Sydney Coronavirus Days, 2

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A day later, the playground was fenced and locked.

Our neighbors have a fat toddler.

A two-year old named Aaron with round everything – round face, round eyes, round cheeks, belly, arms and feet. We run into them coming and going from the apartment twice or three times each week now that Aaron’s dad, also named Tom, is working from home. Both parents and toddler need to get out of the house a few times more each day just to stay sane.

“He’s getting so big!” I said this Tuesday. I meant “fat”, but in a “He’s really cute,” way.

“He looks like he likes food,” said Tom, never one to beat around any bushes.

“He loves food,” said Aaron’s mum, Bea. In fact, they were on their way to Woolies, the neighborhood grocery store to buy more.

But first we exchanged the usual pleasantries. No, we’re still not sleeping well. Yes, being quarantined with a baby and/or toddler sucks.

“In an apartment,” said Bea. I noticed that she for once she wasn’t wearing yoga pants and a workout top, and was instead hiding a pretty good mom-bod underneath a linen mumu.

“Yeah, we wish our place was a little bigger,” I said.

“Bye-byeeeee!” said Aaron, ending to the conversation, but not before Bea rolled her eyes.

“Shoot me now,” she said.

I first ran into Bea a little less than a year ago as we were both coming in through the apartment complex’s back door, which has an annoying bottom frame that is too high to be convenient for anything with wheels, despite being right by the elevator.

I held the door open for her, myself just a month pregnant. I assessed that we were around the same age, and she was pushing Aaron in the Baby-zen Yo-yo, the same stroller I was planning to get (and which Tom’s parents generously gifted us). Wondering if she was a potential friend, I held the door for her and started a conversation in the usual way with someone with a baby:

“How old is he?”

“Eleven months.”

At the time, Aaron didn’t walk or really talk. He cooed at me from the stroller.

I thought maybe it was too early to tell her, a virtual stranger, that I was pregnant, but I offered that we were trying, even though she didn’t ask.

“What do you do?” I asked.

I think by Australian – or normal people – standards, this question from me came a bit too fast and is… very American, but I am who I am. If she, an Australian born-and-bred, was taken aback she didn’t show it, but she did pause as though she was trying to remember how to answer this question.

She used to own a baby-food brand, she said, but was now just sending more time with Aaron.

I saw her just twice more for the rest of the pregnancy, and about once a month after the confinement nanny left. For two stay-at-home moms we had remarkably different schedules, dictated by our children who had vastly different “wake-times,” as I’m learning now.

Always, Aaron was with her. First in the stroller and then slowly, on his two feet. She didn’t ever seem as tired as I felt, but she seemed a little bored. She would always stop to chat and share advice – which I actively sought, about sleep and breastfeeding – and even offered to put me in touch with her sleep and lactation consultants, but I could tell she didn’t want to “hang out” beyond our run-ins by the back door.

And that was fine.  I didn’t push. She didn’t pull.

A handful of times I saw Aaron running around Woolies by himself, wondering where Bea was before I saw an older version of Bea run after him. Grandma.

“How nice to have family close by,” I thought, feeling vaguely stalkerish. I had to stop from staring and smiling at Aaron so that I wouldn’t have to explain to his grandma, “It’s ok, I know him. We live in the same building.”

That was pre-coronavirus.

Bea and I are still not friends, but we are neighbors. I imagine that’s how we’d introduce each other to a third party. But weirdly because of the quarantine, we’re seeing a lot more of each other, husbands often in tow and sometimes in the park near our apartment that’s thankfully still open.

Tom’s taken up running again (so far he’s gone four times in the past three weeks), and while he makes his laps I walk at a more leisurely pace with the baby who, from the stroller, pumps his legs impatiently, non-stop, in anticipation of running one day. We’ve “run” into Bea a few times now, taking advantage of the fact that her Tom can stay back and watch Aaron in between his work calls.

“I’m keeping a safe distance!” she said to me, jogging in place six feet away while we caught up about the usual things.

The baby is still sleeping like a C-student and her toddler is still eating like a garbage truck. The baby’s threatening to crawl and the toddler is talking more, albeit incoherently. The baby’s putting everything in his mouth. The toddler is pushing everything over. Normal baby stuff, normal toddler stuff.

And wafting all around us, is not-so-normal population-destroying pandemic stuff.

If we were real friends, I think it’d probably be safe for us to visit each other’s houses and have a coffee, nibble some cookies. I’d probably feel comfortable breastfeeding in front of her. We’d complain about our cancelled vacations, share anxieties about the tenuous security of our husbands’ jobs, and compare the handling of the virus by our respective nations. I would probably withhold my belief that America is the best*, because right now, while we’re certainly number one in one regard, it’s not a way any American would be proud of.

But we’re just neighbors. Stay-at-home moms turned into stuck-at-home moms with husbands who, lucky to be able to work from home, now take video conference calls with the possibility of a baby’s butt flashing or a toddler screeching “Bye-byeeee!” somewhere in the background.

Anyway. This is a very round-about way of saying that I miss our friends and family back in the States. I miss meeting up with my new mom friends here who are also foreign, like me. I mourn our canceled trips back home and the fact that Tom’s parents likely won’t even meet the baby until he’s at least eight months old, at the earliest… though if that’ll even be possible, I don’t know.

For the most part, I know Tom, the baby and I are lucky. Tom still has a job and can work from home – and actually spend more time with the baby. And while we have friends who have been laid off and some who might have even contracted the virus – though it’s hard to say as they couldn’t get tested – but have thankfully recovered, everyone we know and love is for the most part virus-free and doing well, considering.

In Sydney, Bourke St. Bakery is still selling meat pies and sausage rolls, though now to only two patrons at a time.

We even, before all beaches were officially closed Monday, managed to hit the water one more time.

Though whether Australia’s shutting things down was too late or the rest of the population is as obedient as we are remains to be seen.

Very quickly, the world went crazy. What can we do but enjoy what’s in front of us while it’s still here? Enjoy the neighborly chats and video chatting your loved ones. Enjoy writing long-winded blog posts** when the baby’s sleeping and singing “Blue Christmas” to him when he’s not.

For now, Tom and I are still short on sleep but we’ve got an abundance of FaceTime dates, good food (lots of rice and pasta), toilet paper, diapers, walks in the park, wine both boxed and bottled, and of course, cosiness.

*Maybe one day the baby will choose to identify as Australian first and American second. I might understand why. But I hope he will understand why America is still pretty great. For one thing, as one America-obsessed Australian kid pointed out to me, “Free refills.”
**”Why do people have to read 1000 words about you whining that Bea doesn’t want to be friends with you before you get to the point?” whined Tom.
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A prisoner (threatening to crawl) stares back at another. 
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Baby’s favorite thing at the moment is to be covered and uncovered with a sheet. 
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Working from home means Tom can take midday walks with us. 
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Tom’s favorite pub The Clock is closed, but it’s bottle’o isn’t. 
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Showing the baby some faces other than ours. Here, Tom’s coworkers.
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Late afternoons in the park but it’s all the same to him. 
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Bath time, always full of smiles, though often followed by tears (he hates his PJ sleeves for some reason). 
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Some of baby’s friends, resting against Mozart. 
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Wine and respite before the baby inevitably wakes up. 
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“Why are you even bringing gloves to Sydney?” 
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At Shark Beach, where we spent our last beach day for the foreseeable future.

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