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The unusual sound of quiet is a sure sign that there is a light at the end of the COVID-19 pandemic

It’s Sunday afternoon. I look up from wiping crumbs and spills off the kitchen counter (for the millionth time) and notice the silence.

There are no TVs blaring, no click-clacking of keyboards, no siblings bickering. I haven’t heard this brand of quiet in nearly a year and it’s a little unnerving. For a half-second, I wonder if something is wrong. And then I remember: the children are outside. The boys are riding their bikes with friends; our daughter is across the street at a neighbor’s tree swing with a gaggle of other girls. They have all three been gone for hours.

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More than the opening of city restaurants or reports of robust Easter weekend travel, this quiet, to me, is the sure sign that there is a light at the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are slowly, cautiously approaching it.

For the better part of a year, the three Davis children spent their days in our home, facing a screen, Zooming or Robloxing or Fortniting or YouTubing. They stayed up late and slept too long in the mornings. They wore the same pajamas and hoodies until I had to peel them off their bodies. Thanks to inactivity and bored-snacking (and parents too beat down to fight about it), they grew soft around the middle. And they also grew tired of each other’s constant company, so they sniped and snarled and said hurtful things (loudly).

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In the scheme of things, we know our family is more than fortunate to have only this to lament after a year of quarantine. We buried no relatives. Our jobs were spared. The children’s school handled virtual learning commendably. I lost some hair and we both lost lots of sleep, but somehow, my husband and I managed the stress without taking on too much shrapnel. So, I am loathe to complain about children growing lazy and quick-tempered, over-indulged by WiFi in abundance.

Tanika Davis is grateful her children are once again coming home “smelling like outside.”
Tanika Davis is grateful her children are once again coming home “smelling like outside.” (Baltimore Sun)

But I confess that it worried me to see how easily they became OK with hours and hours of laying about. I woke in the middle of many nights, worried that they were forming patterns that would be hard to reverse post-pandemic. And every time I read about case-surges and new variants and people comfortable with the Covid cocoons they’d built, I worried even more that there would never be a post-pandemic to speak of.

But then February melted into March and after a few windy weeks, the daylight hours began to outmatch the dark ones. One morning, while brushing his teeth in the bathroom, our oldest boy yelled with delight, “I can hear the birds singing outside!”

Neighbors began walking in pairs and threes; dogs pulled at bunnies in the yards. Daffodils emerged in cheerful rows and cherry trees daintily blossomed. A few 70-degree days came like gifts and suddenly it was April, full-on Spring, and with it – plus climbing vaccine numbers – a hopefulness unlike any Spring before it.

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But nothing gave me more optimism than that Sunday’s sound of silence, moments after realizing the children were out of the house and I had forgotten they were gone. Thankfully, they seemed to remember easily just how to be outdoor children again. They ran and they rode and hid and sought. They came in for the night reluctantly, sweaty and “smelling like outside” and tired enough not to resist the reinstatement of a normal bedtime. There are still screens, mind you, more than we’d like. Now that they have learned that they can stay in touch with their friends through FaceTime and team-gaming, I don’t know that we’ll ever get them back to where they were pre-COVID. But I think I can learn to be OK with that.

Because I have hope that some things will return at the end of this long, unnatural hibernation: the brighter days of summer, excursions with friends, and the sweetness of silence in the house as I clean the kitchen for the millionth time and the children play – outdoors.

Tanika Davis is a former Baltimore Sun reporter who works in communications at Constellation. She and her husband have twin 10-year-old sons, a 9-year-old daughter, a perpetually messy house and rapidly appearing gray hairs. She also needs a nap. She can be reached at tanikawhite@gmail.com. Her column appears monthly.

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