The anxiety-fueled rush of getting to school is no longer. Before morning meetings that require the kids to be on time and ready to listen and talk, we have bowls of cereal and apricot jam with toast around our small bistro table in the kitchen. This is only slightly off from our old morning dance, before 8AM in hopes of a smooth commute. Instead of shuffling for the door to make it in line on time, we slide our way to our desks and tables, with slippers on and curls still matted where the camera doesn’t quite catch.
Things are somewhat the same and entirely not. We are at home, we have routines. That’s the same. But now that the shock of this schooling shift has worn off, the most prominent difference, the thing that I can’t get used to, is the sight of my kids in their masks. My mind and eyes are often stuck in translating and computing their faces.
It’s like getting used to a haircut, I imagine. A sudden difference in shape, and so you double-take at the mirror. It’s not as monumental, but it is also like getting used to the scar that now lives on O’s chest, one that wasn’t there for four years of his life. It’s something minor and grand at once. A small shift in appearance–but a big and cumbersome thing when it comes to venturing out.
When this first began, we would play a game with a “bottomless” hat box of mine, sort of like Barney, back in the day. Dig and dig, “Look what we can make today, hey!” A bandana quickly became a ninja mask. These received compliments on the street, a push from well-meaning strangers to take pride in protecting oneself and others. But just as soon as it was praised, it was dismissed by the younger, who found his mask annoying. The ties, the fabric, the way his nose tickled, or how his chin felt. It was no longer cool–but it was necessary, and that’s maybe where my own pragmatism came in.
“We have to wear it. That’s the rule,” I said, when he flat-out refused. Making it cut and dry: Rules beyond my own control. Rules to care for others, whom they may never know. On the frequent occasion we’d see another kid, oftentimes, white, not wearing a mask, O would ask why they didn’t have to follow the rules. “Well, they should be,” I answered, knowing that everyone parents in different ways. The rules, for this family, still apply.
I have lingering questions, about the pressures of rule following, policing, and why do I even notice this difference–another simultaneously minor but grand thing–who’s responsible and caring for others (especially when black and brown families disproportionately are falling ill and dying in this pandemic). I notice the rules, small and large, that not everyone is on board with, how there aren’t attempts to uphold them, even though it really is that simple. (I digress.)
Soon enough, our stock pile doubled. A neighbor made fabric masks with head-tie-backs, and we received small stash of medical masks sent from my aunt in Virginia. After a while, the medical ones became dirty, and, realizing that this race is more of a marathon, beyond ninjas and homemade coverings, I decided we needed practical options and plenty more in our arsenal. An old friend made trippy galaxy masks that are soft, and strap behind the ear. Both of the kids have been excited to wear them. “They look cool with everythinnngg!” they say.
Considering the hotter months upcoming, I imagine that their sweat will stain circles where the fabric meets their lips, and the gray and baby blue will wear to a dust color. But what is more important is an opportunity for them to access personal style and take responsibility to care for their community, even at five- and nine-years-old. This chance is greater than their personal discomforts, an important life lesson. I remind myself of this, facing my own double-takes and bouts of sadness when I see them in these things. We are here to care.
(All of our masks were made by friends. If possible, please purchase your masks from companies and brands that care about conscious consumption and ethical business and labor standards.)