In the spring of 2022, the Hogg Foundation launched the New Voices Showcase. The goal of this project is to highlight talented writers and creatives who are living with or in recovery from mental health challenges. Throughout the coming weeks we will be featuring worthy submissions on this blog.
This blog post was authored by Jerica Dykes, and is one of the prize-winning entries of the New Voices Showcase. We are also featuring it as part of Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. We thank Ms. Dykes for her submission.
The New Voices Showcase is a feature for voices from the community, whose views do not represent those of the Hogg Foundation.
Dear Pandemic Child,
The second you were born, I knew that something special happened in the world. You were certainly born a fighter! You and I started our journey together as survivors of trauma. I do my best each day to manage my own mental health and wellbeing and even though each milestone is a trigger, I never dreamed I would think or say that your birth was the easiest part of your life yet.
In just two short years, I’ve watched you develop and grow into your own little personality, yet I’ve watched you be deprived of so much that I know you would enjoy. You are no longer my lap child to take on your first flight. You are no longer my child under 2 with free admission to the local museum. You are no longer my baby for Baby and Me activities at the local library. You are no longer the sleeping baby in the baby carrier in the grocery cart. You have never had a birthday party. The places I dreamed of us going together have not been safe for your maskless face, while others simply could not make it through the pandemic. Your world may never exist without hand sanitizer and face masks.
Each and every day, I drop you off to smile-less faces covered in masks for eight sometimes nine hours. I return home to isolate myself in my home office, rather than an office full of friendly faces, coffee, and office supplies. Each day, as I hug you goodbye and reflect upon what is going on around me, I worry if I am doing the right thing; I worry if I made the right choice. Not to mention for months, you would come home sick and ultimately set the household record for COVID tests. Why, we wonder? Because you were too young to be vaccinated, but also too young to wear a mask. All the while, you were not too young to encounter this deadly virus, so we relied on others to do their part of keep you safe and well. I do not put much trust in others, so having to put your health and well-being in society’s hands has not come easy.
One day, there will be a vaccine for you, but not nearly soon enough to undo the damage and devastation the pandemic has caused in our world. I’m sorry to you, Pandemic Child, that this has been your entire life and the only memories you have. And frankly, there is not yet a vaccine discovered or strong enough to solve the many other issues you will face in the world. As your mother, I cannot help but to think and wonder what great things you will do with your life, but also worry and fear if you, my dear darling child, will be the next Atatiana Jefferson or George Floyd.
And while your race is beyond the medium caramel complexion of your skin, others will identify you as a black child, in a world where black children have a higher likelihood of early suspension and explosion and involvement in the juvenile justice system. The same group are the same youth that are less likely to pursue advanced education or graduate high school. As your mother, my mind frequently wonders: Will you ever be looked at differently as black child or black adult? Will you ever be identified as a criminal because of the color of your skin? Will you ever be mistreated because of the color of your skin? The responses to these questions in my world are more often a yes than I desire, yet I wish and hope for things to be different for you. However, I know that this is beyond my control. This lies in the hands of society, the same society I have to trust to protect you from the pandemic. That society who also exists of members of the village that it takes to raise you. Like you and me, however, that village is surviving the trauma of the past couple of years as well and that village has not been here to raise you.
One day, you will also go to school and there you will spend a month learning about black history. You will hear stories of ancestors from more than a hundred years old. There will be some amazing lessons in black history you will learn there. But as your mother, I also want to recognize how you are living history from an early age and I intend to ensure you also understand how recent events impact history as well. Even beyond the pandemic and racial injustices, your history is also comprised of toilet paper shortages and crazy winter storms.
I sit and think a lot about you, Pandemic Child. I think about how different my life was than yours. I think about the things I’ve experienced in what I consider a normal world. I think about 9-11 being a monumental moment in my life and how those who are becoming an adult today have never been able to go to the airport and simply watch the planes taking off. Then, I think about how many unfortunate lives we have lost in such a short time and the family member you never got the opportunity to meet. I think of all the “normal” things that I did with you while you were in utero that you have not experienced. I worry your view of the world will be very partial. I worry about the long-term impacts that these early years will have on you. I worry how your limited interactions in such formative years will impact your social emotional development. There is not a day that goes by that these are not my thoughts. There is truly not a day that goes by that I as your mother do not worry. I tell myself it is okay to worry about the world you will grow up in, the world you will learn to know, when truthfully, I worry about you living in this world, the only world you know. Yet I also recognize that it is the only world you know and have.
I hope that one day, you can understand why and how these times were so hard and that we did what we could to protect you from it all. I hope that others will see this and know that they did the same in a really challenging time. But for now, I hope you will enjoy being a young child, born at the beginning of the pandemic to a first-time mother. I hope your personality with continue to flourish. I hope you will continue to take a few seconds to dance in the rain in the middle of every storm. I hope you will eventually live in a world that has gone back to a normal state. And finally, I hope for your safety as you continue to grow and develop more memories and conquer the world as your own self. You are our future and I know you were born to be the great human you were made to be, Pandemic Child or not.
Jerica Dykes is a social worker who lives in Round Rock, TX. These days, she is often found singing and playing with her toddler or working on building a new house with her husband.