All the Things We Don't See Two years ago, the city of San Francisco shut down, and Cris Pearlstein started writing.

By Cris Pearlstein | Photos courtesy of Cris Pearlstein

Suddenly I had nowhere to go, nowhere to be, no expectations of plans or productivity. We had been in San Francisco for six months and were starting to find our footing. I learned which parks were best for my just-barely two-year-old daughter, which streets were too steep to for pushing a stroller, and which coffeeshops sold croissants. I was beginning to make friends who also had little kids, but when the world stopped my ability to grow my village did, too.

I spent those first months of lockdown trying to stay safe and sane in our two-bedroom apartment with a toddler, a dog, and a co-parent who spent his days on back-to-back conference calls. I took up baking, beading, and being bare-faced. I cooked and cleaned, and then cooked and cleaned some more.

I knew we were living through a unique experience and I wanted a record of it. I started a series on my Instagram feed called Captain’s Log where I wrote about each day’s struggles, setbacks, and little wins. The following is adapted from those entries, and explores the monotony, the beauty and the chaos of being a mom during Covid-19.

We decide to take a walk because we don’t remember the last time we did. It feels good to be outside, but I’m dodging people on the sidewalk like I’d get electrocuted if I accidentally brushed up against an elbow. One big game of frogger. Walk to the left, dart to the right, dip into the bike lane if you have to. 

We stop in front of the optical store when my daughter shouts kitty cat, so I peek in the window like I do every time we pass by. I see it all the way in the back, jet black fur with green eyes glowing. I’m still for a moment, transfixed, and then ask my daughter if she sees it too. She says yes, but I know she’s lying because her stroller seat is too low and the angle is off. She doesn’t need to see it to know it’s there.

I run into Walgreens to check if they’ve restocked the toilet paper. I see a guy standing in line to pay holding Pop Tarts, Lunchables, and a box of Bagel Bites. I think to myself, I’ve never seen anyone more single in my life. Then I wonder, would lockdown be fun without a toddler

It’s morning and M brings me coffee in bed before he takes the dog out to pee. I soft-boil him some eggs and make him a smoothie. I gently knock on his office door (aka our bedroom) and hand them over. He smiles and mouths thank you, pointing to his ear buds. I smile back. Maybe we’ll have sex tonight. Or maybe we’ll just finish season one of that show we started.

In the hectic haze of my 143rd load of laundry I shrink M’s tee shirt. Do clothes get dirty if you never go outside? I put it on, tuck it into a pair of high-waisted jeans, and feel like a real person for a minute. It has been 19 days since I’ve worn jeans. A record, to be sure.

I reluctantly walk to Trader Joe’s. I don’t know how long it’s been since I left our apartment. The line is long so I listen to the Mermaids soundtrack, twice. Cher, Wynona, Christina. The cardigans, the lighthouse, the praying. All that black hair. I feel someone’s breath on my neck and bite a guy’s head off. Can you please give me some space?!

My gel manicure has finally grown out. I’m dying for a bikini wax, but that’s not an option so I tell myself to stop thinking about it. I’m grateful I don’t color my hair, inject shit in my face, or rely on fake eyelashes. I realize letting myself go during a pandemic isn’t quite as scary when the face I see in the mirror is actually my own.

Every day I notice another store or restaurant boarded up, closed for now or for good, hope to serve you again soon. Signs on windows say, we need your help, bear with us during this time. Can you donate? Can you support us? I Venmo our local bookstore because I feel the need to help. But I can’t help them all and that makes me sad. To decide, I ask myself, which business will I miss if it doesn’t come back? 

I grab the dinner plates and insert them into the dishwasher all in a row. Then the small plates on the opposite side. The bowls next, nestled into each other, and the cutting boards along the edges. Our small water glasses fit nicely anywhere in the top row, but our tall monogrammed ones only fit towards the front of the rack. I know this because I have been doing this puzzle twice a day since restaurants closed. To finish I wedge the pieces of my daughter’s sippy cups in between this glass or that lid in hopes they don’t fall to the bottom and melt. 

Apparently it takes 62 days to grow out a pedicure. Well, most of a pedicure. My big toe is holding strong, a chipped sliver of Essie Wicked stubbornly staying put. And no I will not take it off, and no I will not apply a fresh coat, but thanks for asking. I decide to let my pedicure die a natural death. I decide by not engaging with the ritual of taking it off, I somehow am exempt from the ritual of putting it on again. 

We go for another walk, this time without the stroller. Frankie lunges at every dog she sees, despite my warnings to ask the owner first. She gets hold of a fluffy apricot-colored one, and pats its head. It licks her fingers before I can pull her away. Can dogs be carriers? Or are they the pure, innocent animals I want them to be?

Every night for the four glorious months they’re in season M and I share a Sumo orange. They’re perfectly sweet, slightly tart, and ugly as hell. I tell him, some people say if you peel an orange all in one shot, without breaking the skin, it’s good luck. I also tell him the other thing: the ugliest ones are the best ones. The lumpier they are, the yummier they are. The splotchier the skin, the sweeter the pulp. The part you see has no bearing on the part you don’t. What a mind fuck.

I’m so bored I decide to clean my plants. Using a wet paper towel I gently wipe each individual leaf to reveal a shiny, green surface that was dull and grey-ish just a moment before. I feel guilty that I never thought to do this. Then I realize even if I had thought of it, I wouldn’t have actually done it. I never had that kind of time.

It’s sunny out so we walk again, this time to Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s dead, more empty than I’ve ever seen it, but we stay and keep going anyway. After all, the water still sparkles. There are stars in the water, my daughter says. The sea lions still bark loudly, laying on the docks, their fat bodies draped over each other as if we’re not in the middle of a pandemic. The seagulls still scream overhead. The boats are still afloat, in their slips. Lucky Lady, Angelina, Joey Lee, Pico, Salvador. Yellow, green, turquoise, red, blue. The few people I do see are wearing masks, scarves, bandanas—anything to keep it away—but with smiles underneath. I don’t have to see the smiles to know they’re there. It’s all in the eyes. 

I open the washing machine and realize I left a load of laundry in it soaking wet for two days. Or was it three? It’s hard to keep track anymore when every day feels the same. Wake up, watch the news, which bottle of wine should we drink tonight? Leggings for me, lunchtime for her, let’s FaceTime the grandparents. Bubble bath, bedtime story, please stay in your bed tonight. Pour a glass, then another, adult coloring while we watch a new show. Is it too late for another episode or should we go to sleep?

In the grass of the empty baseball field we meet a dog named Louie with the tallest, scruffiest stand-up ears I’ve ever seen. He smiles with his whole body, his tail wagging as my daughter reaches out her little hand. She shrieks with excitement. She’s a different kid outside, my husband always says, and he’s right. When it’s time to go we walk home, uphill. We climb sidewalks that might as well be vertical. My legs burn in a good way.

Let’s drive to that special park to go scooting, I suggest. I load up the car, arms full of everything a toddler needs in a day, buckle up, pull the gear into reverse, then hear a faint crunch sound. I get out and see that her scooter tipped over behind the rear tire. I reach for it and feel soreness in my arm where the red Band Aid still is. I have to say it aloud to believe it: I ran over my own kid’s scooter with my own car

My daughter is in school now so we don’t walk as much as we used to. I wrestle her into her carseat every morning while she asks me questions, lightning-round style, for the whole 8 minutes it takes us to drive there. Why don’t we have three eyes? Why do dogs have nails? What is a galaxy? Why does everyone have germ-y wormies? I realize how much there is I don’t know.

School is closed today. On top of everything else going on it’s fire season. The air isn’t safe to breathe. Stay inside, don’t open the windows, aren’t we doing that anyway? But the sun is shining, the sky clear enough to see the bridge, all majestic and red, tall and strong. Looks like a beautiful day to me. 

I use the same mask for over a year, washing it every other day. I am so sick of it, but am hesitant to buy a new one. Mask mandates will be lifted any day now, right? I ask M, how much longer could this possibly go on? He gives me a look that says, open your eyes and a shrug that says, this could be forever. I buy a new 3-pack.

Every morning on the drive to school I make a left on Octavia Street, which is a very, very steep hill. The kind of hill where you can’t see what’s happening at the top until you get there. I could easily go a different way, a flatter way, but every day this is the way I choose. When I get old I will talk about the years we spent in San Francisco during the pandemic. I will talk about how our apartment overlooked the Golden Gate Bridge. I will talk about driving up steep hills, not knowing what was at the top.