Strange as it may seem, these are one of the most unifying times we have ever lived in. No matter where in the world we are, almost all of us are doing exactly the same thing for the first time ever.
I can call a friend in California and she’ll tell me she’s at home trying to do homework with the children. A friend in Pakistan will tell me the same thing. No one I know is doing anything different. We’re all at home, washing our hands and fighting with children about homework.
In country after country, we’re all discovering that what our grandmothers told us was rue, that all you need, all you truly need, is your health, and the rest will follow. Not a single thing in this world is as precious as good health.
My family is about a month into a self-imposed quarantine before it became official. We had limited our movements, but I was still going out for exercise and the pilates classes that keep my bad back and epicondylitis in check. Now those are gone, and each day feels like the next.
It’s a strange thing to wish time away without wanting it to pass. I want this to be over. But I also know that time will pass one way or the other, no matter what. That’s what time does, it passes. It has one job and one job only.
And with it, it takes away our trials and our pain, but for some of us, it takes away tiny pieces of the ones we loved. The grandmothers who told us that only good health matters, the children who were born with bodies that start to fail with their first breaths. With each tick of the clock, we lose fragments of them until one day we look up and notice that a whole chunk is now missing and we wonder where did the time go? Where did that piece of my child go?
Time passes, but its passing doesn’t come for free.
I can feel the weight of my son as he pulls on my sleeve, trying to steady himself as he walks. His mobility has got worse and worse over the past year. As we approach his ninth birthday, I am watching the slow, steady unravelling of my firstborn child.
I hold on to him now to steady him. My aim is the same as it was the first time around when I stooped over him as a baby and offered him my hands to steady himself – I don’t want him to fall and get hurt. But this time around, he is unlearning how to walk. And it’s an agonising process to watch. There was a first step marked with cries of delight, phone calls to family and videos of the next lurching attempts. There will one day be a last step observed without us realising that it was the last one.
We hobble over to the window and watch the empty streets. Outside, an epidemic is unfolding from which we are all in hiding. We weigh and measure our time. How many days? How many weeks? How much longer until we can go out? Is it over? Why is it over? Can’t I have just a little more time?
“I guess I won’t have a birthday party this year,” Hermes says.
“You will baby,” I answer. “Just not on your birthday.”
“Hector is so lucky! His birthday is in the summer!” he says, grumpily. And Hector, who is always jealous that Hermes’ birthday comes earlier in the year, chimes in “Yes! I’m the lucky one in the family!”
I don’t mind being stuck inside with my children. I’m not a perfect mother. I lose my temper and shoo them into their rooms with screens to keep them quiet while I work. But time hangs heavy over us. I don’t want it to pass. Because with each tick of the clock I lose another piece of my child, I precious lose time to protect my younger son from the knowledge of what this all means.
With the passing of time has come an awareness. My younger son dances around to cheer up his older brother. He rushes to pick him up when he falls over, even though he can’t. The steroids have added too much weight. My little blue-eyed anomaly. Few strangers believe he’s mine. We are constantly stopped at airports. But he is mine, and he’s a slice of sunshine. As time ticks over, I ask myself how will I console him when he begins to understand what it is his older brother is facing?
Months before a virus invaded our lives, I began to have panic attacks. My sleep fell to pieces. I saw dreams where I was constantly losing both my children, running through airports looking for them.
I saw dreams where I was holding a baby, the much-longed for third child, cuddling it lovingly and then within the dream realising slowly that this child was a figment of my imagination and that none of this was real.
There’s something dream-like about our lives now. We wake up with each day feeling like the last. Stuck in a loop. What shall we do today? What shall we eat? Should we get dressed or stay in pyjamas? Life has become abruptly, deliciously condensed. I have the most precious people in my life close to me all the time. No one has to go out into the world. Not without a good reason, anyway.
I talk to my therapist over Skype and in the evenings I try not to fall over during yoga poses from YouTube videos. I’ve done one hot yoga class, that should arm me with enough knowledge to wing it the rest of the way, shouldn’t it? I watch cartoons while running on the treadmill. I hate running passionately, but I need those endorphins. I try to stay on top of my tricky mental health which seems determined to drag itself around with me for the rest of my life. “Go do something else,” I want to tell the depression. “Go take a walk or something. You’ve been here with me for months already.”
I close my eyes and picture the summer. I picture what I try to picture when I am doing very badly – myself a few meters under the sea, enveloped in silence, everything tinged blue, looking up at the mirrored belly of the waves. Summer will come, and we’ll be outside again. Life on pause will move once more. We will all be changed. But we will all have lost time which some of us can’t afford to lose.
So within this nightmare there exists a dream, and sometimes when I’m lying next to my children listening to their slow, even breathing while they sleep, life feels simple, beautiful even, and somewhere inside me, I know I’ll miss this time when it’s over. You may not feel it, but you’ll miss it too. When you’re back to racing here and there, racing against time, tired of trying to beat the clock, you’ll remember this time when the clock became meaningless.