking sorrow. Consider the lineages that take us back to the US Civil War, when Mother’s Day first emerged as a call ~ not to send flowers or chocolate ~ but a fervent call to end war.

Consider Julia Ward Howe, the American poet and patriot who wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in the early years of the Civil War. In 1870, after painfully resigning herself to the fact that men will always resolve conflict by “mutual murder,” Howe wrote an “Appeal to Womanhood Throughout the World.”

“Arise, women! Howe demanded. “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.”

Howe had her pamphlet translated into multiple languages in an effort to build a global women’s peace movement that looked to the abolitionists for inspiration. Howe was born Episcopalian but converted to Unitarianism when she was 22-years-old. I want my son to remember that, as Unitarian Universalists, we come from brave stock.

Because it takes bravery to be a child through hard times.
It takes bravery to mother through hard times.
It takes bravery to mother in a pandemic.

Today I offer a heartfelt bow to you to your bravery. To all of you watching me through this screen. Watching me because we choose not to gather in person and hug and hold each other. Watching because we choose wisely to connect our hearts even as we protect the most vulnerable at this time. I bow.

You are not “just a mom.” As the LDS Mother’s Day video proclaimed:

You are a life giver.

A life lover.
A first love.
A last hope.
A teacher
Provider
Minister
Healer
A rock star aunt
BFF
Therapist
Their whole world

And right now, we are pretty much that. Given this pandemic, for the young ones in our care, we are their whole world. Yes, we may plug them into imaginary world while tackling dishes, emails, and conference calls. Yes, we may stay up through the night to meet deadlines and we may lean into screen time more than we had done before. But we are still their world. And cool green beetle bugs aside, the world is scary and hard right now.

Maya Angelou once wrote “Every storm runs out of rain.” This Covid-19 pandemic storm will pass. But it’s not over yet. And in this difficult, unprecedented interim…

May you get outside and run ~ run with Maud.
May you rise ~ rise like Julia Ward Howe and work bravely for peace and justice.
May you marvel at iridescent beetles and remember to take deep breaths while drinking black tea.
May you somehow, someway get your sleep
And while you sleep, may you dream of your ancestors whispering words of strength ~ deep and abiding strength ~ into your soul.

On this Mother’s Day, I see you. I see you and bow to all of the heartfelt and brave efforts you make to mother in a pandemic ~ to be a world of refuge in this rain.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Thank you.