Dear Four Year Old,

I’m writing this to you from a hotel room, while you are out with your daddy and sissy in search of a snacks an hour before midnight.

We are in a hotel, because it’s cold in our house. This is the third day in a row we’ve woken up to no power, after the massive storms came through our area and knocked trees down, and sent a tornado that destroyed your best friend’s home. We found out today we may not have power back for a week, so we decided to spend the night in a hotel, where you could watch you favorite show, we could enjoy a night sleeping with heat, and it wouldn’t be so dark while you brush your teeth. 

Your birthday is definitely not anything I could have imagined for you this year. Not last year, for sure. But not even last month, or last week. 

A few months ago a new disease started spreading across the globe, and it has completely changed everything about the world you were born into. The coronavirus, or COVID-19, or SARS COV-2 is highly contagious, and you are turning four in a world of social distancing as we try to keep the number of infected people within the boundaries of our health care system. We are mostly homebound, going out only to buy items deemed “essentials.” Food. Diapers. Soap. I am out of work, as photography is not an essential business. You are happy I’m not working as much, but I miss it, and wish I could spend this time catching up on personal work I have never completed. But your daddy is working extra, which means the time I can spend away from you is minimal. Starbucks is an Essential Business, which may sound funny to you one day, or it may make complete sense in whatever world you grow into. Coffee, after all, has been a staple of humanity since we first learned how to harvest the beans. So he continues to go to work and to work long hours and extra days making sure people have a port in their storm, whatever their storm may be.

You ask me all the time, “the coronavirus over?” And I have to tell you no. What I don’t tell you, is it may not ever truly be over. 

Last year, we went camping for your birthday. This year, parks, campgrounds, and trails are all closed—people have been flocking to the trails in large groups which means those of us who want them for solitude now can’t use them at all. We are trying to offset our lack of time in the wild with extra time outside in our home. Cleaning the backyard. Growing a garden. Raising chicks. You accidentally killed one a month ago and it was so sad for all of us, but you learned from it, and are trying really hard to be a good chicken parent now. You love animals. And babies. And especially baby animals. So the chicks are very special to you. But you are as wild and chaotic as the world you have grown up in, so your movements can be rough, even if your intentions are soft. 

Last year, we made your birthday cake at our campsite. We brought ingredients for a cake and baked it in a dutch oven over a fire, decorating it at the picnic table. Today we did the same, just not by choice. In the back area of our yard where we are clearing space for our chicken coop and an “at home campsite,” we built a fire and cooked a cake in a dutch oven, and I decorated it at our patio table. You loved it. You don’t know how sad I have been, that a few months ago we were planning a party for your with your friends down here, before COVID made that impossible. You don’t know how sad I am that the storms meant you woke up in a cold house, and I couldn’t bake you the cake I wanted, as simple a wish as that may seem.

You don’t really care about most of that, however. At newly four, you love trucks and trains. You love our chickens and cats. You requested mac and cheese for dinner tonight, but were happy to sacrifice that in exchange for a surprise dinner with friends, because even with the social distancing, natural disasters require human contact. You couldn’t choose how you wanted your cake decorated because your brain moves from one idea to the next so quickly it can’t slow down and process one thing at a time. But I chose for you, of your many requests, buying last minute ingredients under the emergency lights of a Target also affected by the power outages, walking past the shadowy aisles and empty shelves that once held toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and other items that disappeared from shelves as soon as we learned how bad COVID might be.

This is not the world I imagined for you, little one. I did not see us living in Tennessee, for one. Or that my mom, your GaGa, would not be here to see you turn four. And I definitely could not have ever predicted that the world would demand that we stay so isolated. You were looking forward to a birthday dinner at the “fire” restaurant (hibachi), but restaurants are closed for dine-in, and even if they were open, we are not supposed to be within six feet of others to slow the spread of the virus so we couldn’t have invited friends. We cannot have a party for you at our house as social gatherings must be limited to 10 people or less. And even a week ago, after I had adjusted to that, after I had helped you to understand, I would have not predicted that we would be preparing for your cake, your meals, your presents, in a cold house on our third day of no power. Or that your best friend could not come over to share your cake because his family is experiencing a severe trauma, one shared by so many in our community. 

But in spite of it, we are still so lucky. You are so loved, and have so many things to enjoy in your life. We have our home, even if it may not have power. We have the means to buy you presents, and the health to work within our circumstances. We can be sad and grateful at the same time, and we can be disappointed and still know how privileged we are at the same time.

I love you, my little wild one. You bring us joy and frustration in this weird world you are growing up in, and I am so glad to be your mama. 

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