Graphic via Tania Lili for Courier Parenting in a pandemic
Graphic via Tania Lili for Courier

This immunocompromised mom has to maintain six feet from her nine-year-old daughter at all times because of coronavirus. These are the precautions she takes.

My nine-year-old daughter Simone went grocery shopping with my mom recently. She told me that only 10 customers were allowed inside at a time. And everyone in the store, and the people outside waiting on the long line, had wrapped scarves around their noses and mouths several times — just like her. 

The spark of curiosity and wonder in her eyes amazed me as she described what used to be a simple errand. Her detailed play-by-play of her ventures reminded me of scenes in an apocalyptic movie. I’m fortunate that my parents have offered to take her out twice a week so she doesn’t feel cooped up or go stir-crazy. Our state has been under a stay-at-home order since March 23 due to the novel coronavirus.  

I haven’t seen the reality of our new world. Last month, my doctor ordered me into quarantine because my white blood cell (WBC) count is dangerously low. WBC’s are responsible for fighting off viruses and foreign invaders. Because my cells are gradually diminishing, I’ve been placed in the “high risk” category for people who have a higher probability of contracting the very virus that is plaguing mankind. 

Because Simone isn’t housebound like I am, my doctor told me I had to keep a six-foot distance from her at all times — I have to engage in social distancing with my own daughter. I pleaded with him, pointing out her clean bill of health. She would never get me sick, I said. 

“This is temporary,” he replied. “Isn’t a six-foot distance better than being six feet under?” His wording was harsh but also the wake-up call I needed. I knew better than to run the risk of leaving my daughter without a mother. 

I’ve suffered on and off from anorexia nervosa for many years. Just in the past 12 months, I’ve lost 30% of my body weight. I’m malnourished. Before the pandemic, I remember getting sick frequently with stomach bugs or upper respiratory infections. 

It’s frightening being amongst the group of people deemed as high risk. Yet, the possibility of contracting COVID-19 and spreading it to Simone is even more nerve-racking. 

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Amid the chaos, however, Simone has stayed strong, steady, and resilient. I, on the other hand, am fragile — in my mind and body alike. I’ve battled crippling anxiety and depression for the better years of my life. Now more than ever, calming my nerves feels like a seemingly impossible feat. 

But my daughter is my priority. I know that taking thoughtful precautions and preventive measures is the best way, the only way, to proceed. I don’t want my nervous, worried mind to negatively impact Simone. 

Here’s how we’re handling it all.

We keep our distance 

In order to protect us both, I wear latex gloves when I cook our meals and wash dishes. In between lunch and dinner, we play charades and draw pictures. 

Before Simone’s school shut down, she was enrolled in chess club. We play a modified version. She moves my pieces where I request as I sit on the opposite end of the living room. It’s a peculiar way to play but we haven’t minded. 

Games and joke books also keep us occupied — shifting our focus so life can feel normalized. 

We can’t snuggle during bedtime stories anymore. While this initially caused me immense pain, I keep telling myself that this cannot last forever. Simone lays in bed and reads her favorite stories out loud, and I lounge on a beanbag chair in her doorway. 

We have postponed our butterfly kisses for now. We do blow each other loud dramatic kisses before saying our goodnights and sweet dreams. I pretend to catch every kiss and place them inside of my pocket — saving her love forever and for always. 

We play video games in separate rooms

Rather than sitting side-by-side as we once did, we play video games in separate rooms. Simone is obsessed with Roblox, a massive multiplayer platform with upwards of ten thousand online games. Each game is created by developers who also use the app. 

I’ve been quite flexible with screen time throughout this past month, and have no intention of resuming strict time limits until this tragic pandemic comes to an end. 

She and I meet in the same game and play together for a few hours every morning. My avatar trails closely behind hers as we run through the virtual town of “Meep City.” I pick her up, share ice cream cones, we even lounge on couches together — it feels real, real enough. My avatar doesn’t require a six-foot distance. It’s bizarre, but gaming allows me to feel closer to my daughter. 

We work together to answer her questions 

Simone asks me if the people who are sick and dying happened to eat infected bats. She also wonders why it’s named the “coronavirus.” Her curiosity is impressive considering her age. The problem is, I don’t always know the answers. I hate leaving her confused in these already confusing times. 

She calls my cell phone from her room while we conduct our research online. We type her questions in the search bar of Google, and we do our best to locate factual information, leaving her satisfied. She hasn’t minded the distance set between us — if only I carried the same amount of bravery as her. 

I still talk to my therapist

I normally meet with my therapist in a mental health clinic. Three weeks ago, they shut down and offered teletherapy as an alternative. I had my doubts that a Zoom session would suffice to treat my mental health needs, but as it turns out, engaging in therapy through a glass screen has proved beneficial. 

I complain about my doctor forbidding me from holding my daughter. Then, my therapist reminds me of how everything in life is impermanent. Every week, she and I spend five minutes meditating. We use the words, ‘This too shall pass’ as a mantra of sorts. Having an objective person to listen to my qualms is helpful; I’m grateful for the support. 

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To be honest, I’ve flirted with the idea of stepping within the “danger” zone more times than I care to admit. I just want to embrace Simone. But when I consider disobeying my doctor’s orders, I remind myself that the best way to protect her is by continuing to take these important precautions. I’m being the best parent I can be, I know that. 

Our experience will transform into a blurred memory soon enough. We may even laugh about conquering the rigid distancing rules someday. But for now, praying at night, adhering to my doctor’s mandate, and lightening the mood for both of our sakes is my responsibility. This is the most serious undertaking I’ve faced as a mom.