She poked her head in her daughters room, getting one quick glance at her before she had to start thinking about getting Philip up, making coffee for herself and Jim, and whatever else awaited her that day in the crazy life of being a mother. Cecelia Maria Halpert had just turned ten a few months prior and she was growing so quickly in front of Pam’s eyes. Her hair, cascaded into beautiful brown curls all around her face and shoulders, and she slept with her mouth gaping open (admittedly, just like her father), and a pair of glasses, shoved casually on the sheets next to her.
“I really should get her a new glasses case,” Pam thought quietly to herself remembering how easily the last pair of glasses she’d purchased for Cece had been broken within just a few weeks of her and Philip fighting over the Nintendo Switch console. She watched her daughter begin to stir in the sunlight shining down on her bed, and sighed, wanting just one more second of peace. Cece hadn’t changed from the outgoing toddler to the boisterous little girl, to now almost becoming a tween, or something in between.
Something that was admittedly both difficult to handle (the yelling had increased) and also beautiful to watch. Cecelia had begun to ask her mother more serious questions, things that she looked forward to discussing with her daughter. Pam was proud of the young girl, she and Jim had raised together. She was confident, outspoken, and understood values even at such a young age.
“Mom?” she heard a small voice coming from across the room. Pam smiled, and moved through Cecelia’s room, purple, bright, and filled with ballet slippers scattered along what she thinks was once hardwood flooring, it’s hard to tell now. So many pairs of tights, dance trophies and countless pairs of leg warmers (she still hadn’t quite figured out the need for these accessories) were strewn everywhere. She’d get around to telling her daughter to pick it up at some point, but for right now, it was Monday, 7:02am, to be exact, and she had just a few more minutes before the house would become chaos.
“Hi my sweet girl,” she ran her fingers along her daughters’ face, stopping to tickle for just a minute, and her smile erupted all over her face, along with a fit of giggles.
“There’s my little baby,” Pam thought.
“First day of school?” Cece sat up excitedly, she’d been waiting for this day for months, ever since they were sent home back in March.
“Yep! Which means you need to get up, figure out what you’re going to wear and get downstairs for breakfast,” she stood up, sighing. She was nervous about what this school year would bring, what life would look like in this new world they were living in. A world filled with far too much CNN on every day, so many masks, too much bloodshed, and all the while, she was just trying to protect her children and keep their innocence as long as possible.
“Mommy!” Philip crashed into her waist, dressed for school, his ‘Avengers’ mask already looped around his ears. Pam smiled at him, slipping his mask off,
“You don’t need that quite yet,” she placed a hand on his back and looked back at her daughter,
“Let’s go, Cee,” she reminded her, and carefully moved her way out of the room, gesturing both of them to go downstairs to the kitchen where two bowls of oatmeal were already waiting for them, starting to cool by now.
Jim always slept later than her. He always needed just a few more minutes in the morning to wake up, to rub his eyes and push his hair out of his face in this boyish way she’d never grown tired of. He’d groan, mumble something about being old, and sit on the edge of the bed for a few minutes before getting up. She’d make them coffee once he made it
downstairs, but every morning her ritual was the same. Wake up, make breakfast, kids up, and finally, wake Jim up. This August morning felt no different as she moved through their semi-lit bedroom, finding Jim curled up on the edge of the bed. For a moment, she wished she could crawl in behind him, spoon his long body, and just lay there for the entire day. They’d spent countless days in each other’s arms before kids, taking Saturdays and Sundays as their own, and doing absolutely nothing, sometimes forgetting to eat. She longed for days like that again, but the two blessings downstairs were a countless reminder of her love for Jim.
He somehow always managed to wake himself up enough from the ten steps from the bedroom to the stairs, before turning into the kitchen and becoming “Dad.” He wore this hat with pride, also with a beard too, which was new, and ‘distinguished’ as she’d told him. He’d taken over carpool, learned how to pack lunches the way Philip liked them, (no crust, and absolutely no unpeeled clementines.) He’d immediately get to work on school days, making lunches, and doing the waltz around the kitchen with his wife. Grabbing snacks from the pantry, reminding Cece to finish the last few pre-algebra problems she’d given up on from the night before, and somehow also getting himself ready for work. But the last few months were different. The last few months involved Zoom meetings, and trying to get the kids up before noon. Trying to feed them healthy meals, wondering why there was no toilet paper for a solid month in the grocery store, and finding masks that fit the kids faces while scrolling through Amazon. Their lives had somehow become more hectic. Pam and Jim took turns doing school from home through May, they’d switch off meetings. Jim hopping off and on his meetings with his clients, and Pam trying to continue her painting classes online. It was stressful for both of them, but the summer brought a bit of quiet to the Halpert household.
Despite her initial protesting, she’d purchased the kids a Nintendo Switch, and despite her best efforts, they both continued to fight over who’s turn it was to chop down trees or plant fruit in a game they both had become so invested in. Despite the occasional argument, which was always solved by a fair best out of three, game of rock, paper, scissors. She was able to take on more painting classes, and had gotten fairly good at teaching her students over Zoom, and Jim’s work had picked up now that fall and winter sports had a guarantee to return without spectators. This morning though, the kids would be going back to school, in an actual classroom, and despite both of their nerves, Jim and Pam were confident in the Austin school system to keep both their loved ones safe.
Pam moved to his side of the bed, and rest her hand on his head, he was warm, didn’t stir, and his eyes were furrowed. He didn’t look his well-rested self as he did in the morning, and there hadn’t been any late night guests pushing themselves into the center of the bed that night, either. She pressed a kiss to his lips, and he opened an eye, and closed it almost immediately.
“Hey,” he said in barely more than a whisper. This was not their normal routine, something was different, her stomach flopped.
“Are you okay?” He hated that question. She knew it, but instinctively she was worried. These days, she was always worried.
He just shook his head no, and pulled the blankets around him.
“Sick,” he mumbled under the covers.
She laughed uneasily, and crawled into her side of the bed, putting her arms around his body, he was so warm, unusually warm.
“I’m going to need more than that, Halpert,” she kissed the back of his head and felt the sweat against her lips.
There was silence.
“Jim?” She asked, and he went to turn over to her, finding himself in a fit of coughing before laying back down in defeat.
“Stay right here,” She said knowing he wasn’t going anywhere, and went downstairs quickly to find the kids eating oatmeal, busying themselves with some show on the iPad. She’d normally, snatch it away and engage with them in a conversation before school, but her mind was only on one thing-getting her cellphone. She rifled through mail on the table, moving the kids’ lunchboxes, and items that found themselves onto the island each morning. Her phone was almost dead, but she quickly dialed the family doctor and waited, listening to the automated message. They weren’t open yet,
“Damn it,” she mumbled and Philip’s eyes opened wide.
“Mommy!” his mouth was agape. They really did try to watch their mouths around the kids.
“Daddy's sick,” she said quickly, knowing all too well what this might be. Jim had been on a plane only four days before, coming home from visiting his parents in Pennsylvania. His Dad wasn’t doing well, Altheimers had set in, and his mother needed help getting him into assistive care. And she knew. She knew he shouldn’t have gotten on that plane. He was not about to budge on this one, he needed to be with his parents, so she’d stopped fighting, and sent him with a pack of lysol wipes and asked him to furiously clean everything he’d touch, sit on, or get close to.
“What’s wrong?” Cece asked, dropping her spoon. She immediately hopped off her stool, inching her way to the stairs. Cecelia was always worried about everyone else, just like her father. The way her eyes would open wide, and gaze in concern had been a look she’d seen upon Jim’s face so many times, it was almost surreal seeing it on her daughter.
“Hey, Cece, come here,” Pam gestured, “We’re just going to let Dad sleep, you both have to get to school, it’s a big day!” Upon uttering this, she immediately regretted not taking the option for virtual learning this semester.
“But, I have to get Dad to the doctor this morning, so you’re going to have to take the bus,” She muttered, grabbing their bags, and stuffing lunch boxes inside. Eyes were rolled, sighs exhaled from both of her children’s mouth, but knowing this wasn’t their usual routine, she walked them out to the sidewalk, to make sure the bus driver would see them, she’d explain the need for the bus today, and then get back inside to bring Jim to the doctor’s. Her mind was racing a mile a minute, How would I quarantine him? How would I keep the kids away from Jim? Would he be alright? He’d be alright, he was only 41, he was healthy, he’d be fine.
Inside, she had a voicemail from the doctor’s, they asked that they wait in the car upon arrival, and they would call when Jim could go inside. Remember to wear a mask. Pam was annoyed at this sentiment...did anyone even need to say that anymore?
She heaved herself up the stairs, two at a time, awoke Jim, and the both of them threw on clothes, moving slowly out to their car.
They never made it to the doctors’ office that morning.