Having given birth in February, this is not exactly the maternity leave I was expecting. While I try to focus on our newborn son, and soak up these precious fleeting moments, I find myself often distracted by the news, the WhatsApps, the fear and uncertainty coming from every direction. I know when my son grows up he will ask me what this time was like, welcoming him into the world under such surreal circumstances. How nearly my entire family had their flights cancelled and didn’t get to meet him as a baby. How unlike his older sister, I won’t have any data on his weight or height or other measurements because the only medical services they are giving babies right now is vaccinations. How with gloves and a mask I handed him over to the orthopedist and watched from the doorway as he was checked. And so on… These are minor details in the grand scheme of things; what really matters is our health. It just adds another surreal dimension to this strange maternity leave.
What’s remarkable to me about this crisis is how (almost) everyone in the world is living the same way. Being in Israel, I’m accustomed to experiencing crises—and ordinary life events—differently than my family in the U.S. On many spring or fall days in Tel Aviv, I share selfies of us sunbathing on the beach while my siblings wear winter coats in Chicago or New York. During the Gaza war of 2014, I texted them that I was ok while rockets flew over my head, as they vacationed in peaceful cottages on Martha’s Vineyard. Or on major Israeli holidays like Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut, it’s just another workday for them; and vice versa, when I open Facebook and realize it’s St. Patty’s Day or Martin Luther King Day or what have you, and after so many years of living in Israel, I forget about these holidays. So that’s why it continues to catch me off guard when I see post after post in my news feeds of everyone I know, from Canada to Colombia to France, living the same way I am. After all the years of feeling so far from my family, leading our unaligned lives, suddenly they feel closer. In a time of isolation, it does make me feel less alone—knowing that literally the whole world is going through this together. It’s a devastating pandemic, and yet a unifier.
And what’s perhaps most strange of all about this crisis, is the extreme dichotomy of emotions it engenders. Thousands of people around the world are grieving the painful losses of their loved ones, while thousands elsewhere are enjoying fun times at home with their families. I see posts from single friends drinking up hours of wine and Netflix, and parent friends doing arts and crafts projects with their smiling children, and so many memes that make me laugh out loud I’ve lost count. But it’s all disconcerting, because over 100,000 people have already been killed by this virus, and the numbers are going up daily. It’s heartbreaking. So where should we be putting our focus, really? Is it fair to repost a corona meme when the next person seeing it on their screen may have just buried their father?
Strange, strange times. I’m almost waiting for the books that will surely come out in a few years analyzing this period, to help me make sense of it all. Is it right to call this a war, as so many do? Is it really akin to the Spanish Flu? Are we overreacting or not? Will it resurge next winter, or will there be a vaccine? So many questions.
But I have a gorgeous newborn baby in my arms. I’ve been praying and working and waiting for him for so long. His happy babbles deserve a joyful face smiling back, not one tainted with worry. It’s not fair to him that my phone keeps pinging alarmist headlines that steal my attention and energy. He is so pure and carefree, and reminds me: isn’t that the whole point of living anyway?
So I’m leaving my worries and questions in words on the screen, to clear my face for him and his sister. Perhaps out of everyone, young children have it the hardest right now. How can my three-year-old possibly understand why she can’t see her friends or grandparents or go to the playground? She can’t. She has the most questions of all, and frankly, our answers suck. So now I keep my phone on silent nearly all the time, in order to exude calmness and confidence for my kids. At times I’m not sure what I should be feeling; and I certainly can’t speak for those who’ve lost their lives or loved ones to coronavirus. But I think they would want children, at least, to keep laughing during these difficult times.