On our way home from a holiday party at my sister’s, my daughter was playing peek-a-boo. I pretended to call Auntie Robin.
“We just left and I can’t find Autumn. Did you see me walk out with her?” I said. I continued on about the search for my missing toddler, pausing dramatically for my sister’s pretend answers. I could see Autumn’s little face peeking out from behind her hood smiling, loving how good she was at “hiding.” When we hung up, my mom said, “You’re pretty good at that.”
“Well I am an actress,” I said.
At least I was at one time. My career began with school plays, ended with headshots in Hollywood, and included lots of tryouts and training in between. At one point, I was rehearsing two productions on alternate days. Mondays and Wednesdays. I wore overalls and mini skirts, performing in front of audiences, great and small. I never could’ve predicted how handy my acting skills would be as a mom, and not just for hiding games.
Now I perform for a much smaller, but more important audience – my daughter.
The other day she was trying on her new fluorescent COVID masks. I feigned ecstatic:
“Look at you! Such a big girl, wearing your face covering!” It was an excitement tinged with a bit of, ”Damn, I wish she didn’t have to wear that thing,” but this is parenting in 2021.
I sent a picture of Autumn in her mask to my colleagues and friends, hoping they’d play along and find happiness where there’s sorrow. I was grateful for my co-workers, who were encouraging and polite.
“Cute!” they said.
And I was also thankful for my fellow moms, who were upfront and honest.
“Sad,” they said.
Because they, too, will soon be covering button noses and squishy cheeks with pieces of cloth.
Born in April 2020, Autumn pretty much shares a birthday with the outbreak of COVID in the US. At the time, I was grateful she was too young to have known the world differently. I felt for parents who had to explain to their kids why they could no longer have playdates and that the playground was off limits, and also that it had nothing to do with broken swings or dangerous slides, but rather an invisible scary virus.
Things are better – we have vaccines. But also worse – there’s Delta and Omicron, and so masks remain. Autumn has begun practicing keeping one on. It makes me happy that she’ll be safer, but also mad because there’s nothing more precious than a baby’s smile, and nothing more unfortunate than covering it up.
And when I’m not feeling disheartened or angry about the whole situation, I’m driven. I want to teach harder to ensure the next generation considers others when making choices about health and does what’s best for the collective good. I want to love stronger to drown out the hatred and hostility that have surfaced in the wake of the pandemic. And I want to appreciate even more those who are working hard to make things better.
And in the meantime, I’ll keep masking my frustration and disappointment in front of Autumn. Because while it’s pretty likely you’ll only experience one pandemic in a lifetime, it is certain that you only get one childhood.
During our first practice session, Autumn wore her mask like a champ. She’d keep it on for five or six minutes, then take it off for a few, and then come back and motion for me to put it back on. She made me laugh trying to insert her pacifier through her face covering, and gave me hope with a giggle that resonated through the fabric.