We were surprised the call hadn’t come sooner. But we knew it would eventually be our turn. Last week, my wife and I received notice from our younger son’s school that one of his classmates had tested positive for COVID-19. The school had sent emails about positive cases in other classes before; we clicked our heels with joy when we learned it wasn’t his. Still, we tip-toed through the minefield of opening our emails and answering our calls from the school.
As it should, the school sends everyone in the class home when they are notified that a student tested positive. The kids and teachers can return 10 days after the last possible exposure, so long as it’s accompanied by a negative test. That means parents get to frantically drive around town looking for a home test or sit in a long line at a testing site to make sure that we haven’t been unknowingly spreading it. Screaming children in the back of the car make all this easier, of course.
I am sure my wife and I are not the only ones who have joked-but-not-really about parents who get a positive test and send their kid to school anyway. In a way, I understand the move. Especially for some families. Though we don’t have family in town to sub in when a kid needs to stay home, not everyone has a job like mine where I can “work” from home with a sick or quarantined kid for a few days. Many families are in the unenviable position of choosing between losing needed income or staying home with their (possibly) sick kid. That’s one of the many impossible choices for families in Dallas and elsewhere.
Fortunately, little man hasn’t had any symptoms and tested negative. So now we wait.
As I write this, my son is pivoting between watching the new Lin-Manuel Miranda movie Encanto (can he write anything that isn’t incredible?) and cutting his wooden fruit. I can engage in short bits of concentration but can’t really do anything that needs more than five minutes of focus. I guess my kid and I have that in common for now.
With two children too young to be vaccinated or boosted, there is a floating cloud of virus-induced dread hanging above every trip to school, the park, or the museum. The omicron and delta variants have been putting children in the hospital at high rates, and the unvaccinated are even more vulnerable.
Playdates have become an awkward game of cat and mouse, where we all dance along the line between being safe and having a social life while trying to refrain from seeming insensitive to those who may be more cautious than us. We also have to balance not seeming overbearing toward those who have played it fast and loose. It is hard to know who will fall on which side these days. Pandemic fatigue and the fear of omicron are in a tense battle in the hearts and minds of everyone, including families like mine, trying to hold onto a shred of normalcy while the virus rages.
When we learned about the exposure in his class, all of the CDC guidelines and best practices became more than theory, more than something to report on. Even a healthcare writer like myself with a pediatrician wife had to look up when we should test him, ourselves, and how long we needed to wait before seeing anyone.
While isolating is one challenge, using all your strength to pin your writhing two-year-old down to the mattress while your wife swabs his nose with a Q-tip for 15 seconds is a joy of parenting that I look forward to forgetting. No matter how much we sell it as a little tickle to the nose, he ends up screaming bloody murder and wriggling around like a wet fish.
Even with no symptoms and a negative test, I am still at home with my kid for 10 days. I try to remind myself that he is amazing and perfect in every way. Still, there is a phenomenon for working parents: we look forward to Mondays rather than Fridays because it means we have a moment to sit quietly, think, put on some music that we actually like, and use a different part of our brain that we didn’t have to exercise during the weekend.
For those of us who don’t do childcare for a living (bless them and pay them), our jobs don’t usually entail breaking up fights, reminding co-workers not to bite, and cleaning up failed attempts at potty training. For me, even a spreadsheet and meetings are welcome breaks from a weekend of parenting.
Now, the COVID-19 gods have blessed me with several days of parenting solo, trying to keep up the charade that I am doing a bit of work while putting my vaccination and booster to the test by being in close contact with a kid who may have COVID. Unfortunately, I have neither the stamina nor the skill to keep a mask on him, so if he has it, I will probably get it.
It isn’t all terrible. Frustration and anxiety about health (are we going to get sick?) and work (am I jeopardizing leadership and advancement at work by staying home with my kids?) are balanced with joy that comes with spending more time with my son, who usually prefers his mother. So I am trying to look at the bright side whenever I can (plus I get to spend more time with the remote control car, which Santa brought for us both).
But as much as I love wrestling on the trampoline and playing with Legos all day, parenting and working while quarantining with your kid is no easy task. Most are resigned to the fact these days that they too will receive that call from school, and for the unvaccinated, it is especially troublesome.
I am sure Miranda didn’t know Encanto would be released during yet another wave of COVID (though these days it is more likely than not). But a character named Luisa sings a song that is hitting a little too close to home for the caregivers of the world these days, as they juggle worries about family, health, and building a career. She sings:
Give it to your sister, your sister’s stronger
See if she can hang on a little longer
Who am I if I can’t carry it all?
If I falter
Despite my complaining and identifying with Luisa, we have been fortunate. None of our family has come down with COVID-19, and I haven’t lost anyone to the virus, unlike more than 800,000 families in the U.S. alone. So we try to do our best for our mental and physical health, keeping all our plates spinning even in quarantine. Inevitably a few will drop. And that’s okay.