The second pandemic Mother's Day
I'm seeing my mom for the first time after a year apart. Many families aren't so lucky.
It has been over a year since I've seen my mom. She was the last person I visited before the pandemic began, during that strange period in early March when things still felt more thrilling and theoretical than actually scary, and when the man wearing a mask beside me on the plane home to New York drew askance looks from other passengers of "overkill, much?" Half-joking, I asked my mom before I left if she would fly out to take care of me if I caught the coronavirus. Her response, though, wasn't half-joking: "Of course."
Then everything changed; only a few weeks later, I was begging her and her husband not to leave the house for any reason at all. "Are you wearing masks?" I worried on the phone, alarmed by her blasé attitude, feeling more like the anxious parent than the child. "Is there anyone there who can drop off groceries for you?" Only recently, after she was vaccinated and I, in turn, was inoculated against my worst fears, would she admit to me that she'd also been scared.
More than a year after the pandemic began, President Joe Biden has promised that Independence Day will represent the "light in the darkness" for the country, the date by which he aims for things to fully "get back to normal." But for me, that day is today — when I, and thousands of other Americans, will see our mothers again safely. Though families have been celebrating such tearful reunions throughout the spring as vaccines have rolled out, it is really Mother's Day that marks the first major occasion to bring many families together responsibly, with more than 70 percent of older Americans and nearly half of all adults fully vaccinated. It is, as a result, like no other Mother's Day before it — and unlikely to be like any after, too.
The pandemic has been hard on parents, but on moms in particular. More than 90 percent of mothers "reported feeling more tired or having less energy than before the pandemic, compared with just 35 percent of fathers," reports The 19th, citing a 2020 study. "We should take time especially on this Mother's Day to acknowledge mothers everywhere," one doctor at the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases had the foresight to urge last Mother's Day. She explained: "Many have become 'substitute' teachers during this pandemic. They are preparing additional meals since children are now homeschooling. Many are still working inside and outside the home. How much more can we ask a mother to do?" And it's only gotten worse between Mother's Days; nearly 3 million women have dropped out of the labor force in the past year.
The pandemic was difficult on adult children and their mothers too. "She's been pretty much without family throughout this," Heather Krug, a 49-year-old Los Angeles resident, told The Associated Press of her mom, who she'll be seeing for the first time on Mother's Day after a year and a half. Janice Shear, 67, told the AP that she is planning a barbecue with her 40-year-old daughter, Meredith, who she'd previously only been able to visit with at a distance pre-vaccination. "Last year it was sad. Meredith was my first child," Shear recalled. "She made me a mother, and pulling up in my car and just seeing her on the front step and then driving away, it was hard." Corey Garlick will also be hugging his mother for the first time in over a year, he told ABC7: "I haven't seen her since Christmas of 2019 and it's been hard."
But though the timing of the vaccination roll-out has made it possible for many families to gather safely for the first time in a year, Sunday will also be a deeply tragic day for the country. For hundreds of thousands of children, today marks their first Mother's Day without their moms. "Before this year, I always joked with my children and said Mother's Day was the most important day of the year," Ashlyn Fox, whose mother and grandmother both died of COVID-19, told USA Today. "This year, I don't want it to exist at all. I want to pretend it doesn't exist."
It is impossible to think about today without thinking also of all those families. It's not that the tragedy of the pandemic makes me appreciate my own mother more, or that I'll hug her any harder this year because other daughters can't. Rather, this weekend is less a celebration of mother-figures than a reminder of how far we've come as families and as a nation — of what we've collectively endured. The scale of individual losses ranges enormously: For some, it's a stolen month together, or a stolen year. For others, it's that greatest unfairness of all, of a stolen future.
So yes, Biden's chosen date for the pandemic's end, the Fourth of July, has the fireworks, the fanfare, the built-in metaphor of freedom. But who knows better than America's mothers and their children how far we have come.