She is seated on the kitchen island, a tad too big, still small enough as she watches her Appa eat sautéed brinjal and warm rice. Every now and then, she would look inquiringly at her dad and he would oblige, the way parent birds feed babies.
“Is this your dinner?” her question is thoughtful.
Her eyes are filled with kindness. It is obvious she is enjoying the bits of food from her dad but when she pauses to consider that she is taking away from what might be his food for the night, I lose it. I gather all of her and try to fit it all within my arms. The love I feel for this child is humongous.
At nights, we cuddle, Laddu and I. She asks me to turn one way, then another until she is ensconced within my frame. We fall asleep drawing warmth from each other. If before the pandemic we tried to make her sleep in her own room, we have given up all pretense now soaking in the comfort we draw from the physicality of being close.
Most mornings Ammu bounds down first, her face unwashed, still smelling of sleep and dreams. She nuzzles her head under my chin, her arms around my ample girth. We sway back and forth, just for a moment before I plant a loud kiss on the top of her head. This is a new ritual.
Pattu follows suit. She snuggles, sniffs, and soaks in the warmth of me before she heads back upstairs to brush and come down.
We are in unreal times.
The anxiety of the situation affects us in different ways. For the children, not knowing if they will go back to school in the fall is worrisome. For me, the daunting task of worrying for my amma and my family is overwhelming. Do I send my children to school even if it reopens? Do I risk air travel for Amma even if the skies reopen? Will I feel comfortable sending Saathi off to work when our county moves to green?
At the moment, the answer is no. I am not convinced we are anywhere near safe outside the confines of our home.
The worry is not incessant. It comes and goes in waves. I wake in a cold sweat from my nap, the visuals too real to contemplate. I avoid closing my eyes when I chant for fear of the things that flash in front of my eyes. I read until I am ready to sleep. I walk to tire myself out physically. I seek a connection with the people who surround me. I yearn for life before, the life in which my worries were not as morbid.
I tell my children to work on Math or reflect on their pandemic life for their language arts. But, I don’t mean it. In fact, I have no qualms if all they want to do is watch videos all day and zone out in front of the TV. The end of the school year cannot come soon enough.
There are not normal times. Our anxieties are not normal. Nothing is normal.
We pretend. We pretend to do everything the way we did before everything changed.
But I am done with the pretense. All I want to do is go into hibernation and wake when it is all over.
Really. That’s all.