Updated: Mar 22, 2021
Our future is upon us, and it might not look exactly like we had hoped when we rang in the New Year less than two weeks ago.
Holding my 4.5 year-old at the door that we carried him out of when he was 48 hours old, at the Calderón Guardia Hospital in San José, Costa Rica.
As with other dates of historic importance, I am sure that you and I will remember where we were when we heard about the pro-Trump mob that breached the security at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. Just like 9/11/01, I have political thoughts about what happened, explanations, analysis, and suggested steps forward, but that’s not what this post is for.
My family and I were at the airport in San José (well, really Alajuela, but you get the idea), Costa Rica. As we were waiting to board our flight back home at around 1 PM Central Time on the 6th, I checked the news on my phone. I saw that the Capitol building was being overrun by Trump supporters, and there were guns drawn. As we were asked to turn off our phones before takeoff, I was watching a live video of costumed and flag-wielding rioters at the door of the Capitol, waving others into the building. Our flight was going to be four hours long – four hours of waiting to learn what was going on in that building.
We ended up getting to our house at 2:30 AM on January 7th, late (early?) enough to know that the Congress would indeed certify the Electoral College vote, and to know that while really nothing had changed, we were officially in a new and uncertain chapter in our country and the world.
I wasn’t really surprised by what happened. When we made our trip plans, I noticed that we were scheduled to fly back on January 6, and I told my husband (a few weeks before the trip), “I hope we have a country to come back to that day, the day the Congress is scheduled to certify a contested election.” Seeing the images on my phone while waiting at our gate were still shocking and unnerving, even though they were what I had feared.
It's strange to look back and know that at the same time that we were trying to get through our (seemingly eternal) trip back to the US, the nation's Capitol building was under siege.
But then I had to turn off my phone. I admit that the anxiety I felt building in me reminded me of the day that my first son was born, by emergency c-section. I was put under general anesthesia for the procedure (deemed necessary because the baby’s heart rate was dropping with each contraction), and I woke up in the recovery room of the public hospital in Costa Rica, surrounded by other surgery patients and within earshot of the nurses’ station. When I could figure out how to connect my brain and my mouth (which didn’t take long, with my new-mother adrenaline pumping), I shouted to the nurses: “Where is my baby?! Is he OK?” The response I got was, “I’m sure he’s fine.” And they went back to chatting about the kind of diet dog food they were feeding their pet (I remember this in vivid detail).
I couldn’t move, as I realized my hands were tied to the bed, probably a good thing because I was about ready to get up and walk out of there. I asked again, “Can I see my husband? My mom?” “No,” was the response. That was it. I really had no idea what was going on, and no one was able or willing to tell me.
As I started to feel like I might hyperventilate, I almost asked if they could give me something to put me back to sleep. I prayed for calm, and I tried to breathe as best I could. I looked over and saw the man lying next to me, also itching to get out of bed. But he had had some sort of head surgery, and had leads coming out of his skull. I called out to the nurses that they might want to watch the guy or he might pull out an important tube or wire that was keeping him alive. They just sort of looked at me strangely.
I managed to calm down some, but did not go back to sleep. I can’t remember if I asked when I would be taken upstairs, or if I overheard the nurses talking, but I understood that I would be taken up after the upcoming shift change (I learned throughout the whole experience that the two-hour window surrounding a shift-change is a no-man’s land at a Costa Rican public hospital). Some nurses changed the bedding underneath my bleeding body, and when the next shift came in and wanted to do the same, I quickly and forcefully told them that I had already had the bedding changed, lest they make me lose my place in line to get upstairs. That elicited a surprised face from the nurse trying to help me.
Finally, I was wheeled to the door, and taken to my (shared) recovery room. My husband was there, or he came very soon after. And then our baby was brought to me. He was not exactly what I expected to see – he had thick hair all over his body, and he was so tiny! My brain was still cloudy from the anesthesia, and my body was exhausted from 24 hours of labor plus major abdominal surgery. But the agonizing wait was over, and our life together was beginning.
My son was born (and I experienced an excruciating wait) in a bustling capital city, while taxi drivers and everyone else went about their day.
As I sat on the airplane on January 6, 2021, now with my firstborn a lively and funny and smart 4.5 year-old, and my second on the verge of his second birthday, I dutifully turned off my phone and tried to take some deep breaths. How is my country? It is ok? Can I see my elected officials? My Constitution? The 4-hour flight loomed in front of me, and I wished for sleep, or a comforting word (neither of which I was likely to get as I tried to wrangle these two small boys in our economy-class row).
And on each day since, I feel the time stretching out in front of me. How is my country? Is it ok? How is the world? How are my friends? How is my family? How are the people who would like to see our elected president prevented from taking office? What are they planning? How are the people who demonstrated this summer, who have been struggling for centuries for a bit of justice and access to the system that some are now trying to dismantle (which, you know, isn’t a perfect system)? How are the people around the world, who have been oppressed or exploited by our system? Can this moment lead to something better for all of us?
I try to breathe, and I look around at others who are feeling groggy, or adrenaline-sharpened, or hopeful for an opportunity for change. Our future is being brought to us, and it might not look exactly like we imagined when we rang in the New Year less than two weeks ago. May we rise to the challenge (the challenges never seem to stop coming, do they, fellow humans? Fellow mothers?).
Many people are now talking about what those changes should look like. We are not just waiting, but we are investigating, talking on social media, on the phone, reading newspapers and watching news streams. We’re getting involved in causes and groups that give our lives purpose and will bring positive change to the world.And yet our “normal” lives also continue. My husband and I have discussed throughout the past year how pandemics and political upheaval do not look in real life how they look in movies. They are not all-consuming, with every other aspect of life coming to a halt. People are not melting in the streets, turning to zombies with one look from a contagious ghost. Bombs are not going off, and we are not hiding in our closets for years with food being brought in by compassionate strangers (OK, maybe some of us are sort of doing that). We are making breakfast, working, raising our children, sweeping the floor, sending holiday greetings, considering our career direction, trying new recipes and savoring the favorites. All the while we’re trying to breathe, and hang on until we can hold the future in our arms, or until we touch down on solid ground, when the next set of challenges will be made apparent.