I am writing to tell you about your life three months ago before COVID-19. We, your Baba and I, celebrated your second birthday by flying to Bali.
As we flew back to Sydney the virus, soon-to-be known as COVID-19, was flying across the Earth across six continents. Three days later we had a birthday party for you at Petersham Park. All your closest friends were there with their parents; Mia, who is closest to you in age, had her hair in a bun and wore a lemon-yellow linen crop top and skirt. Louis and his brother Isaac, from your day care, had matching bucket hats. Akasi wore a kente dress with her hair in two puffs. Margarita’s curly hair stood up on her head. Teddy’s long curls kept falling into his eyes.
I had a custom ice-cream themed cake made by our friend, because you love selling us ice-cream at your pretend café.
When everyone sang Happy Birthday, you clapped and shouted ‘Yay!’ with all your baby teeth showing. You had been practicing for weeks with pretend cakes made of Lego. You and the other children climbed the playscapes and went down the slides over and over. I watched you, my chest expanding, proud of your confidence and joy.
I am reflecting on all this to tell you how important this day was for us.
I am reflecting on all this to tell you how important this day was for us. Party planning terrifies me. I am frozen, even now, thinking of colours, décor, food options and activities. Yet as a mother, I knew I must celebrate this important milestone for you, surrounded by people who love you. It was the first birthday party I’ve organised for you. In 2019 when you turned one, you had Hand Foot and Mouth disease. On that birthday, you, Baba and I sat in Petersham Park on a blanket, far away from other people. We listened to your birth playlist which includes the songs A.D. 2000 by Erykah Badu, I Keep by Jill Scott and Love on Top by Beyoncé.
We ate a simple cake I baked for you. You picked up the slice after we sang Happy Birthday and took the biggest bite I’d ever seen you take with your two bottom teeth. At 12 months of age you had only those two small teeth that made a subtle ‘v’ shape.
Those Petersham Park birthday memories are family treasures. The photos we took will remind me of the precious freedom we had to just be in the park.
Now, I must be cautious about taking you to any shared play spaces as Australia begins to reopen.
On Friday the 15th of May, NSW playgrounds reopened. I remember shaking my head at the TV when we were advised to self-sanitise the equipment.
Given what we know about COVID-19 deaths in America, where 57 per cent of deaths in Houston, Texas are African-American people, I am hesitant about you returning to free-range public play.
I am suspicious of people abandoning the essential hygiene, handwashing and sanitising surfaces, required to prevent exposure to the coronavirus. The pandemic has triggered my post-traumatic stress disorder, which I developed after losing your sister to an untreatable respiratory condition as a newborn. She spent the last two weeks of her life on a high frequency ventilator. The thought sends a prickly sensation to my eyelids along with a swell of tears.
With gloves on our hands, Baba and I sanitised the entire playscape, the rocking truck, and swings with lemon scented wipes that assured us with a 99.9% removal of germs.
Last Sunday, we walked you down to Queen’s playground, the small park on our street that was always vacant, even before COVID-19. With gloves on our hands, Baba and I sanitised the entire playscape, the rocking truck, and swings with lemon-scented wipes that assured us a 99.9 per cent removal of germs. Then we stood back and watched you climb up the stairs, sliding your hand across the railing. I took a deep breath, smiled at you with my teeth closed. We slathered our hands with hand sanitiser when we left, each invisible laceration on my hand stinging.
Petersham Park playground is much larger and usually packed with families and surrounded by dogs tied to posts waiting while children play. We won’t go there yet. Instead, we’ll continue to watch to see what happens to COVID-19 infection rates when people return to recreational activities. In a few weeks’ time, I may feel confident enough to take our sanitisation kit there and allow you to play. So my sweet boy, let’s enjoy having the little park to ourselves while we can.
Sydnye Allen is a writer who is part of Sweatshop: Western Sydney Literacy Movement.
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