I haven’t hugged my daughter in months.
Before COVID-19 hit (well, impacted the way we live our lives), my family was impacted by health concerns. In what should have been my daughter’s last semester of 5th grade, and before she made the transition to being a middle schooler, her year was cut short over a month before schools closed for good in March. My daughter has been having some health challenges that looked like the flu, but were way too prolonged for that to be the case. After a trip to the emergency room on Super Bowl Sunday and a trip to her pediatrician that prompted her pediatrician to tell us to “go to the ER at Children’s National Medical Center right now,” in early February, my daughter—a week after turning 11—ended up admitted to Children’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. For two weeks, and amidst alternating around the clock shifts, a million blood draws and tests and non-stop pep talks and reminders to a child that whatever was going on with her body, we just needed to make sure she was at her best, she finally got to go home with a diagnosis we could address in mid-February. For the record, I can’t imagine a better situation for a child who is sick than Children’s National. Our experience there was literally about as good as it could be.
While we waited for the doctor’s sign off on her ability to return to school (a sign off that never came, by the way, even before COVID-19), she was at home, attempting to do homework and things to keep her caught up with her classmates, which also kept her spirits up—it was a reminder of a version of normalcy. So it was disheartening every time we went to the doctor’s office and were told that maybe she could return to school in another two weeks, after her next round of results from blood work. You could see her excitement deflate as the doctor told us she just wasn’t ready to go back. The reason for this is that the medicine she was taking suppressed her immune-system to the point that she needed to be super careful about contact with other folks, and it was still flu season. At her school, on any given day, a dozen kids were out because of the flu. Her catching the flu could have a devastating effect, so going back to school, then, didn’t make sense.
And then COVID-19 impacted in a way that shut down schools. So not only had my daughter been out for a month-plus, now schools were closing down for who knew how long. My kid was struggling to get back to feeling healthy and being in school was something she was looking forward to, now that was also gone. My daughter’s mental health during this time has been at the forefront of all of our attention. But there are also other considerations.
We are a blended family. In my home is my wife and my two boys. While we share custody and my daughter typically would go back and forth between our homes, her mother (who is married and has two other kids, as well) and I decided (along with her doctors) that it made the most sense for her to be in one place while she recovered—that one place was her mother’s home, where she resides the vast majority of the time. At first, I would go over and visit and go into their home, confined to a small area, and sit with my daughter and hang out for a while. But over time, and because of understandable and reasonable family concerns, it made sense to practice social distancing measures, to ensure that as blended households, we were ensuring the safest measures for everybody. That means that since early April, all of my visits with my daughter have been outdoors and social-distanced, which means that since April, I have not physically touched my child.
It’s hard. Very hard. My daughter is frustrated because she’s confined to her home and even though we come and visit, she has to play with her little brothers from afar. They can’t hug each other. I can’t hug her. She can’t hug me. When we see each other, we have to keep distance. It’s probably the most difficult thing we all have to do. Do you know what it feels like to not be able to touch your child? My daughter has threatened to run and jump on me because then it’s pointless to keep us apart (it was an idle threat that I squashed, natch). She wants to come to my home and play with her brothers and be in her room here. She wants to be in another space that belongs to her. My wife is pregnant and my daughter wants to feel her new, unborn sibling move inside of her step-mother’s stomach. She wants to know she’ll be present when the baby is born. She just wants to touch us. We just want to touch her, but we have to be safe. There’s no end in sight even though I keep assuring her we’re closer to “normal” than we are with each passing day. Even as I write this, though, I’m mad all over again about it, but I have to put on a good face for my child because she needs to see us feeling okay about it. But it is exhausting. As the effects of her medicine have more and more positive effects (though in our case, she’ll just be better not cured; she will be on medication likely for the rest of her life), we’re getting closer.
But what does closer look like? It also means that as a household we have to make sure we’re around other people who are doing their best to stay safe as well. But hell, if you don’t have the same concerns and considerations we have, you might not feel a need to be as hard-core about safety. And when I see folks acting a damn fool in places like Atlanta (and you know it’s happening all over) who don’t care who I know will not care wherever they go it drives me crazy.
I was at a Target in Forestville, Md., a few weeks back when a fight broke out in the store. A woman spit on another woman—that’s become a common way to show how much you’re mad about a situation no matter what race, creed or class, apparently; that shit looks like attempted murder to me—and those are the people in the streets. Those are the people shopping next to all of us. Those are the people ruining the country’s ability to open up safely and successfully and get back to life.
And those are the people I have to consider when thinking about my child and how her immune system is down. And that means that because I have to handle things and attempt to provide as much of a normal life for my other kids, I might come in contact with them as well. And because the doctors are also still telling us that we’re a ways away from her coming to my home, that means we’re still ways away from hugs. And that hurts.
My daughter told me that the day she gets the okay to hug me and come to my house she will be attached to my hip for days. I can’t wait. Until then, we wait. We wait to hug. We wait to love on each other like family is supposed to.
We wait for her to be better. And we wait for us, and the world to be okay.
Hug your kids; all of us can’t. I haven’t hugged my daughter in months.