VIRUS DIARY: `When are we going to the playground, Mama?’

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Again, today, she asks me when we are going to the playground …

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Again, today, she asks me when we are going to the playground

OAKLAND, California — “When are we going to the playground, Mama?” she asks again today, like she did yesterday and the day before that.

I tell her we are not going to the playground today, that we can go for a walk, remember the virus we talked about? She chuckles. “Sorry, I was confused. I meant go for a walk.”

We go for a walk but it is probably the last walk for a while, because I am scared and there are people out, still, also taking walks. It doesn’t seem worth it.

I do not tell her this yet.

It’s hard to explain time to a 4-year-old. Each day is new, a new hope that springs her out of bed and demands things, all the things she knows like playgrounds and parks and the coffee shop with her papa and her grandma’s house on Fridays and her cousins’ on Saturdays.

Now, I just ask if she wants to get dressed, she says “later, Mama!” and frolics around in pink bunny pajamas then settles to breakfast. I don’t get dressed either. We have pancakes and strawberries and bananas but she asks me to remove the strawberries and bananas. Later I will bribe her with a spoonful of Nutella to eat half a strawberry.

We call her aunt on FaceTime and she grabs the phone out of my hand and scurries inside her play circus tent. The phone drops to the floor. She wants to show her aunt her new tent, which is not new but it’s exciting and it was away for a while. I ask for the phone back. I have to talk to my sister-in-law.

Later we will have a chat on what makes us feel mad and also happy and sad and loved and scared and she will tell me that it makes her feel mad when I don’t let her take the phone with her. She wants to hold it to carry the people on the other end to show them all the things, the same way she’d grab their hand and pull them to follow her. She tells me it makes her happy that her papa and I are home, that hugs make her feel loved and monsters make her feel scared. I tell her there are no monsters. I think she knows this.

She is not scared of the virus, even though I am terrified. She tells her grandparents that the virus hurts old people and that they are old people. Later one night, she asks me if her grandparents will get new again, which is her word for young and this makes sense but I explain to her that no, they won’t. She asked this when I told her that her cat died. She asked if her cat will get new again and come back and I told her that no, she won’t and we cried.

We do a playdate. I set up a Zoom call. I place my laptop on the floor so she can sit and see her friend. They start out just yelling each other’s names, back and forth. Sometimes her friend moves out of the frame and so she asks, “Where are you? Where is your face?” and it is hilarious. They play hide and seek. They both get their Play-Doh and they play together. She gets annoyed and grunts. Getting annoyed is part of playing.

It is time to say goodbye. I feel relieved, but it is brief. I wonder every day how she will remember this time. I hope that we come out on the other end someday and that when we do she’ll remember that we were together and we tried to protect each other.


“Virus Diary,” an occasional feature, will showcase the coronavirus saga through the eyes of Associated Press journalists around the world. Follow AP Technology Writer Barbara Ortutay on Twitter at

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