A March Ago

Want to hear something crazy? I say, sliding into the corner booth. I’m pregnant!

I haven’t seen my friend Shannan in months, so we meet on a sunny afternoon for Pan-Asian in a sleepy lake town. I wear overalls. We split banh bao. She sips my chamomile tea. We chat for hours – book progress, travel plans, the kids. When the check comes, she asks what I think about this whole COVID thing.

It’s not a big deal, right? I say. Nothing to worry about?

By the time I’m home, the schools have announced early dismissal and the great shutdown begins. It would be the last lunch we’d share for the year, and longer.

So it begins in the peripheral sense – large swaths of people auditing their home for toilet paper and Purell, finding themselves lacking, buying out Walmarts and Costcos across America in hopes that a surplus might mean safety, insulation from harm. Comforted in a long week of otherwise. It all stands to reason; if everything is being taken away – lattes from the corner bistro, plane tickets for spring break, those saintly teachers at our children’s school – well, at least we’ll still have our 3-ply.

But one long week unravels into many long weeks, then many long months, throughout which the audit never ends: Who’s wearing a mask? What’s safe? Who’s being responsible? How can we pull off Easter brunch? Our daughter’s birthday? Fall fest, and everything after?

Remote employees maneuver IKEA desks into bedroom corners because the light is better, it’s further away from the children, the Wifi signal is strong. Mothers plan Zoom dinner parties and drive-by baby showers. Families live-stream funerals; small attempts to celebrate lives we can no longer understand.

Homes jitter with questions. In the absence of normalcy, of convenience, of life-as-we-knew-it, we all begin a sort of staring contest with our own lives. Should we tackle the wallpapering project? Splurge on the deck? Do we like this dining room table? And what we mean is: Do we like those around it? 

We call for Domino’s, swap Carole Baskin theories, buy the blouse. Join TikTok for dance challenges, leave long before the middle part feuds.  Adopt a terrier or two.

Our small world becomes smaller, a collective rejiggering. We learn to cut our own hair.

Then comes an election, polarizing because it is, and also because we need it to be. We have spent eight months swimming in ambiguity: fighting furloughs, starting sourdough. For many, it feels easier to answer which candidate is on the right side of history than to question if we ourselves are.

We thrum with anger. Over cancel culture or accountability, depending upon which front page we subscribe. We draw lines over protests or riots, victims or survivors, gaslighting or falsehoods. The Internet falls in step, or perhaps leads the charge? Diamond hands on Reddit, monoliths in Utah. Daily, scandals dot our news feeds. We’re not getting better, the headlines say.

In a world in which we can no longer speak to each other around a shared meal, we opt to speak about each other instead.

But today, it is sunny and cool. The tire swing sways from an oak I’ve been told is nearly 150 years old. The neighbor kids are here, cheeks ruddy from the wind, feet bare with dirt. I’m rocking a 5-month old baby girl as she sleeps on my chest, her fingers curled and holding tight to something I cannot know.

How’s the baby? they chime. Is she asleep? Can we hold her?

I’ve wondered before what I’ll tell her about the year she was born, about the time everyone pulled away, into their homes and their choices and their selves. About how, a March ago, on a morning like today, the world shut its door, held its breath, and we watched it all happen through windows opened wide.

I wonder how long it might be before we find the words to speak about it with voices unmasked.

Not yet, I think. When she wakes, is what I say.

  • It is a pleasant surprise to see your words today. Like walking outside into a clear sunny day and taking a deep breathe in and a slow breathe out. Always welcomed.

  • I just read your last four posts or so. Your writing always sweeps me into a slower, kinder, gentler, and beautiful world… The way it should be.

  • So happy to sit quietly in my living room this morning and read thoughtful, kind, and true words from you, Erin, as birds chirp outside my open window and sunshine shines peace and hope.

  • Wow so wonderful to hear your voice again it has been missed. Much 💗

  • Not sure how you do it…string words like pearls of wisdom…every single time. 💖

  • Enjoyed this so much my friend! And congrats on the new edition! I’m sure she is just precious :)

  • Enjoyed this so much my friend! And congrats on the new edition! I’m sure she is just precious :)

  • Beautiful truths. Thanks for holding space with your words so we can reflect and begin to process this very unusual time.

  • Oh Erin, so much resonates with the cadence of your thoughts and words. My little Millicent was born in what I thought was the middle (ha!), but now looks clearly like the awkward and fearful beginnings of this time. And I often look at her with her lighthearted gaze staring back at me, and I wonder what will be most important to share with her someday- so much of the implications have gifted her little near-year of life with more time with a less-distracted me, with her dad’s presence and no airplanes, with a close eye on any and every indication of time passing in nature. And yet, also a year without family and friends and all the buzz that awaits a new life like hers. It’s all in there. Thanks for putting words to your heart and mind… the chamomile tea and the kids swinging…

  • I never leave comments on blog posts, but I just had to today. I received your essay in my email and right before I clicked on it, I had that familiar feeling of anxiety in my chest that I didn’t even realize until just now was familiar…anxiety over what would be said and in what tone it would be said. After a year of reading so many angry voices and dividing words, I’ve had to slow down my intake of anything that is not personal discussion or conversation. As soon as I realized that feeling in my chest, I thought, “Erin is kind. Her words will be kind.”, and I let out a breath of relief as I clicked on your article. I had my second child a year ago, she made 12 months last week. It kind of marks the year differently, doesn’t it? So much heartache but so much hope. I also don’t know when I’ll have words to tell of the year she was born. But in the meantime, I will pray to become a person that others can let out a breath of relief around because they’ll be able to trust no matter what I have to say, that it will be kind. Thank you for being such an example!!

  • Thank you Erin – it’s so good to see your essays again. I get so much joy from them. They create within me a desire to stop and reflect. A chance to focus on how I can be a better version of myself.

  • Erin, Your words touch my heart and soul every time. You touched on so many emotions that I’ve experienced during the past year. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with your readers.

  • as always, thankful for your words and insight. they bring deep peace and calm.

  • You so beautifully encapsulate the essence of this last year. Thank you.

  • Loved hearing from you again Erin! Your words arrived like the awakening of a spring flower, softly and beautiful. Thank you!

  • You’ve addressed a tired, wearying subject in a fresh insightful way. Congratulations on the little one!

  • Your writing about something so hard is so beautiful. Thank you for a small feeling of peace on a rainy morning stuck inside with 3 kids, struggling with all the troubles of the world.

  • Striking, beautiful, compelling. So excited when I saw this post :) And congrats on 5 months with your littlest! As a pregnant mother of a young toddler, I will always consider pandemic mothers heroes. (But maybe it should be all mothers, always.)

  • Erin – you craft words so poetically, explaining life simply, no overt or scary embellishment – a true gift!. There is no doubt in my mind you will be able to share the moments of your youngest birth year with her when the time is right. Then again, she will not be aware of what we thought was normal living prior to her arrival on earth. Perhaps our children, who are more adaptable than we are because of our memories, will be the ones to model the new normal for us – how we continue to live and love moving forward.

  • Simple, kind, honest, observant. I smiled when I saw that an email had come from you. I have been waiting for a moment of quiet to click on the link. Thank you for starting to digest this, all this, with gentle awareness and then for sharing it.

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