I remember sitting on my couch, West 91st street and Broadway. My husband Shaun came home from a long day of work and plopped down next to me, sinking into the couch cushions. He exhaled a big breath of stock market ups and downs and said “This is so nice. But I can’t wait for the day I come home to our kids.” All was silent except the lineup of cars honking out of our second floor window and a random rampage from the corner in front of Duane Reade, someone’s slurred words blended with indecipherable yells. Those sounds, the noise of a city we’d lived together in for 9 years, where we had built our relationship and our careers, where we found solace in the simultaneous routine and chaos of a city so alive that quiet, at least in our surroundings, was rare, but also not missed. I agreed with him. I earnestly wanted to fill our home with the noise of a family, with children…
Fast forward 5 years and two children later. Today, my four year old Zach threw the biggest tantrum I have ever seen, couch cushions holding on to the back of the sofa for dear life before being chucked at… me. Paw Patrol books thrown at the TV. Pouches of applesauce squirted on our kitchen floor. All in anger. In haste. Because he didn’t get one thing he wanted. I legit can’t tell you what that one thing was and in his rampage, he couldn’t tell me either. I watched him throw the couch cushions. I tried to pick up the books from his sight so they didn’t get abused and I held onto him tightly and told him how much I loved him. He didn’t sink into me the way he usually does. He continued to rip himself apart from me and tell me he was going to keep throwing things. I longed for quiet, but not the one that has befallen our city since the virus took hold in early March.
Whenever life is really hard, I think about what my mom would do and say. “Jamie, this won’t be how he is forever. He’s not going to be throwing couch pillows and Paw Patrol figures at you on his wedding day. He’s not going to only eat bagels and cream cheese and Mickey Mouse pancakes with sprinkles when he’s a teenager. This will pass.” I center myself around those thoughts, but just as quickly lose myself in not being able to offer him concrete answers about the enormous changes that his little physiology have had to process since the onset of the pandemic, without the emotional coping skills of an older child.
Since shelter in place orders were administered mid-March, children everywhere have adjusted to a very different kind of life. A life where there are no play dates with friends, no school, no camp, no restaurants, no indoor gyms, or even outdoor playgrounds. We are doing what we can to make the best of it, we understand that in the spectrum of human experience, we fall amongst the very privileged, but it is a shocking new reality for all of us, especially the kids. The anxiety for them comes out in a myriad of ways, like ungodly tantrums that are hard to put into words. We are mirrors for our children, they co-regulate with us at this raw age of four and it is our duty to remain calm when they are not. Remain patient when they cannot comprehend the world around them and I am doing my best but I cannot say it is easy, especially when I cannot comprehend the world around me either.
The city that never sleeps had gone completely quiet for months during quarantine and now it is crying outside of my window for social justice. Screaming. And rightly so. I am taking actions to be better. To unlearn. To teach my children about anti-racism, equality, and acceptance. Children and adults have a lot of feelings right now and we don’t all know how to “use our words.” To be perfectly honest, that phrase had become obsolete. Zach is not alone in his frustration for not getting what he wanted. I can relate. I can stomp my feet, pout, shout, and throw pillows til I’m blue in the face and still nothing makes much sense right now. I remember the silence in our apartment five years ago. The longing for children. For something different. Something more. More noise. More love. More purpose. Patience. With my children. With our world and society. With myself.
As a mother, I want to have all the answers, but how can I help my children when I truly understand the disjointed anger and frustration? Perhaps the answer is to embrace the discomfort and to define our role in the transformation. “Why can’t they just give me what I want?” I imagine he thinks that question repeatedly as he chooses to throw things in frustration. What I do know is that I have a responsibility to be a mother who listens, even if it is to apparent nonsense, because there’s something underneath. To be quiet when I don’t have an answer, and to truly listen. To praise the good and ignore the bad when I know that my little boy’s heart means well but is so confused.
As we were headed out the door this morning, I put Zach’s blue camouflage mask on his little face. “But it’s summer. There’s no germies in summer time.” My heart broke as he said exactly what I was thinking, wishing our world could be normal after so many months of quarantine – Can’t we just get our summer?! “There are still germies sweetie, so we need to be safe and wear our masks to protect ourselves and others.” He let me put it on without a peep. This is NOT what putting a mask on him four months ago looked like.
New York may not look or feel like our typical New York Summer: overcrowded city streets, bumping and nudging with sweat dripping. Bright lights from Times Square filled with theater goers and pre-show specials on restaurant row. But it’s still the city that has been my backdrop for the last 13 years. And it is a city that is working to be in harmony. To be stronger than ever and UNITED even though we are apart. We will continue to adapt to a normal we could have never anticipated as our reality. Remember, it will not be like this forever. Yes, we will continue to have tantrums, me included, and at the same time not just hear but really listen to the voices around us that have been crying out for centuries to be heard.
Jamie Kolnick is originally from Miami, Florida and a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. She moved to New York City In 2008 for the lights on Broadway and while auditioning for everything under the sun she started her children’s entertainment and education company, Jam with Jamie. She now has over 50 performers and teachers that work for the company in multiple cities across the country.
Jamie is also the co-founder of her family’s charity, The Alan Epstein “Reach for the Stars” Scholarship Foundation in honor of her brother Alan who passed away in a car accident in 1998. Since its inception, over 200 deserving students have been awarded a scholarship. This charity now also honors her parents who have passed from cancer.
Jamie is a writer and producer and has created and developed multiple TV concepts and the web series “Kid Friendly*.” She is currently developing and producing a children’s series called “The Bubble Brigade,” a comedic series about loss called “Sitting Shiva,” and writing a coming of age memoir about loss.
Jamie lives on the Upper West Side of NYC with her husband Shaun and her most important role to date is being a mama to two beautiful Boys, Zach, 4 years old and Evan, 2 years old.