Like a lot of parents, Gina J. Lewis has had to watch her little ones struggle with sudden isolation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and months of quarantine.
A Memphis mama of three, Lewis says her oldest son Cyrus, who is 4 years old and extremely social, has had an especially difficult time not getting to go to school or hang out with his friends these last few months. Additionally, these uncertain times have taken a toll on herself and her husband as they try to navigate this new “normal” and decide what’s best for their children.
This is what motivated her to publish her first children’s book, “When I See You Again.”
“I have seen moms post on Facebook begging for resources for their kids who are having a hard time right now, and I realized I’m not much, but I can write these feelings down and I can illustrate them,” Lewis said. “I can validate my kids’ feelings and yours, and I can try to make them feel understood and supported. We can’t see each other right now, but we can take this time to regroup, learn, play, rest, and fill our time up as best we can while respecting these social distancing rules.”
We spoke with Lewis and she shared what inspired her to publish a children’s book, how she’s navigating life during quarantine, and what advice she has for parents trying to make it through these uncertain times.
Babypalooza: What motivated you to publish “When I See You Again?”
Lewis: I wanted to publish this book so that we had something available that is relevant to the uncertainty of this coronavirus and quarantine situation. Many of us adults are scared, anxious, and unsure of what to make of the mixed information we’re constantly exposed to. It’s a very scary time for us.
We were already living in a socially distant world compared to many of our childhoods (I got to run around the neighborhood with other kids who lived around, with minimal adult supervision). These days, childhood often looks like a very scheduled routine of exercise classes, playdates, walks around the neighborhood, visiting particular friend’s houses from time to time, but otherwise, we stick to our homes and family tribal life. That has now essentially been taken away from us. There are no more breaks from childcare via Mother’s Day Out or preschool, and there are very real concerns with regards to playdates, especially for anyone whose intermediate family members would be most susceptible to catching COVID-19. It’s scary for us, and if it’s scary for us fully grown adults, how is this affecting our kids?
My extremely extroverted, fun-loving, sunny little boy will be thrilled to hear about what his friends have learned and what they’ve been up to. So, he has to hang in there. All of the kids need to hang in there. That’s the perspective I took when I wrote this book, and I wanted it to be available as a message from me to everyone and their littles. I know things are different, and I know things are weird, but keep your chin up! We are in this together. Do whatever you can to stay OK and safe, and I want to hear about everything when I see you again!
BP: Tell us a little bit about your book. What’s the gist of the story?
Lewis: This book is written from a perspective similar to the one of my 4-year-old son Cyrus. He misses his friends, and I’m sure his friends miss him. This book is about a group of friends, preschool- to early elementary school-aged, and they are trying to cope with the fact that they can’t go and do the things they normally do. I attempted to write from the extremely enlightened version of my son (LOL) and have the narrative voice say, “Here is the good thing we can take from this situation right now — time!” By that, I mean time to do things that they probably wouldn’t get to do otherwise with their families’ normal schedules. The more stuff they do, the more stories they can share when they eventually get to see each other again.
BP: What do you hope children and families gain from reading your book?
Lewis: I want families and kids to feel validated when they see the children in these books feeling the same things they may be feeling. I want to give families a beacon of hope, if you will, that this difficult time will end. We will get through this. There will be a new “normal”; there always is! We will see each other again. I don’t know when, but when we do we’ll have so much to share and catch up on.
BP: Is this your first published book? What made you want to become an author of children’s books?
Lewis: This is actually my second published work. I was the illustrator for the book “Wings”, written by Reggie Jarrell, which was published in December 2019. This is, however, my debut as an author and illustrator! I’ve always loved books and have been a professional illustrator for the past seven years. I’m an avid collector of children’s books, especially those with gorgeous illustrations. I have been writing stories forever; I don’t know of a time when I didn’t want to do this. It just took a while for me to realize my ideas are worth putting out there.
Being a mom has put a sense of urgency in me. I’ve learned so much already from my kids, and I want to create things where they can see themselves and their friends. I know there are other parents out there with the same worries as me. I know there are other kids struggling with this just like my kids. I’m no scientist, politician, or someone in a high position of power, but I have this one thing I know how to do, and if this can help anyone or their family feel like they aren’t alone then I did something worthwhile.
BP: How has your family been during the pandemic and quarantine?
Lewis: My family consists of me, my husband Jason, my two sons Cyrus (4) and Myles (1), and our newly welcomed daughter, Ava (4.5 months). This time has been difficult for us, if I’m being completely honest. We are in a one-income household, so my husband is constantly worried about the stability of his job and supporting us. I have been a stay-at-home mom since Cyrus was born, so I’m used to being a homebody and handling kids, but any new addition brings a learning period.
Cyrus was in preschool, so he was getting his learning, socializing, and playing needs met elsewhere. Now, it feels like all of that falls on me. With three different kids with three different stages of needs, it’s definitely taking its toll.
Cyrus likes his routine and knowing what’s going to happen, so he’s had a hard time while mommy and daddy feel like we’re floundering figuring everything out. He’s more anxious than I’ve ever seen him (chewing everything, picking his fingers, having more tantrums, etc.). We can see how this social quarantine is affecting him, but we don’t want to put him or his siblings at risk either.
Myles doesn’t even know what our “normal” was, so I noticed that he is more fearful of other people. He isn’t used to seeing other people, and when he does, their voices are muffled and their faces are covered. So, he sticks to me like glue anytime we go to the doctor’s office, or he feels a fierce need to protect his baby sister when I take her to her appointments.
We don’t know how this time period will affect this generation of babies and kids, but there’s no denying there’s going to be something in regards to socialization and mental health. It’s inevitable, right? This whole thing is crazy and weird! But it is what it is, for now, so we make the most of this time.
BP: You mentioned your youngest is just over 4 months old. What has it been like giving birth and being a mom of a newborn and young kids during a global pandemic?
Lewis: I have a very stark contrasting experience as I just had my youngest son last year when there was so much more freedom in regard to walking around while laboring, my husband being able to leave the delivery room, and having visitors in the recovery room.
This year was way more restricted. I was induced, so I wasn’t able to walk around anyway during labor, but my husband wasn’t allowed to leave either. I delivered the day after the city went into complete lockdown mode, so everyone was still trying to figure everything out. He had to have his temperature taken and a sticker that was visible at all times. If he stepped out for any reason, he had to have his temperature retaken.
The hospital personnel was a bit less strict in the recovery room, but we were still encouraged to not leave the room. There were considerably fewer check-ups on me. They did the minimum interruptions as necessary to make sure I was OK and tried to do everything they could at once to be more efficient. The baby never left my room, which I really liked. All of her testing was done next to me or in my arms. In comparison, last year with my son Myles, he was taken out of the room for his hearing screening, foot prick, all that stuff; and the same with my firstborn.
We were third-time parents, but we were still terrified, although for different reasons than with the previous babies. No one knew how susceptible babies or postpartum moms were to the virus, and we still don’t. My doctor told us that we needed to stay in a very tight family unit with no visitors for a while.
My husband and I are now trying to figure out life in lockdown with a new baby and minimal sleep between the two of us. It’s definitely been a struggle mental health-wise, but I also think it’s made our bond stronger because we literally only have each other.
Now that it’s been several months, we’re starting to get more comfortable with the uncertainty. I’ll admit that there has been more screen time than I have ever been comfortable with before. My house is a wreck. Mealtimes are no longer dependent on the time of day. Naps happen as often as needed for us, whenever they are needed, except for my husband who is still on the grind working remotely.
This is a crazy, crazy time. My book, “When I See You Again,” is a message from me and mine to you and yours to hang in there!
BP: Should we expect more children’s books from you in the future?
Lewis: Yes, definitely keep your eye out! I’m not trying to be a one-and-done author here. I have many more ideas and stories to tell.
BP: What advice would you give parents of young kids or babies who are navigating life amid COVID-19 and quarantine?
Lewis: When it gets to be overwhelming, don’t struggle by yourself. Call someone or reach out. I also think it’s OK to let your kids know that we don’t have all of the answers right now, but we are in this together. Your friends miss you as much as you miss them! Keep your chin up, and we will get through this.