Life & Motivation / Relationship

How the Pandemic Stole My Most Cherished Relationship

Written by Yael Wolfe | April 22, 2020 13:48:44

Photo by , I didn’t want to get too close. I was terrified at how much it would hurt if his doctors couldn’t repair the damage.

But things didn’t work out according to plan.

I don’t know what to say about this kid other than that I love him more than I maybe love anyone else on the planet.

From the earliest days of his life, I felt like I “got” him — more so than any of the other kids. I noticed a pattern in his behaviors immediately and while most everyone in the family (other than his parents, of course) misinterpreted his signals, I understood the meaning behind them.

Over time, I felt that he “got” me, too. I felt like he trusted that I could understand him and so when he was fussy and someone passed him to me, he always calmed down, cooing or falling asleep. It became such a pattern that everyone in the family called me “The Alex Whisperer.”

I don’t know what to say about this kid other than that I love him more than I maybe love anyone else on the planet.

Though I’ve had glimpses into the hardships and joys of motherhood with the other kids, I’ve never gotten a peek at the one aspect of it many friends and family members have hinted at — between a mother and her infant. The long, unbroken eye contact while feeding a child, the embraces that last for hours and make you feel like your two bodies have knitted together, the sweet feeling of fulfillment that you are meeting someone’s needs so completely.

My experience with Alex is the closest I have ever felt to being a mother.

If you had asked anyone who knew me and my sister as teenagers which one of us would have become a mother, everyone — and I mean everyone — would have said me. My youngest brother, Jack, always called me “Second Mom” because I treated him more like my child than like a brother. My cousin nicknamed me “Little Mother” because I was always fussing over everyone and taking care of people.

It wasn’t even a question whether or not I would have kids. Of course I would!

To this day, I cannot figure how that didn’t happen. I mean, sure, yes, I know exactly how it didn’t happen. But also…I’m still stunned by the turn of events that led me to be childless.

If you had asked anyone who knew me and my sister as teenagers which one of us would have become a mother, everyone — and I mean everyone — would have said me.

And my sister ended up with six kids? Are you kidding me? Nothing could have been further from either of our expectations. We both expected to have two. Maybe three. Maybe four, like our mother.

Now in our forties, she has six and I have none. I never would have believed you if you’d told me this would happen twenty years ago. And I doubt anyone who knew us would have believed it, either.

When Tegan became a mother, I was excited to practice my mom skills on her kids. At that time, I thought my own experience of motherhood would be just around the corner. And so did everyone else, apparently, because I was showered with compliments like, “You’re so good with those kids, Yael. You’re gonna be such a great mom someday.”

But time went on and instead of , he left to marry someone else. Eventually, people stopped complimenting my mothering skills and stopped making predictions about what an awesome mom I would someday be. After 35, I think they just gave up on the idea of me becoming a mother.

And after 40, .

When Tegan became a mother, I was excited to practice my mom skills on her kids.

I knew I was extremely lucky to have my nieces and nephews and to be so involved in their lives — especially after Alex came along. It filled a hole in my heart, giving me an outlet for the “little mother” in me.

But deep down, I always knew it was a tenuous situation. Sure, I can be there for those kids. I can make sacrifices for them. I can love them as much as possible.

Until I can’t. Because I’m not actually their mother. And sometimes, even when you’re trying to be part of the village that it takes to raise a child, life gets in the way.

Copyright Yael Wolfe

When the pandemic hit the U.S. just after Alex’s first birthday, I had some very naïve expectations of how things would play out. I assumed I’d be able to see him almost as often as I’d been seeing him before, so long as I didn’t socialize with my friends and remained relatively isolated.

It took three weeks for reality to kick in when my sister finally said, “No. I can’t risk his life like that. I don’t want anyone to come over right now.”

It was so hard to hear that. Part of me even resented it. My sister’s husband, Andrew, is an essential worker, and as such, is exposed to the public every day. Part of me wanted to argue that seeing me, someone who’d been isolated except for a few visits to the grocery store, was so much less of a risk.

But I understand that it’s just one more factor, one more unknown. I understand I am not his parent and what I want doesn’t — and shouldn’t — matter. This is about him and the decisions his parents make…and that’s the way it should be.

It doesn’t matter how much I have changed my life in the past year to be there for that child. Just as with motherhood, aunthood doesn’t come with a transactional exchange. You don’t make sacrifices in exchange for connection, cuddles, or appreciation. That’s not the way it works. You sacrifice because the kid in question deserves the best chance they can get to be happy and healthy.

So my sadness, my deep sense of loss, doesn’t matter. I know that. And I know I have to accept that.

But it still hurts so much.

It has been hard to be . Sometimes, I feel lost in a way that I’ve never felt before and it’s scary and disconcerting.

As time has dragged on, and our governor has stated that there will not be a date set for the lifting of our lockdown until more data is collected, I have come to realize that we are in this not just for the kinda long haul, but for the very long haul.

Copyright Yael Wolfe

I realized that my contact with Alex will be sparse, at best, at least until we find a vaccine. And even then, I suspect there might be issues that will limit the time I am able to spend with him.

This realization caused me to struggle with a deep depression for a couple weeks. I’ve only seen a few videos and pictures of Alex since the lockdown started, and that’s just not enough. When I FaceTime the kids, he will walk by, curious, see me in the phone, poke at the screen, then get bored and toddle away. It breaks my heart.

A week ago, I asked my sister if there was any way I could come see him. She agreed, but only if I don’t leave the house except for my walks for the next fourteen days. At this point, that isn’t easy for me, being as I feel like I’m going to go crazy on these long stretches of isolation. Further, I’ll be quarantining for their safety, but with my brother-in-law working with the public, I’ll be increasing my risk of exposure.

And yet…it’s worth it to me.

I chatted with my nieces on FaceTime after we made the plans and Alex appeared on the screen. I said to my sister, who was in the background, “What’s going on with the lighting in there? He looks blonde.”

“Oh yeah,” she said, offhandedly. “His hair turned blonde.”

What?! In five weeks, this child’s hair has changed colors?! And I missed it?!

Then she told me about his temper tantrums and how grouchy he has been. As if on cue, he began to have a tantrum at that very moment and she turned the phone so I could see him. Standing up, he did a little dance of stomping his feet while screaming and pounding his fists against his thighs.

I couldn’t believe it. Last time I saw him, he was only a week or two into walking and now here he was, a toddler. He’s not a baby, anymore. He’s a foot-stomping, fist-pumping, grown-up toddler.

And I missed it.

This is it, though. This is the way it is and there’s nothing I can do to change it. I had this one, small glimpse into motherhood, this small window that opened and let me lean in and experience what it might feel like to be someone’s mom.

And now the window is closed.

At best, if I give up seeing all my friends and family members and only going to the grocery store every fourteen days, I’ll be able to see Alex twice a month. At worst, after I cycle through seeing my most important people and quarantining between each visit, I’ll get to see him every twelve weeks. The best case scenario is not likely to happen, due to a number of reasons, so I figure it’s more realistic to assume that I will see him once every month or two.

I had this one, small glimpse into motherhood, this small window that opened and let me lean in and experience what it might feel like to be someone’s mom. And now the window is closed.

If virus-related circumstances force my sister and her husband to continue quarantining Alex well into the future, there’s a lot I’m going to miss. A whole lot.

And I know I have no right to be angry or sad about it, but I am. I know it’s not reasonable to have expectations about being a huge part of his life just because I have, thus far, been, but I do. And I know that life has nothing against me, no personal vendetta to play out, but fuck. I wanted to be a mother so goddamn badly and now, in the waning years of my fertility, I can’t even be an aunt. Sometimes, it does feel personal.

It seems impossible to me that Alex will remember our bond when this is finally over. He was too young to notice that Auntie was there all the time and then one day she was gone. To think of losing that bond breaks my heart in a way I cannot even begin to explain.

I’m learning to make peace with the fact that I will likely never have children of my own. But now, impossibly, it seems like I also have to make peace with the fact that being an auntie is not the important role I once hoped it would be. Aunties are like CIA agents who get an asset safely over the border. We’re just there to protect the asset. After that, our role is dispensable.

I know that. I get it. I really do.

But I wish it didn’t have to be that way. I selfishly and only slightly apologetically wish that I could have more.

© 2020

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