A few weeks ago, I was having a much-needed complaining session with a fellow mom-friend. At one point she started railing about school pickup and dropoff — how short the day felt and how once she was settled down to work, she felt like she had to just turn around and pick the kids up again.
My daughter is 7, an only child, and hasn’t been to in-person school in a year. I’ve spent most of said year playing magician, pulling out activities and trips and joy out of a hat. What I wouldn’t do to get to have school dropoffs and pickups.
No offense to my friend, but I wanted to scream.
I don’t mean to throw this mom under the bus. I adore her and she was simply sharing the difficulty of her own experience. But it pointed to an increasingly obvious rupture. Even within friend circles and close-knit communities, we are all living wildly different pandemic lives.
What’s been obvious and most horrifying the entire time: the larger systemic and racial chasms at play in this country. How healthcare and essential workers are at high risk of contracting Covid, and those of us who can sequester safely at home are not. Wealthier, often white, parents can stay home, feed their kids and keep them entertained with new toys, electronics and getaways; poorer ones cannot. In Los Angeles, where I live, people of color, especially Latinos, are getting sick and dying in disproportionate numbers. Wealthier neighborhoods are faring far better than poorer ones.
But now that we are almost a year in, smaller differences within social and economic circles are becoming more pronounced, too, and it’s clear that every family is living a different reality. In my friend circle, many private-school kids are attending in-person classes, while our public school openings seem far off on the horizon. Some families have grandparents who can help—regularly or even daily—while other people are taking care of their elderly or ill parents and their children. Some of us have very young kids who are ripping the house apart and in need of constant attention and oversight; others have children with special considerations whose needs aren’t being met thanks to school closures. Some of my friends have lost their jobs. Some are single parenting. And, if we are getting into minutiae here—which we are because we’ve been at this for too long—some of my friends have large homes, remote office-space, pools, yards, access to the beach, hikes, snow, a second home. Some have cars and can get away for trips. Some parents are able to take the time away from their responsibilities to do these things with their kids. Some have none of these things, including time.
These are situational differences. Add to this families’ different approaches to Covid safety. In the early days, almost everyone I knew hunkered down at home, terrified. But as we reach the year mark, our stamina is waning and our approaches are shifting. Naturally, everyone’s threshold for risk is totally different, and in the absence of clear rules (thanks, government leaders!), peoples’ engagement with the outside world is wildly variable. Some of my friends eat out, get haircuts in salons, go clothes shopping, travel to see family. Some of us—self included—barely leave home.
All of these differences in day-to-day experience mean it can be harder to relate to one other. For me, it’s meant that some previously close friendships have drifted while I’ve forged strange and comforting alliances with others. I often find myself turning to fellow parents of only children, other parents of kids who do virtual school, other people who are as wildly Covid-conservative as I am, other people who haven’t seen their elderly parents in over a year. Which, sadly, leaves out entire swaths of very dear friends of mine.
Some of this narrowing is simply a question of self-preservation. It’s envy-making to hear about extended families spending time together or kids thriving at in-person school, so I avoid those conversations. And some of it is just a question of time. I only have so much time to spend commiserating with fellow moms, so I want to do it with people who are facing down the same(ish) barrel as me. None of this is easy to admit, but it’s true.
And here’s the rub: I’m sure that there are things about my pandemic experience that needle friends of mine. Sure, I live in an apartment, not a house, and I don’t have any help or family nearby. There are no siblings for my only child to play with, and parts of my career have been blow-torched by this pandemic. But, on the other hand, I have only one agreeable child who (mostly?) sits quietly in her room for school. I have a flexible job. We are financially stable. We live in LA, where the beach and hikes are still accessible and free. We are, most importantly, healthy. Seen from afar, in pandemic terms, we have it good.
I do wonder whether post-pandemic, all these shifts in friendships will bounce back, or whether they will remain scars or build bridges between us. Down the line will we catch up where we left off? Will these pandemic chasms have been a blip on the screen or are we reassessing friendships and rearranging accordingly?
I recently joked to a friend who’s become my Covid check-in buddy (Is it safe to buy bread? Can I go on a walk without two masks? Do you think my sore throat is Covid?) that one day, in, like, 2024, the two of us will remember the bond we forged in the middle of this mess. We’ll be at a party together and, with just a look from across a room, be reminded of how utterly crazy we were during The Pandemic and how our vulnerability and openness with each other allowed us to grow so much closer. An unexpected friendship forged out of the rubble. That’s a change I can live with.