Sheltering in Place Hurts Even More When You Live Far Away From Family

Since March 8th, my family has hardly left the house at all. I have strapped on my mask and loaded up my handbag with hand sanitizer for a handful of absolutely necessary doctors’ appointments and my husband has done a bi-weekly grocery shopping for perishables. Our crackers and popcorn, shelf-stable beverages and baking flour arriving in shipped packages almost daily.

My children have not seen — or more importantly — hugged or held hands with a friend in nearly three months. They ache for their teachers. They are acting out while staying in and sleeping less and fighting more. They are losing interest in their toys. The youngest one has regressed with the potty, the eldest cannot sleep alone. Our lives — our life that we share — is bearing too much weight on its hinges. The strong parts are starting to bend.

And, most confusing of all for this isolated mother of two is the feeling of being completely out to sea. We moved our little unit of four and the dog down South two summers ago to pursue a new career opportunity for my husband and wide open spaces for myself and the girls. A lower mortgage, bigger house, and friendlier neighbours pepper the list of reasons we love our life down here. But despite the drive-by birthday parties and families down the cul-de-sac making the rounds with toilet paper and wine to cheer each other up, I can’t help noticing the emptiness swelling within me.

I miss my parents. We all do, I know that. And worse yet — the missing I feel is nothing compared to the missing that those who have truly lost their parents feel. I am not claiming the most difficult loss here, but stating things as I see them: sheltering in place has proven a painful daily reminder that our family is too far away.

I get that if my parents lived down the street, we wouldn’t be able to have them over for a barbecue this weekend. I’m not naive enough to pretend that anyone is enjoying time with their family members (especially those over the age of 65) as usual right now. But at times I feel I would literally endure physical pain, walk on burning coals, just to stand at the bottom of my mother’s driveway. To chance a whiff of her perfume wafting down from the porch while I sit, cross-legged on the craggy cement path leading to her. Raise my plastic wine glass in cheers without the clink. Watch her face light up in laughter as my two-year-old shows off a silly dance or acts sassy with her big sister.

My kids miss their cousins. They ask me all the time, “Can we drive by their house? I promise I won’t touch anyone! I just want to see them!” They want to revel in Henry’s squeals and decorate his footpath with chalk. Toss plastic-wrapped gifts over the fence to my sister-in-law and watch her sanitize then unwrap a plush toy for their six-month-old cousin. They want to feel connected even if glass stands between them. I don’t blame them. I feel it, too.

I want to walk six feet apart from my father on an empty Long Island beach, know that I can feel him next to me even without hugging or holding his hand. Our canceled flights keep accumulating, the life of the-one-that-moved-away taunting me now in a way it never did before.

When we moved from New York to Georgia, we swore up and down we’d see each set of parents at least every other month. My kids are more used to waiting in the pickup line at ATL for my mum or mother-in-law than they are lining up for a treat from the ice cream man. They have entire sections of their closets designated for travelling.  They know the life of picking up, packing up, and jetting to New York frequently. Right now, they feel punished and alone.

This crisis will end eventually, the slow culmination of science and progress, disagreements and ever-changing regulations. One day we’ll be back on a plane and hopefully even sooner than that we’ll figure out how to take a road trip that allows us to see these important people face-to-face. But in this current moment, I would do just about anything to wave at our loved ones through plate glass. To hear the tinkle of their laughs in the air rather than over the phone line.

Sheltering in place when you are the only ones from your place is so hard. It wouldn’t be perfect or anywhere near normal if we were home and I understand that. But it would be something. I just wish we had a little more.

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