After ten days without school or friends or strangers, without almost any in-person contact with anyone outside of our house—save for his screaming, “Hi, what’s your name” at people walking their dogs or “Uncle Kareem, please come talk to me!” at our neighbor or “What are you doing here? Did you bring me a present” as he races to the door at the sound of a welcoming nock from a delivery man—yesterday, something broke inside. You felt it breaking as you watched your child broken by longing.
As, on your daily walk, you watched him chase an older child who was riding away on his bike. Your son yelling, “Hey, hey, why won’t you just play with me.” As you watched him crash his scooter into another child on a scooter. Crash just to connect. Crash just to touch. As you heard him cry, “I just want to play with someone.” As he slammed his fists and helmeted head against the pavement at all the emotions he doesn’t understand. As you explained—for the umpteenth time—the virus and germs and distance and none of this made any sense to him, but you kept trying. As you let him hold your body too long and too tight, but still not long or tight enough to fill all the voids of contact he is feeling.
The morning had started out the same as the ten that came before, breakfast and tantrums and trying to keep a semblance of a schedule together with “structured”—if that’s even possible right now—activities. You tried to let him participate in FB live videos with a teacher from his school, but he just kept yelling at the screen in frustration, “Why can’t you hear me Ms. Ketta” and no matter how much you explained the concept of this kind of interaction, it would not go through. So, you ended up letting him put on your oversized kickboxing gloves and hit a pillow, hit it hard and fast and for as long as his arms would keep moving. You wanted him to get his frustration, his desire for touch, out on something tangible, out in a way that felt like he was connecting his body with something.
And then you went outside, him on his scooter, you with the dog leash in one hand and pushing your sleeping nine-month-old’s stroller with the other. You’ve taken do doing laps around the park, playing tag and red light green light and racing him with stroller and dog. The days that came before, you’d have to three scheduled stops, one at the tennis courts, one at the climbing trees, and one at a valley transformed to an oversized puddle. At the tennis courts he yells at the man who works out there, “Why are you doing that? Why won’t you talk to me.” And you try to tell him to leave this man alone, but he is so hungry for contact, you end up letting him yell until he loses interest himself. At the trees, you let him climb way too high and then slide down the branches and scrape his stomach and back because he doesn’t care and seems to even want this kind of touch, even if it hurts and leaves a mark. While he’s sitting and looking at the sky you work on getting him to name things that start with every letter of the Russian alphabet, so you feel like you’re teaching him something, like you aren’t failing his development, though you know you are too hard on yourself, too hard on yourself about everything it all. And at the water, you try to hold him back from throwing sticks and rocks, from making a splash, until you realize he’s just trying to touch the water with any replacement for his body, so you let him throw the sticks and rocks as long as he keeps himself at a safe distance. You rationalize how this is also a kind of social distancing you are teaching him.
But yesterday, yesterday he refused this game. He refused the tree. Refused the water. He refused to interact in all the ways you tried to facilitate for him. Refused because his body wanted something else. Because there were two brothers also playing with their mom. And all he wanted was to be with them. To play and connect. To be with someone, anyone, other than the you he has been with. To touch in a way that is not “structured” by you. And his hurt at being able to do so broke you beyond words. His emotions and screams, his pain that he cannot express and doesn’t understand. His anger that he takes out on you. Such anger because that is an emotion easier to understand than hurt. Easier to bear than sadness for someone so small and with so much to feel.
And you remind yourself, as hard as this is for you, it is also hard for him. As much as you are trying, he is also trying. As many emotions as you are feeling, fear and exhaustion and overwhelm and desire and longing, he is feeling them all. Feeling them harder and more unrestrained. Feeling them without understanding. Viral. The way his feelings swallow the whole of you. Viral. The way his body takes you over. Viral. The way touch between you is everything and still not enough. But it’s what you have right now. It’s what you will hold on to, hard, teaching him to hold on to this touch in the absence of others. Holding him and crying with him to show that this longing, this emotion is okay to feel, to let out, to express. Hoping that letting out this emotion can transform to another kind of touch. This emotion can help him, and you, feel closeness amid this distancing. Being honest about what your body is longing for can help you all get through this. Because you can and you will get through this. Together.