I think of my parenting anxieties the way that Carrie Bradshaw probably thought about shoes: I have an entire mental closet full of them, and decide daily which ones to take for a spin. Some days it’s whether I’m doing baby-led weaning right. Other days it’s temperature-related, fretting about whether the baby needs another layer, or two more layers, or whether she’s sweltering in all those layers. The main object of my angst at the moment — my mental Manolos — is, unsurprisingly, Covid.
Every fever, cough or runny nose sparks a quiet panic. Given that kids usually have one if not all of the above a lot of the time, I’m in fight-or-flight mode near-daily, along with a lot of other moms of kids under five. Chalk it up to being pregnant at the height of the pandemic in NYC, and 17 months raising an infant while being drilled to mask, sanitize, and social distance. As much as I want to just click my heels and be over it, I'm finding it hard to let go.
At the same time, I’m hyper aware that babies need exposure to illnesses to build up a strong immune system. There are already reports that kids might be more vulnerable later to bugs and viruses because we've isolated them more than we would have pre-coronavirus. I struggle with the tension between these two realities. It’s not even as simple as balancing the desire to expose her to the right germs and protect her from the wrong germs — I want to keep her safe, but I want to raise a child who’s confident and adventurous as well.
So, what to do?
Well, for one, I’ve been embracing The Great Outdoors. Rain or shine, I try to get my little one outside so she can at least interact with kids in a way that’s safe(r) than indoors. It’s all very Babysitter’s Club/Famous Five vibes.
Last week, I saddled up to the park, thinking I’ve got all my mama-on-the-move bases covered: diaper bag, three packs of different wipes, spare sets of clothes in case baby girl has a blow-out. We make our way to the playground and I let her out of the stroller so she can explore, and I can do my best impression of an insta-chill mama, letting her play without helicopter-parenting over her.
Off she totters in her giant red puffer romper, while I drink tea from my colorful Corkcicle on the other side of the playground to give her some space to roam. A couple of sips in, I notice that instead of heading towards the slide or the swings, she beelines for a giant stick. You see, she's in a stick phase. Every stick is a great stick, as far as she's concerned. Sticks are fabulous.
But my spidey senses know something is off.
And it's at exactly that moment, as she turns around with her giant gummy, gap-toothed grin, proudly showing me her bounty, that I notice the enormous lump of dog shit smeared all over it. I yelp and lunge across the playground in the direction of the offending stick.
But it’s too late. Dog doo doo is already sullying her sweet, tiny palms.
I crouch down, holding her poop-smeared hand in between my knees, trying to extract the stick from her other hand, while also trying to avoid getting crap in my or her face and looking frantically for somewhere to dispose of the rancid offending branch. My little one is, naturally, furious that I'm trying to take her toy. I’m now spiraling about whether she’s going to contract e-coli or ringworm from the dog filth. And of course, the diaper bag is inside the stroller that’s parked across the other side of the playground. Cue me, hobbling her way over to MomGyver a sanitizing station and getting us all home with minimal excrement and meltdowns. So much for the benefits of fresh air and germs.
Later, after the bubby had been doused in so much Honest bubble bath and was fast asleep (well, as fast asleep as it gets for a 17-month-old), I sat down with a glass of wine and realized the dog crap is a living metaphor for parenting right now. We’re afraid of stepping in what we know about, and even more afraid of the shit that we don’t.
This is worlds apart from how most of us were raised. The latchkey generation sometimes seemed to have zero anxiety about germs — even an enthusiasm. I remember being around five years old, playing in the bath with the daughter of a family friend who had chicken pox. (Hey, it was the early 90s.) Generally viruses, sickness, and fevers weren’t something that caused stress.
Frankly, parenting expectations feel different today. Millennial moms came of age during the “lean in” years – conditioned to believe we should juggle the unpaid work of being our kid’s teacher, children’s entertainer, therapist, chief nurturer, organic chef – while also often working a paid-job, and being judged just as harshly in both. It’s an intensive model of mothering that feels more zealous than the boomer generation.
To cap it off, we’re parenting in a global pandemic in the age of insta-reality. Everywhere we scroll, there are calm, ring-lit mamas in athleisure miraculously devoid of any food stains — who explain baby-led weaning/kid-led walking/how to make fun, Montessori-inspired crafts out of a box of super-tampons and some used gum. (I’m usually consuming this content at midnight, in the dark, when I should be sleeping).
Having to mentally hold all of this at once is exhausting!
I don't want my little girl to pick up on any of my ‘rona angst, and I also really, really don’t want her to be robbed of a relaxed childhood, but I also really, really, really want to prevent my kid from contracting Covid if I can. This probably sounds especially relatable to a lot of moms out there with kids under five, who have to keep on momming with no idea when (if?) our little ones will be eligible to be vaccinated.
So, while we wait, and countdown the days until we’re in some endemic stage of all this, just know that even when you’re doing your absolute best, shit — of the human or doggie variety — happens. But however hard your day has been today, you can wipe their hands off and smell the bouquet of a reasonably priced bottle of wine to clear the air and put your anxiety shoes back in the closet for the night.
Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani lives in New York City with her 17 month-old baby and husband. She is a writer and Emmy-nominated television correspondent. You can follow her on instagram @caro_mt.