This week, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared COVID-19 (coronavirus) a global pandemic. Like most parents, I’m struggling to digest what this means and worry how it might affect my loved ones. Like most parents, I’m struggling to straddle the line between panic and preparedness—to have Lysol in the house, but not so much that I’m part of the hand sanitizer hoarding problem.
Mostly, I’m like most parents, cautiously watching the news, adopting a wait-and-see approach, hoping somehow the spread will be mitigated and the devastating predictions never come to fruition.
But, I’m not like most parents. I’m a solo parent and a young widow, and that means every day is informed by grief, by widowhood, and by the truth I’ve lived: that life can change for any of us in an instant, that sometimes the thing that happens only to other people actually can happen to us, that happily ever after isn’t guaranteed no matter how much you will it so.
I’m delicately balancing that line between prepared and panicking alone. I’m watching the news and reading the near constant alerts without a partner to compare notes with—to either assure me that I’m overreacting or promise me that no matter what, we (that’s a collective, universal “we”) will be fine. And unlike most parents who have a partner to tag-in in case of emergencies, I’m terrified of what will happen if I get sick—who will watch my children, who will run out to get a gallon of milk if we need more, who will do the laundry and referee arguments and make sure the utility bill is paid on time. And also, though in the grand scheme of it all it’s a superficial concern, even if no one in my household gets sick, how will I manage to not lose my mind in the event of a quarantine without another adult in the house?
I don’t know, and the fact that I don’t know simply terrifies me.
As a solo parent in the face of a global pandemic, it often feels as if I’m standing alone in front of my two children, guarding them from the tsunami threatening to barrel down on us and on the little life we’re patching back together after it crumbled before our eyes once before.
I can’t help but believe that it—that undefinable, life-changing it—all feels a little more perilous than it would if my husband was still by my side. That it all feels a little less stable than it would if it wasn’t just me—a me that often feels too small, too unsure—trying to protect my two kids from a world that sometimes seems as if it’s a feather away from collapsing under the weight of uncertainty. That it would be easier to brave whatever was coming if I wasn’t alone, if I didn’t know that sometimes the worst can happen, and the nightmare can become reality, that heartbeats are more fragile than I ever could have imagined and that breath could disappear in a moment that lasts as long as a lifetime.
And that all feels very fatalistic and pessimistic and not the way I want to approach solo parenthood or young widowhood or life after loss in general. Which for me means finding a way to acknowledge all that anxiety and give a voice to all that uncertainty and also choosing to take a breath and trust myself.
To trust in my solo parenting. I’m choosing to trust that my kids know what to do in an emergency…or that at least they know how to not burn down the house if I’m less than my best self.
To trust in my planning. I’m choosing to trust that I’ve prepared well enough. That if I do get too sick to be home, the contingency plan I’ve made for the kids will work. And that if I’m mildly sick, we have enough non-perishables in the house to keep us from going hungry, enough easily accessible food that my kids won’t have to wait for me to drag myself out of bed, enough savings to stay afloat…and to trust that I’ve successfully put Netflix on auto-pay for the next few months. (Yes, another superficial concern, but as a solo parent, Netflix is that important.)
To trust in the truth that I’ve handled the hard times alone before. I’m choosing to trust that I’ve faced the wave of uncertainty once before while feeling too small and too insignificant, and that I remained standing, even as it crashed down around me, even as I stumbled.
All of this isn’t to garner sympathy for solo parents, or young widows in particular, because every household—two parent households included—are facing their own unique set of challenges, suffering their own individual late night anxieties. The truth is none of us know what the weeks have in store for us, and anxiety is high in most family structures as we do our best to make sense of the news and protect all our loved ones.
This is all simply to say that maybe in these moments when we feel most helpless, as we watch the spread of a global pandemic with mounting caution, we take a moment to remember that we’re all doing our best, that we all have a story that doesn’t look like any one else’s story, and we could all use a little extra compassion, a little more empathy.
Because even though we may feel like we’re standing alone, we’re not.