Below is the full, unedited text of a story describing the experiences of one mother during the Covid era. Please contact Covid Stories Archive if you would like to use or reproduce this essay, in whole or in part, for your research or writing. Also, please consider sharing your own stories for preservation in our archive.

In January 2021, our local arboretum that had been closed since March 2020 re-opened to the public. To attend, we had to sign up ahead of time, certify an understanding that our time in the space was limited, and of course agree to abide by the state-wide mask mandate. Despite these restrictions, I jumped at the chance to go with my children. Ten months of social isolation had brought me to the lowest mental state I’d ever experienced, and I was desperate for any semblance of our old life.

The children had a great time being in a novel environment. There were some other people there, mostly retirees, and while some made eye contact when we passed them, no one said anything to us. At one point, we were alone in a room full of fragrant flowers. The children delightedly ran from flower to flower, being careful to follow my directive to just smell and not touch the plants. After a few minutes, an older couple walked into the room and stood near the door as they watched the children make their way through the aisles.

On our way out, the husband beckoned me over to him. As he did this, I felt a flash of my humanity return. I missed the little exchanges I used to make with strangers. Usually they were simple comments to the children on how they were such good helpers while we ran errands. Sometimes people would share little anecdotes about their own days of child-rearing, or offer words of encouragement if I was in the middle of managing a tantrum. It was always an attempt to connect, to show love and support for us as we made our way through this world.

I walked over to the man with a smile under my mask. “The website said that everyone here would be wearing a mask,” he told me. “Why isn’t your son wearing one? You’re putting everyone else here in danger.”

My heart sank and I blinked back tears as I looked over at my 2-year-old’s bare face. I mumbled something about how the governor’s emergency order allowed for all children under the age of 5 to be exempt from having to wear a mask, and rushed out of the room. We’d all given up so much in the name of protecting the vulnerable. My children endured months of social isolation, event cancellations, distance learning, online occupational therapy, masked speech therapy, and a pediatric mental health diagnosis. But I was being told that these sacrifices weren’t enough. They were still undeserving of being present in this new, dystopian world.

Months later, the day after the state-wide mask mandate was lifted, I was in the grocery store and an older, unmasked woman approached my 2-year-old who was strapped into the cart. She greeted him with a big smile on her face, and told me how much she’d missed seeing children during the pandemic. I smiled back, this time blinking back tears of gratitude, and told her that one of the best things in life is a kind greeting from a stranger.

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