How children cope, when Dad is on the frontlines
My family on the frontlines
While Daddy is a doctor treating COVID-19 patients, our small children learn big lessons in caring.
By Nila Do Simon
If I’m lucky, the most exciting part of my day of the past three sheltering-at-home months happens around 7 p.m. If fortune is on my side, that’s when my husband comes home from work. Sure, I love the shift change, when I can clock out from my work-from-home life with our 3-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son, and hand the keys to their entertainment schedule over to Daddy. But that’s not all.
Because when my husband arrives home, for about 12 seconds I witness borderline-animalistic joy emanating from my kids. The moment the garage door rolls up and sends vibrations through the house, my children start squealing. My daughter usually drops her activity of the moment like it’s burst into flames to jump and yell, “Daddy!” That yelp triggers her 1-year-old hoss of a brother to break out into a staccato-y jig and then ogre-walk to meet Daddy at the entryway.
When Daddy emerges, I imagine it’s like the Beatles arriving in America. Pandemonium breaks. My son shouts “Da-Da, Da-Da” in between giggling, and my daughter can’t stop shrieking with glee. I wordlessly stand witness, not interjecting, adding or taking away from the excitement because I know that as much as I enjoy watching these seconds, my husband exponentially lives for it even more.
But many days I don’t get lucky. Out of those 90-some quarantine days, I haven’t seen this level of joy from my kids in about half of them. That’s because Daddy isn’t able to come home. As both a general and trauma surgeon who covers the ICU, he’s been caring for COVID-19 patients, the number of which has steadily climbed earlier this week. Like most households, COVID-19 has resulted in a severe disturbance in our lives. My husband’s work hours have always been long and intense. COVID-19 has stretched them.
Still, he and other medical professionals have trained for these extreme hours and situations on both skill and emotional levels. It’s their kids who have not.
Every night my kids ask when Daddy will come home. For 45 of those days, I’ve had to tell them he won’t be home to tuck them in bed or give them their nighttime baths. It devastates them, especially my daughter who is at an age where she feels the highs and lows of life on a different cosmic scale than I do.
Last week, when I broke it to her that Daddy wasn’t coming home, she let out a pain-filled howl reminiscent of the sounds coming from the labor and delivery ward just before birth. As tears streamed down her face, she cried, “I miss Daddy! I want to see Daddy!” I comforted her as best I could, telling her that I understand and that I, too, miss Daddy. Nothing worked, so I grabbed my phone to FaceTime my husband, praying that he wasn’t scrubbed into a case. He answered. As he video-chatted with his baby girl, he told her that he’ll see her soon, that Daddy loves her so much. Suddenly, the trauma alert sounded, and he abruptly hung up. And just like that, somehow I was left in an even worse situation than I started with.
Miraculously we got through the night, though not without more crying and howling. The next morning, I thought about a friend’s suggestion on how to emotionally prepare my daughter for the arrival of her baby brother. She recommended giving her a doll so that she could role-play and perhaps develop more empathy toward babies.
I decided to apply this theory to our current situation, taking out my daughter’s medical kit and having her care for her dolls. As her ivory teddy bear laid on its back, she patted him and asked how he was feeling. I then told her that’s what Daddy does, that he and a team care for patients and their families, doing everything they can to get them healthy.
Something clicked. My daughter began tending to teddy for the next several minutes, taking out her toy stethoscope and placing it on the bear.
The real test came when my husband had his next 24-hour shift. As I braced for impact after telling her Daddy was working tonight, my daughter paused, looked down and then quietly asked if she could FaceTime him. Yes, of course, I said, before dialing his number. And when she saw his face, she began jumping up and down, happily screaming, “Daddy!” – this time with joy, not anguish.
Nila Do Simon is the editor-inchief of Venice magazine in Fort Lauderdale. She and husband. Dr. Joshua Simon, a surgeon at Delray Medical Center and St. Mary’s Hospital in West Palm Beach, are the parents of daughter, Fallyn, and son, Adrian Simon. The family lives in Delray Beach.
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