The Last Ride

Everywhere I turn, there’s some article or blog post about The Pandemic One Year Milestone. People have lost so much and lived through so much pain. I’m not sure why anyone would want to dredge it all up to commemorate the occasion. Is sifting through the memories somehow cathartic, giving them voice to help lessen their sting? Let’s find out.

I was preparing to get in line to pick up my second-grade daughter, Amelia, on that Friday last March. You know, that Friday. Those who are familiar know the joy of driving toward the school, only to pull behind the lucky duck who got there 30 seconds sooner. You wait 25 minutes in a line of 50 cars until the crossing guard waves you forward, then the line surges ahead at two mph to the pick up spot, at which point you toss your child in the back while urging them to slap on their seat belt ASAP so you can clear the line.

I checked my email before leaving the house and found a letter from the school district announcing there would be no in-person school for at least two weeks. Not to be outdone, there was another email from my daughter’s theater group noting that practice was off until they could figure out what to do. Last but not least, there was a note reminding me that all after-school activities, including Amelia’s Girl Scout troop, were canceled until further notice.

Amelia is the most social person I know. She loves everyone, will talk your ear off if you make eye contact, and will spontaneously hug people if they’re not careful. There’s some poor guy in suburban Chicago probably still wondering about the little kid who ran up to him at the candy store a couple of years ago, hugged him, and proclaimed, “I love you!” (we had a chat about that one).

She happened to have one of her last rehearsals that day before her performance in her first starring role as Alice in Alice in Wonderland. I was picking her up from school and going straight to the theater. The following Monday would be back to school and Scouts.

The school had already told the children about the “short” at-home stint, so I knew Amelia would show up in the car in tears, and since I was supposed to be taking her straight to the theater, I couldn’t wait until we got home to break that one to her gently. Luckily, I had 25 minutes to sit in my car and worry about how this was all going to go down when I picked her up.

I got to my spot in front of the school, but she wasn’t out yet. That wasn’t exactly unusual — Amelia might be cleaning up, tracking down some child to give them the lunch box they forgot, or chatting up each and every teacher she passed. She finally made it to the car after what seemed like several hours and told me she already knew about school. She was sniffling but overall not too freaked out, so there was hope. I told her we also couldn’t go to theater that day or to Scouts on Monday, and I watched her crumble into dust in the back seat. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so upset in my life.

I pulled around the corner and parked so I could concentrate on her without getting us killed. I packed away my own tears and did my best to comfort her while she deflated. After 20 minutes filled with a billion tears, a long chat, and several tight hugs, she finally calmed down enough that we could drive the five minutes back home.

I know it might not seem like a big deal for a few activities to be canceled, but it was more than that. I was cutting her off from the people she loved most outside of Mommy and Daddy. In those moments, I would have done anything to give it all back to her. She knew, too, probably better than I did. “Mommy, it’s not just for two weeks, is it? It’s going to be for a really long time.”

We made it home and I ducked out of sight for a bit, ostensibly to use the bathroom, but actually to find a place where I could act as defeated as I felt without bringing everyone else down with me. Breaking your child’s heart can take a toll.

So here we are, one year later. There is virtual theater (they’re working on Matilda now) and virtual Scouts. There was also virtual school, but it was so frustrating for her that we found a way to start homeschooling her instead, and she loves school more than ever. Last Spring, someone in the house was erupting in tears at least a few times a week, but that’s mostly abated.

There have been other things. My uncle died from COVID. I’ve been out of work since June (or maybe May — it all runs together). Health problems have crept up. The house has had issues. Still, nothing has personally stung me as much as what happened that Friday last March on the way home from school.

I heard from semi-reliable sources that we might be back to some semblance of normalcy one day, but until then, I guess we just hold on, Zooming birthdays, and waving at folks from across the street. And waiting.

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