Mother’s Day 2020 holds the Sunday slot in what I’d expected to be a busy weekend of May festivities, including Friday’s Junior Prom and Saturday’s college graduation. I’d looked forward to the weekend for most of the year, eager to see my youngest son cleaned up, a bow tie at his neck, the curly mop on his head tamed, and then my oldest, crossing the stage, passing celebratory cigars to friends and classmates. My middle son swirling around all of it, remembering his past, looking forward to his future.
Instead, I hover over the family calendar and click Delete, removing the celebrations not to be. I go back to cleaning closets, making lists, yearning for a life I took for granted and hopeful for a return to normalcy for my children, those boys who made me a mother.
Rather than renting a tux and considering a date, my 17 year old son became nocturnal. I’d like to say it happened so gradually that I didn’t notice, but the truth is, as soon as the stay-at-home order hit, my boy went underground. If he cannot fully embrace daylight, he’s decided to minimize the time he spends in it.
He wakes at 4pm, pours himself a breakfast bowl of Cap’n Crunch, scans his growing list of homework assignments, and, if it isn’t raining (OMG is it ever not raining?), heads out front to shoot hoops until dark, which, for him, happens right around lunch time.
It isn’t that I’ve given up parenting during a pandemic. It’s just that things that used to be important no longer seem to matter. SATs. ACTs. Proms. College Tours. Curfews. Day. Night.
He liked it in the beginning. Coronacation, he and his friends called it. I let the nocturnal lifestyle slide. I mean, how long could it be? A few days off of school, maybe a week? A nice break from the stress of junior year in high school. But days became weeks. Weeks turned to months.
“As long as we have lacrosse,” he said.
Then they cancelled the lacrosse season.
“I’m actually excited to get back in school,” he said.
After that, they cancelled the rest of the school year.
“Well,” he sighed, “At least there’s football.”
It is then that I make a deal with a deity whose existence I’ve begun to question.
Anything, I offer. Take my right arm. Don’t let them cancel football.
My 19 year old and I are on our third pandemic puzzle. It is scattered on the dining room table. We hunt for pieces now and again, when we are not killing time in some other way. My boy is a freshman in college. He was so nervous to go, had a few tough weeks in the beginning. Then he settled in, met friends, and relished his new-found independence.
He came home in March for spring break, with a plan to sleep, hang with his high school buddies, visit his college friends, too, before going back to school and finishing the semester.
“A week is a long time,” he said. “We might go skiing.”
That was seven weeks ago.
Instead of spring skiing, he plays poker online. He keeps a chat window open so he can talk to his friends while they bet against each other. I’m not crazy about the gambling, but it’s what he’s got right now. He looks forward to it while completing his online schoolwork. “After physics,” he says, “Poker.”
I overhear a conversation he has with a classmate. “Bro,” the friend says. “I’ll do anything, stay in all summer, no job, nothing. I just want to go back in the fall. We have to get back to school.”
“Do you think we will?” my son asks me.
“Yes,” I reply. My belly twists and turns with uncertainty.
My oldest son turned 22 in our fourth week of the stay-at-home advisory. He’s very kind and thanked me for the golf shirt I ordered at the last minute, online. He discovered a love for the game about a year ago. Now, he drives by the shuttered course. “Greens look great,” he says. I look away, cry, but just a bit.
It isn’t the commencement cancellation that bothers him most, rather it is missing the rite of senior year in the springtime. With a full-time position on deck and academics winding down, the warm weather promised to usher in daytime parties, corn hole competitions, freedom from responsibility. Family ping pong in the basement just doesn’t compare.
I ache for my sons, even though none of us, quarantined in our home, is sick. In fact, we don’t know anyone who has been sick. Although we carry great concern for the many suffering, we do not worry about our own pre-existing conditions or fragility.
The refrigerator is stocked. We have toilet paper. There is no need for me to homeschool or invent childhood activities to fill up the day. The boys manage; they don’t complain.
We are not essential workers. Although my freelance gig has slowed down, my husband’s job continues full steam, without even a glitch. We will not go on unemployment, require a food pantry, or pull from our retirement savings. Yes, some of our favorite restaurants may stumble, my hair will gray, but really, we are pretty darned fine. I know that.
We donate. We volunteer. We write letters to the lonely and open our front door to clap, every Friday, in solidarity with our city and in support of the front line. It isn’t much, but it’s something.
Although our stay-at-home advisory is scheduled to end in early May, I am certain we will be as sequestered on Mother’s Day as we were on Easter.
Breakfast will be served at 4pm, after clearing the dining room table of our (hopefully) completed puzzle, and before street basketball begins. The future of football will remain in question, along with doubts about a collegiate fall semester, and an uncertain start date for our eldest’s first professional job.
The sadness and hopelessness that pervades our home will not vanish, replaced by the merriment of holiday. The level of anxiety will be unchanged. Yet, my sons will be here, as they have been on this day, every year, since birth. I imagine the pickings are pretty slim for store-bought Hallmarks and mother-trinkets. Perhaps my boys will offer handmade cards, as they did in days of old, and gather dandelion bouquets. They will wish the happiest of days to me and I will smile because I get to be their mother.
Maribeth Darwin is a freelance writer from Melrose, Massachusetts and the happy mom of three almost-grown boys. Maribeth has published essays in Entropy, Brain Child, Brain Teen Magazine, Cognoscenti, and Grown and Flown.