Every afternoon for the last many days, my first-grader has disappeared into her room. I’m on the phone! she yells if we try to enter. She is on my phone, on Facetime with her friends. Like she’s 6 going on 16.
My kid has never before been allowed to even touch my phone — yes, I am that parent — but here we are, in the midst of a pandemic. Like everyone else, she’s stuck in the apartment — but she is an only child, and that means she’s had no one to play with but her old parents for over six months. And same goes for the foreseeable future.
So, rules: out the window.
As parents of an only, we rely tremendously on other families to supply our daughter’s play time. Not a weekend goes by when we don’t have multiple expeditions with friends — to the beach, to the park, to another family’s house for dinner. But when we entered this frightening phase of social distancing, it took me a moment to realize that my child would be alone, possibly for… months? While there is another only child in our building who is exactly my daughter’s age, we know it is best to stay away.
Like all other parents, I’m cycling through the roster of fears: will my husband or I (or both of us?) get sick? Will our daughter be okay? Will my parents, sister, and friends? How many work assignments will I lose? How much worse will this all get before it gets better? When will the government get it together?
But unlike parents of multiples, who are trying to keep their kids from possibly killing each other right now, my fear, alongside every other parent of an “only” is: When will my kid be in the presence of another child again? And is all this time away from peers going to damage her?
Rationally, I know my daughter will be fine — she is loved, she is safe (we hope), she has food, water, shelter, and parents who can stay home with her. While I have already lost work clients, my husband, thankfully, will not. We will try to keep things as normal as possible for our daughter. But we will need to adjust our idea of normal, and one way is by handing over the once-forbidden phone multiple times a day so she can “play” with her friends. (As I write this, she is in her “dream tent,” woofing like a dog, while her friend woofs back.)
Only time will tell what it will be like for her to be in an adult world for so long. I’ve struggled mightily with the decision to not have a second child, but I never in a gazillion years imagined that a pandemic would be the thing to make me think: Wow, we really fucked up on the whole give-her-a-built-in-playmate thing.
For now, all I can do is remind myself that this moment is demanding a lot of my daughter — whether she knows it or not — and the least I can do is see the world through her eyes. Get on the floor and play. Enter her world on her terms. Be the playmate she doesn’t have, other demands be damned.
And I can hand over the phone. Let her stay in touch with her friends, play with all the memojis I don’t understand. And remind myself that one day (hopefully sooner rather than later) we will once again be in the arms of our friends, and we will never, for one moment, take for granted the glory of their presence.
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