A sticky blue flurry with tangled, blonde hair attack-hugs my leg as I open the garage door, home from work after an exhausting day. It’s my 6-year-old daughter. It’s as if she’s been waiting by the edge of the mudroom all day, ready to pounce at the first sound of our mudroom door alarm open.
The force of her weight on me is the human embrace I need to let me know I am home.
I am home.
I am home.
It is the deep, long sigh I need to start to wash the heaviness away.
I gently peel her off my leg, promising real hugs and snuggles once I am clean. I obsessively wash my cracked, dry hands one more time. Shower. Put on clean clothes. I am so tired, but now I feel safe, and now I feel I can pick her up, smoosh her face against mine, and tickle her neck with my nose.
My mind starts to quiet, my adrenaline starts to still, and my heart transitions through its rollercoaster of emotions. My 6-year-old sits curled up in my lap. She holds my cheeks with her sticky, sweaty hands. Half holding my attention, half distracted by the fun of squishing my cheeks. “Mommy, when I’m a doctor, can I come to work with you?” she tilts her head and looks up at me.
My heart soars and sinks. I don’t know how this is possible, but the way a mom’s heart can stretch and bend, isn’t something science can explain. I am so proud of this little girl that has ambition, and knows she can do anything her mind and motivation set forth to do, but I cannot help but wonder what challenges she will face in adulthood that parallels that of a global pandemic.
I think about my own mama’s heart. How her heart burst with the greatest pride to see me give a speech in front of my medical school class on graduation day. How her heart soared with me when I matched at the residency program of my dreams. How her heart felt full the first time she saw me in a white coat with stethoscope slung around my neck. How her heart felt joy seeing me walk down the aisle in a white dress. How her heart expanded to make room for more the first time she held her grandkids in her arms.
Then I think about what this pandemic has meant for her heart. How her heart has pounded so fast on sleepless nights worrying about if I have the PPE I need to keep me safe. How her heart has brimmed with crippling anxiety waiting for my call on my way home from work, because that is the reassurance she needs to know that I am okay. How her heart has ached with hollowness over the last 10 months of missing me and not being able to see me in person and hug me. How her heart has sunk down low alongside mine when she has caught me in a drained, helpless, or defeated place, weighed down by the patients that have affected me that day.
It’s been over a year since I’ve seen my mom. It goes without saying, I have never gone over a year without seeing my parents. And it breaks my heart, but I love them too much to suggest putting them at risk. My mom is 76-years-old. I have seen 76-years-olds struggle in ways I will never forget. I’ve seen them struggle to breathe, struggle to keep food down, struggle to live.
My mom, who is not on social media, sees my face only on Facetime, and I see half her forehead and one eyebrow as she tries to figure out where this mysterious hidden camera is in her phone. She inspects my face and tells me how I need to pat my face after each face wash so the skin around my mouth isn’t so dry and flaky. She dismisses my protests that I can’t help what my mask does to my face. She rapid fire gives me instructions for recipes of “quick easy meals” I can make so I can have something at the ready to eat at work, thinking quick easy recipes will combat the fact that I need to keep my N95 mask on and physically and logistically simply cannot eat for the duration of my work shifts regardless of what recipes I make.
Every time I call her—she doesn’t dare call me, she is convinced I must always be working or sleeping, and both would be terrible to disturb—she asks me if I am still seeing “the COVID-19 patients” and if I ate yet today. “Yes Mom. From when you asked me yesterday, I am still seeing them today. And yes Mom. I eat everyday.” She tells me she knows, she knows, but she just has to ask. This is her way of telling me about her mama heart, that it loves me, misses me, worries about me, and is proud of me, with every single beat.
I think about how my mom’s heart stretches and bends to hold all her emotions right now. I think about its immeasurable strength. I think back to my flushed-cheeked 6-year-old sitting in my lap with her baby teeth still all intact. I think how her ambition makes me so proud of who I will watch her become, and for the first time, with the rollercoaster of this pandemic, fill me with a new trepidation.
There will come a time, when all of this will be part of our world history. Standing on this side, where ahead of us is a blindingly bright star, coming into focus in the silhouette of a vaccine, I am full of hope. I am comforted by this residual soreness in my left arm where the Band-Aid over where I got my first dose of vaccine still sticks.
I am full of hope because it is true and because I need to be full of hope to keep moving forward.
This will be a part of our history, our greatest teacher. I hope when my mama heart is alongside that of my own mom, I’ll be able to feel more pride than fear for my little girl, out to change the world.