Milk pouring out of my son's sippy cup onto the floor was enough to throw me over the edge during this pandemic. It made me realize how helpless I feel in protecting my family.

By Zibby Owens
April 23, 2020
Michael Phillips/Getty Images

I'm on my hands and knees on the kitchen floor wiping up the milk that has just poured out of my son's sippy cup. I must not have screwed on the top tightly enough. Milk, that precious commodity, has started spouting from it like a geyser.

I feel a stab of desperation. I can't afford to lose this special liquid in the midst of our coronavirus stay-at-home orders. With four growing, milk-loving children in my home, we typically go through gallons of milk each week. Now we're rationed to one jug per week and some of it has spilled. Wasted.

It makes me think of the dark night years ago as a new nursing mom when I'd knocked over the breast milk I'd just pumped. My forearm had upended those plastic cups brimming with warm sustenance in my haste to grab their yellow lids. Bleary-eyed and half-asleep, I'd watched in horror and exhaustion as all my hard work had trickled down, slowly falling from the counter onto the floor—drip, drip, drip.

I feel that same sense of loss now, as I clean.

As a fortunate mother in a booming economy, I've luckily never had to worry about being able to procure milk for my children. If I wanted lactose-free 1 percent milk, I had my pick of brands at the local grocery. I completely took this fact for granted, distractedly throwing the still-wet containers in my shopping cart without a second thought.

Now, I can't even go to the grocery. My husband dons a mask once a week and forages in the empty market, the loudspeaker reminding shoppers like him to only buy one like item, tape marking his stance six feet apart in the checkout line. This week, we've decided it's too risky even to do that.

The familiar refrain from my own childhood, "Don't cry over spilled milk," runs through my head. And yet, I cry. I take a few paper towels, now also a precious commodity, and soak up the drips splattered all over the wood floor.

"It's OK, Mom," my 6-year-old daughter says, while drawing at the kitchen table. Her sensitivity radar never misses even the slightest shift in my emotions. "It's just a little spill!"

"I know, love," I say.

But to me, it's not just about the milk; it's the ability to sustain and protect my family. It's my worry over the world's food supply. It's my fear that we will come down with COVID-19. It's my stark terror thinking that I, like so many others, could succumb to the disease and never be able to take care of—feed—my four children again. What would happen to them? How would they cope without their mother?

I don't worry about my own mortality. I've come to terms with the idea that if it's my time, it's my time, a mantra I replay in my head with increasing frequency. After 43 years, I'm well aware that I've already had an amazing life. But it's my kids, my husband, their loss, that sends me into panic attacks.

I finish wiping up the spill, grab the empty sippy cup, and stand up.

"See, Mom? It wasn't so bad!" my daughter says.

Perhaps that's how I'll eventually feel about this quarantine. Perhaps my own family will be OK and I'll mourn the thousands of others from afar. But right now, it's hard to maintain perspective while every moment at home, masquerading as life as usual, my former sanctuary is tinged with fear.

We're not at home to relax. We're at home to survive. The milk counts. I kiss my daughter on the top of her head. And I pray that she is right.

Zibby Owens is a writer, mother of four, and the host of the award-winning podcast, Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books.


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