I never before truly understood the term “smiling with your eyes,” but after two years of seeing less of people’s full faces, reading emotions in the eyes has become more important.
And seeing my son smile with his eyes is amazing.
Mikey turned 4 on March 7 and the following weekend we attended the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Mahopac. This was eerily similar to two years ago when we took him to the parade for the first time. However, we had no idea at that point how our world was about to be turned upside-down.
I remember having a small family gathering for Mikey’s second birthday the first Saturday in March 2020. My parents came down from western New York to join my in-laws at our house for lunch and cake. There was talk of this coronavirus, or “Chinese flu,” as some called it, but most of us civilians weren’t worried about it.
While many municipalities in Westchester had cancelled their holiday parades and celebrations because the first case of coronavirus landed in New Rochelle, the Mahopac parade was still on. My parents came with Mike, Mikey and I, and we had a blast. My mom even bought Mikey a plastic trumpet from a street vendor and my dad chided her, calling it a “corona spreader.”
We all laughed.
A week later, the world shut down.
We were in the same boat as every other family — worried about how we were going to be able to work from home while watching our 2-year-old son, how we would keep him and ourselves safe and healthy, him giving us hell when it was time to return to daycare after being out for so long.
The first two weeks that we stayed home to “flatten the curve” were creepy. I remember going for walks with Mikey and rarely seeing anyone else. And if you did, it felt like you needed to run and hide.
The “stay at home” orders were extended another two weeks and it was frustrating but, I guess, necessary.
So we did like many other families and began enjoying the great outdoors again which, I must say, was a blessing. Would we have chosen to explore the local lakes and trails and woodlands if all the indoor attractions weren’t closed? Would we have spent as much time in the woods in our own backyard and gardening on our own property if we weren’t hesitant to leave?
However, when the powers that be extended stay-at-home orders again and the realization set in that this was going to be our reality for a bit, and I said, “Nope. I’m out.”
Not that I didn’t understand how serious the pandemic was but, while my husband has always been more cautious than me, we both agreed we weren’t going to just sit home for the unforeseeable future. We were going to do our best to give our son all the life experiences a 2-year-old should get.
So, as soon as parks and other destinations started opening back up again, we slapped some masks on and re-entered the world. I know there are many mixed feelings about how we all navigated the pandemic and I’m not saying our way was the correct way, but it was our path, nonetheless.
I remember the first few times we put a mask on Mikey. It was upsetting, as parents. It felt symbolic — like we were silencing him, perhaps. We would constantly step far out of range of another human to give him “mask breaks” until finally we realized that all we were doing was drawing attention to the fact that he was wearing it.
See, he never really cared about wearing the mask. We were lucky in that he was so young when the pandemic started that he just accepted wearing the mask and never looked back. He never tugged on it or played with it.
He did, however, chew the hell out of it. So gross.
So, for two years — exactly half his life — he wore a mask. He wore it all day to daycare/preschool, with breaks. He wore it into the grocery store, to the library for programs as they started back up, to the recreation center… everywhere.
And a few weeks ago when the masks came off, it was very unceremonious. He didn’t care. I cared. I was so happy to not have to make sure he had three masks in his bag and there were enough clean ones to get through the week. I was also glad to see his smiling face again.
But, the thing is, once the mask came off, I realized I had been seeing his smiling face this whole time.
I saw it in the way the skin around his eyes crinkled when I took him to see the animals at Tilly Foster Farm and I could hear a muffled “Momma, look at the horses!” I saw it when his eyebrows shot up while running around the bubble truck at the Mahopac street fair. And I saw it in the different ways his brow would furrow and eyes would squint or widen as he played with his friends at the playground.
Now I can see that joy with the broad smile of his white teeth that, Lord-willing, won’t need braces, but it’s enhanced by the fact that I can also now see his smile in his eyes.
And that’s something I might not have been able to say if it weren’t for the pandemic.
Holly Crocco is editor of the Putnam County Times/Press and parent of a 4-year-old. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.