A guest post by author C. H. Lyn
Remember the old days when COVID-19 was still something people needed to google? When we were using terms like “pandemic” and “social-distancing” in hushed tones? I remember the first trip to the grocery store after lock-down. It was quiet, kind of nice except for the lack of flour, sugar, milk and . . . what was that other thing? Oh yeah, toilet paper.
But there was something else missing too: Children.
The grocery store used to be my eldest daughter’s – now 2 ½ years old – favorite outing. She would push the little kid’s cart and help mommy load up goodies. She always got a banana from the kid’s fruit basket. It was a good way to wear her out for naptime while I grabbed the little stuff we might need for dinner.
My 2020 was about as crazy as everyone else’s. I gave birth to a little girl at the end of April. I was lucky enough to have my husband there, but everyone was fully outfitted in masks and gloves. I was blessed – as with my first – with a normal, healthy pregnancy and delivery. Not every mom is so fortunate. I can only imagine how difficult a complicated delivery during a pandemic would be.
It would be a quiet couple of months for our family. Staying home, playing in the back yard, avoiding the heat, avoiding people. And then we had another big change: We moved to California in August so my husband could start at Stanford in the fall.
As happy as I am to be back on the West Coast, it isn’t what I thought it was going to be. I was expecting him to have a lot of work, but I didn’t anticipate he would be working ten- to twelve-hour days. I didn’t anticipate weeks at a time that I’d need to get all the shopping done, with two small children in tow. I was worried, really worried, for my youngest.
When my eldest was a baby, I just plopped her car seat in the grocery cart and we did our thing. When she was sitting up well, she would ride in the seat with one of those little grocery-cart covers. These days, that just doesn’t work.
Parents have had it really hard this past year, but in a way, we have been really lucky. This isn’t like influenza. COVID doesn’t go after kids the way most horrible viruses do. My fear, worry, and concern have been for my parents, friends, and my newborn.
Because it doesn’t matter if a virus doesn’t target children. Newborns are susceptible to everything. Heck, that’s why we have grocery-cart covers, signs asking strangers not to touch our infants, pacifier-specific wipes, etc.
It was easy back in Illinois. The kids stayed with dad while I did a once-a-week grocery haul complete with wiping everything down, stripping my outer layers and tossing them in the wash, scrubbing my hands pink, and then putting the groceries away. In Cali, things are different.
The RoutineThe word “routine” seems to follow me around these days. And I’m sure it’s not only me. Since last March people have been talking about keeping a routine during these “trying times”. Johns Hopkins put out an article in the early days of the pandemic with advice for families whose children would be staying home. It includes the basics; distancing six feet from others, sneezing into the elbow, and washing hands. It also talks about being kind. Teaching children that keeping a safe distance is important for others as well as themselves.
Anyway, back to the routine. I knew taking both kids to the store would be a challenge. I’d have to get the 2 ½ - year-old to put on a mask, wear it the whole time, not touch the shelves or her face or her sister or . . . you get the point. Fortunately, I’m blessed with a fantastic little girl who only requires the occasional bribe when it comes to behaving at the grocery store.
She knows exactly what to do when we park and I get her unbuckled. She puts on her shoes, gets her buddy (whichever stuffed animal she’s into that day and a good tool for keeping her hands from wandering), and we put on our masks. Then she hangs out while I get little sister sorted out.
It’s the same when we get back to the car. She waits while I load up the groceries, then we sit on the edge of the car and wash our hands (with sanitizer). When our hands are clean, we take off our masks, then shoes, then she climbs up into her seat. I get her buckled after – again – sorting out the little one.
The Little OneSo, I’m set with the 2 ½ -year-old. She knows how to get things done, and if all else fails, I tell her she can have a special treat when we get home as long as that toddler mask stays on the whole time. For the record, she’s pretty happy with getting one chocolate-covered raisin as a prize, so even if she did need constant bribery, I won’t be too worried.
Next comes the hard part: There are no masks for babies.
I almost had a panic attack the first couple of times I had to take my little one out to the grocery store. She’s so small – and she’s almost one. Back then, when shelves were bare – finding toilet paper was but a pipe dream – and the world was buzzing with the fear of getting sick . . . this mama was freaking out. We’re pretty good at maintaining a six-foot distance, but with her in the car seat in the grocery cart, she wasn’t getting the same space. Not to mention the number of looky-loos who don’t seem to grasp the concept of personal space during a pandemic.
The SolutionSo, how do I get this done? Well, I dig out my Onya Baby Carrier. My 2 ½ -year-old is tall and the Onya carrier is perfect for tall babies. The Cruiser was hanging out in the closet, waiting for the new baby.
I gave carrying the baby a shot at Safeway during our first week in California, and after that I knew we were going to be fine. Once the big one is ready to go, I buckle the Cruiser around my waist, pluck the baby from the car seat, pull up the arm loops, and buckle the back. That’s it. It only takes about twenty seconds! I don’t have to lug the car seat to the front of the store – because heaven knows, I’m not touching the carts that haven’t been sanitized yet.
Which leads us to my favorite part: We do “bonk” with the kids. It’s kind of weird, but we started it with the older one when she was really little and not into hugs and kisses. I’ll lean my forehead down and say “Bonk?” and she’ll lightly tap my forehead with her forehead. It’s pretty dang cute, if I say so myself, and it’s a great way for her to show affection without her feeling like she has to give a hug.
I get to do this with my little one while we’re at the store. When things get too busy, when the line is taking too long, when I look down and those beautiful brown eyes are frowning and confused about why mommy has something covering her nose and mouth. I can look her in the eyes, lean my forehead down, and give her a bonk. When she gets fussy, the sway of my walk soothes her. When someone gets too close, I can back up and bring her with me.
There are a ton of benefits of carrying your baby. It’s better for their spines, their development, and their attitude. There are also plenty of benefits to hands-free carrying for parents! There’s the connection to baby, not having to lug a heavy car seat to and from the car, and the fact that it’s a heck of a lot easier to clean an Onya Baby Carrier after a diaper explosion than it is to clean a car seat.
Covid rocked everyone’s world in 2020, and while hopes are high for 2021, people are going to need to keep being careful. My way of doing that is washing my hands, wearing my mask, and wearing my baby On-ya.