Lizza Weir Oral History, 2021/04/12


Title (Dublin Core)

Lizza Weir Oral History, 2021/04/12

Description (Dublin Core)

Toddlers are natural explorers who run, touch and sniff as they learn about the world. But these behaviors can be dangerous during a pandemic. Parents of toddlers need to weigh the risks of catching Covid against their children’s developmental needs. Lizza Weir, whose daughter Simone was 16 months when Covid first arrived in New York, talks about the hard choices she’s been facing.

Recording Date (Dublin Core)

Creator (Dublin Core)

Partner (Dublin Core)

Type (Dublin Core)

oral history

Controlled Vocabulary (Dublin Core)


Curator's Tags (Omeka Classic)

Contributor's Tags (a true folksonomy) (Friend of a Friend)

Collection (Dublin Core)

Linked Data (Dublin Core)

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Date Submitted (Dublin Core)


Date Modified (Dublin Core)


Date Created (Dublin Core)


Interviewer (Bibliographic Ontology)

Ellen Balleisen

Interviewee (Bibliographic Ontology)

Lizza Weir

Location (Omeka Classic)

The Bronx
New York City
New York
United States of America

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CC-ND-NC 4.0

Duration (Omeka Classic)


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629 kb/s
32 kHz mono

abstract (Bibliographic Ontology)

Toddlers are natural explorers who run, touch and sniff as they learn about the world. But these behaviors can be dangerous during a pandemic. Parents of toddlers need to weigh the risks of catching Covid against their children’s developmental needs. Lizza Weir, whose daughter Simone was 16 months when Covid first arrived in New York, talks about the hard choices she’s been facing.

Transcription (Omeka Classic)

Ellen: Hello, I'm Ellen Balleisen, and I'm here with Lizza Weir, who is going to talk about her experiences being a mom to a two-year-old, a one-and-a- half to two-year-old, during the pandemic. So to get started, could you just state your name, where you live and who is in your immediate family.

Lizza: Sure, I am Lizza Weir, where I live in the northern section of the Bronx, northeast section of the Bronx, and I live with my partner Nicholas, as well as my now two and a half year old Simone.

Ellen: Okay. And how old was Simone, when New York City shut down in March 2012?

Lizza: She was about 16 months old. So just shy of a year and a half.

Ellen: And in what ways was it fairly easy to parent Simone all during the first few months in pandemic?

Lizza: Yeah, easy to parent might be an oxymoron for some, but, I think, you know, for us, you know, primarily a function of our kind of privilege, in many respects, but just awesome, in the sense that we were both able to work remotely. And that both of our work sort of just like, seemed to slow down significantly during the transition and the shutdown, I think, you know, we did have it far easier, more easy than, I would say, most families. We live in a fairly kind of suburban area of the Bronx, so we have a yard. We weren't like cooped up, like many of my friends in in the city who were living with toddlers in one bedroom apartments, and I'm sure many who were even more cramped. So, yeah, I think we were kind of able to insulate ourselves more from the devastating reality of the world than many people.
And also Simone was only 16 months, and then later, probably about from 16 months, and then for four months, so until she was about 20 months, we had her home because the daycare had closed. And she, you know, at 16 months, she was maybe a little sad and confused to leave school, but, um, you know, she wasn't, she was definitely happy to be at home with us. I mean, that was kind of ideal for her. And she was completely oblivious to what was going on. I mean, she was just young. So there was no explaining what was happening. I mean, her entire living memory was adults wearing masks, you know, there was no explaining what was normal, because this was her kind of only normal. And she just was too young for any explanations that you would have given another child. And in other words, she kind of just had no idea what was going on no idea what it was, what she was missing. And so I think that made it far easier for us, especially during the beginning of the year, when we had her home, as I said, from March through the beginning of July,

Ellen: How did that change as she got older? And what risks did you need to balance as the parent of a toddler during a pandemic?

Lizza: It definitely changed. I think the greatest risk, of course, was the one that most everybody felt during the time, primarily that we would get sick or die of COVID. And, although the news was kind of, there was definitely news certainly of severe reactions that children were suffering, I guess, in my mind, I felt like those were not as likely. I don't mean to diminish the suffering that that parents have had and families have had. But I guess that it didn't strike me as our primary concern. I think I was mostly worried about our health. Nick and my health and, and I think Nick is more high risk even. But anyway, as adults, we can control our distancing and do some measures of protection and follow the standards but with a toddler, you just can't at all. It's very anti toddler to stay away from things or people. You just can't control that. So I think that age in particular is a challenge. Whereas with older kids, you can kind of teach them about a mask and how to stay away. And I think even, you know, I have friends whose kids are as young as three who were very responsible about distancing and kind of understood, generally why they needed to do it, and remembered the time when they didn't have to do it anyway. So I think, we had to kind of balance two questions, two major questions. One was, would we send her to school and take on that risk? And then two, would we have any degree of socialization outside of her school?
With the first question, I think it was just like, at some point, there, there felt like there was very little choice. We just felt as though in order for us to be able to work we had to send her to school. I know not all families have made that choice. But we did feel like it was kind of necessary risk that we had to take on. And granted, you know, with the daycares, I think some daycares do require young, young children to wear masks, I've later found out. But our daycare did not. So this was just kind of like crossing our fingers. I actually read a lot of studies online, as much as I could find. I think they were either CDC or other studies. I know that economist Emily Auster had written some articles, I tried to find as much of the research as possible, however little research there was on going back to school. I basically sounded as though it was a low risk, not zero, but a low risk. Anecdotally, I've later found out that like, at least seven people, I think, that I know, have had children who got COVID at school and brought it home to families. And so I kind of question, now, that research.
But anyway, I did, you know, that was probably the biggest question that we had to ask ourselves was whether to send her to school. And then, I think because she was in school, I think one of the things that did make it hard, and I was sort of like constantly, I can't say I was afraid of her at all times. But there was this tension that I felt, you know, she was sort of our little vector of potential illness. And there, you know, there was one time when she woke up crying in the middle of the night, and this was in December. So numbers were getting high, and I was already kind of on edge about sending her to school. She woke up crying, and she said, she kind of sat up in bed and said, “I have a stuffy nose, my nose is runny,” which is something she kind of says if she's crying, and her nose is runny. But I was immediately fearful, and kind of didn't know what to do. Like, should I take her, should I get near her, should I bring her into bed with us, which is kind of what I probably would do if she was really upset. And I think it was a very defining moment for me as far as whether I would keep her in school or not, because I certainly didn't want to be fearful of my own child. And even more terrifying for me was kind of whether she would perceive that I was afraid of her for any reason, or psychologically, if she would, you know, feel some kind of repulsion or you know, [feel] like something that she was doing wrong. I think kids usually just internalize everything. And so it really was an emotional experience for me.
In the end, I just took her into bed with me and kind of hoped for the best. But I just had this momentary, you know, reserve, reservation and kind of uncertainty. And so it was later in that week and through another series of events that happened, but it was later that week that I decided to take her out of school. That was then at the beginning of January when the numbers just got too high for my anxiety level. Anyway, so I think just the risk of whether or not to have her in school was probably the biggest kind of decision we had to make. And dealing with, and sort of like just knowing that, you know, I couldn't really face not being able to take care of her. I've had friends who had to quarantine from their children, toddlers during this time, and then I have other friends who children got Covid. And they decided not to quarantine from their children. So different families and parents have kind of negotiated that differently. But it was a question that I just didn't even want to have to have to confront. So removing her from school felt like the least anxiety-producing option.

Ellen: How long did you keep her out of school?

Lizza: So then we had, so we had her fully out all of January and probably like half of February, until I felt that the numbers were kind of starting to improve. It was maybe more wishful thinking than the reality of the numbers. I kept looking and expecting them to go down, probably like all New Yorkers, like it's been sort of a I think we've, we've been hopeful. But the numbers don't want to go down quite as much as we want all want them to.

Ellen: By this point she was old enough, I think, to have some understanding of what was going on. How did you explain it to her?

Lizza: There are ways in which we can explain a general sickness and keeping each other healthy, and why we're wearing masks. As far as understanding, you know, even the idea of Covid, or this specific sickness, I really don't think I've done either a good job, or if or maybe if it's even that possible for her age group. Still, what she does understand is that, you know, I mean, I think she understands more about sort of just social interaction, and I think she needs school more. I think that structure is way more helpful now. And in fact, I think that's probably why I send her back mid February, as opposed to waiting longer. I think I just realized sort of emotionally and socially, she really needed that environment, or I felt it was best for her. And so the benefits of that social interaction kind of outweighed the risks, you know, more. But yeah, I don't, she's, she's still young. And I don't, we've we've kind of tried to understand how to help her understand in very general ways, but again, she has no frame of reference. So this is not a child, who knows, you know, what it was, like, pre-Covid, she has no memory of that. So it, I think, because she has no comparison to a time when there wasn't this sickness, it is a little harder to explain, or at least I haven't found a way to help her really understand.

Ellen: Does she ask questions?

Lizza: You know, not so much about kind of, not so much about Covid. She doesn't know, I don't think she has a question. She doesn't have a reason to ask why we wear masks or for example, or why we do certain things, because this is this is her living memory. This is what she's known. She asks questions when she notices changes. But in this case, you know, these are constants for her. And so it hasn't really, there are other things she's asked questions about. Well, of course, she has questions like incessantly about everything and why, why, why but I think because she's known no different, this is not something she would think to question.

Ellen: So did you and your partner ever have different ideas about how to balance the risks you had to approach?

Lizza: I think by and large, we've been on the same page. So I would say no significant kind of real changes or differences. As far as the bigger decisions, like when we decided to send her back last, like beginning of July, I think we're both kind of on the same page that that was the best thing to do. We were both checking Covid data relentlessly and sort of like trying to figure out if we felt like this was, it was so hard to kind of interpret the risk and understand the risk. But nonetheless, I think we both were really trying to, and checked Covid data daily, and we're trying to decide if it was something we felt comfortable doing. And I think we were both sort of equally worried for our own health. I think Nick is in a slightly higher risk group just due to his age, he's older than I am, and also he was hospitalized for pneumonia for at one point for quite a while. He felt as though he was in a high risk group, even though he didn't have other kind of comorbidities. I just am more neurotic than he is. So even though, statistically, I may not have fallen into too many high risk groups, I was self-diagnosed as extremely high risk. And I do have very sensitive lungs. But that's another issue.
So anyway, so I think we were both kind of afraid, to be honest. And in that way, I think I think I've seen other couples and friends who didn't, who had very different risk aversion, and they had more disagreement. And then in January, I think we both agreed to take her out [of school] again.
He actually got his shot in early January. So I think, once he was vaccinated, he may have, he was supportive of my anxiety and concern, but I think he did start to feel more relaxed. But anyway, there was one time where we went to the holiday train show in the Bronx, the Bronx Botanical Garden. And in my mind, I had asked him beforehand, whether it was a safe thing to do, even though I think we both realized it was on the risky side of things. And we were both a little uncertain about it. But I went back and forth in my head and kind of stressed about it and asked him in my mind, I asked him multiple times whether he thought it was okay. And anyway, so we ended up deciding to go and we went with one other friend. And I think for the most part, we were masked and we weren't in there for very long. We didn't have sustained contact with sort of outside people. But with her [the friend], we were around her, always in masks, but her son was younger than Simone and didn't have a mask. Anyway, we had a we had a scare right after that, where we had found out that that friend had been in contact with another friend the day before, who had then tested positive for Covid. And rationally 24 hours was probably not enough to actually become contagious enough to infect us. But it was a scare, and it was a scare enough so that like I was really counting the days after that interaction and the train show. Those 14 days were stressful. And I think he [Nick] definitely kind of blamed me for that episode. And we did have some tension where he, he definitely was kind of saying it was my responsibility that we had kind of gotten ourselves into the situation. He's not entirely wrong, but I thought we had been on the same page about it. Anyway, so that that was a little tense. But we got through it okay.

Ellen: Did she enjoy the train show?

Lizza: She did, she did. So hopefully, it was worth it in the end, I think for both of them. That so it's you know, it's a it's a small decision. It was really one of the very few, I would say it was the only event that we kind of took part in. Certainly the only indoor thing we did all year long. And, you know, hindsight is 20-20. We didn't end up getting Covid, so therefore it was worth it.

Ellen: Has it been difficult for your mother and for your mother-in-law to be a grandparent during the pandemic?

Lizza: I think so. My mother-in-law and my mother are in different situations. My mother lives alone. So that has been harder.

Ellen: Is your father-in-law still alive.
My father-in -Law is still alive. They don't live together, they’re divorced, but my mother-in-law lives with her two kids. So she's kind of surrounded by family. And, you know, I think for both of them, probably, especially for my mother, she wants to be a kind of warm presence in Simone's life, and she wants be really close with Simone. She has a very warm and open personality. And so I think she wants to have that kind of connection she's had with other grandchildren with Simone, and did constantly feel as though Simone must just think she's like, this cold-hearted kind of human and just felt very uncomfortable with having to be in this position of removing herself or, kind of going completely against the grandparental instinct of hugging and holding and nurturing a child. I mean, it really it goes against all the kind of the instincts of caring for a child to have to distance oneself to have to guard oneself. I think there's always a sort of subtle, subtle interaction at play, where you're kind of trying to distance yourself without letting the child know that you are or finding ways to allow the child certain closeness because it’s not a kind or natural feeling, to try to communicate with a child, if they're coming near you to show you something that they're so excited about. You don't want to verbalize that they need to stay back. I mean, you want to share in that enthusiasm. I think I think my mom did find ways to allow Simone to interact with her in ways. I can't remember a time when she would have ever verbalized, that she needed to stay back or something like that. I probably said things like, Moni, give granny space, remember, we want to keep people healthy. Right now, there's this sickness. There were ways that I tried to say, she needed to stay back. But I think my mom always felt more comfortable than I did with their closeness. And Simone would sometimes go…there was definitely hugging of the knees. And there were a couple times when she kind of let her sit on her lap with a mask on outside. All of our interactions are outside. We did manage to go see her quite a bit. So in that sense, I don't feel so we've had a full year without.
I have two siblings on the west coast, and they have not seen her for well over a year now. So that's a little different. Also, their kids are younger and have had more interactions. So I, you know, I don't I don't feel as though…I think for Moni it was sort of this unique time period where it was, it was this time period where she was getting to know her grandmother, you know, she didn't have any real memories of her beforehand. And so I think that's what made it more uncomfortable for my mom. And I can't speak for my in-laws so much. We actually haven't seen her grandfather at all, her paternal grandfather. Her grandmother has come a few times to visit and in the yard, of course. We've definitely we've seen them. We've seen them quite a bit, I would say given the restrictions, which helps.

Ellen: When you and your partner got vaccinated, how did that change the situation with Simone?

Lizza: Um, I can speak for myself that there was immense relief. Of course. Nick got vaccinated first in early January and I was fully vaccinated probably by early February. And so as we were deciding to put her back, I think he was probably more enthusiastic about putting her back in school, or at least he didn't feel the types of risk that I was still feeling. If I had wanted to keep her out longer, I think he would have supported that. But I think I also wanted her back in school.

Ellen: Was it difficult for you to work at home?

Lizza: Yeah, I mean, I, I think the reason why I was able to take her out of school was because I knew I had a couple a few weeks that were slower than they had been. There was no way I could have taken her out of school, for example, in December, even if I would have wanted to. I mean, I can't say there's no way, I probably could have just either made it work, I'm lucky to have a job that's more flexible. But it would have been far more stressful. So at a certain point, I wouldn't have been able to, or wouldn't have wanted to. Yeah, getting worked on is, is a really patchy affair when she's around. If Nick especially isn't here, I can get a couple, a few hours here and there are, but not a few hours in a row. But I can get, emails done here and there, but as far as sustained concentration, that's very challenging. I'm lucky she has a nap time, that is probably the best work time. And then after she goes to bed is by far my best work time. When I didn't have her in school, I was definitely working from 8pm till about midnight. That's definitely the best stretch of time to get things done.
So yes, and I probably would not have sent her back to school…I ended up getting a vaccination appointment pretty early as relative to my peers, just because of my job. We actually ended up having to remove her from school again in February, d because of an unrelated issue, our daycare had a fire in it, which was just like, you know, 2020, 2021, never ending stories of disasters. But we had to remove her again. So we actually ended up having her out of school for, I think until the beginning of March or even the middle of March, maybe because I was, I don't think I would have put her back in school if I hadn't been vaccinated. The new school was far larger, there's like 12 children, and I didn't know the families at all. I don't think I would have ever even considered having her back in school that early [if I hadn’t been vaccinated]. I think I was I was partially vaccinated at that point. But even that amount of vaccination kind of gave me enough relief to put her back in school. Because I'm sure I wouldn't have done that otherwise. So it's it has changed that calculation. I'm sure right now, with all the variants and everything, I wouldn't have felt comfortable, which also wasn't sustainable for my work. And so that was one of the justifications I've kind of given myself for going to get the vaccine, even though I know plenty of parents are in that position as well.
I honestly don't know how parents have sustained this year with children at home. My tolerance for parenting and working and doing that balance is, well, I don't know if it's a tolerance issue. But my ability to juggle that is just…I guess everybody's is pretty limited. And to sustain that for a full year, more than a year, which is I know what people are now going on doing, is amazing to me, because I didn't last more than those first four months. And then I certainly didn't last more than about a month and a half in January.

Ellen: Do you have friends who had their kids at home this entire time?

Lizza: No, no. I'd say most of my friends have kids in regular daycares. I was actually on the more conservative side. We sent her back in July and I know a bunch of my friends that sent their kids back earlier than that. One parent who I know who…I guess I do know a couple people who have nannies. But it still is a risk factor that they take on. I know another family who has extraordinary means who has learning pod situations with a very, very limited number of people and who have hired teachers to kind of conduct lessons for their school-aged children. But actually, I only know one person in that situation.

Ellen: So is there anything else about parenting during the pandemic that you'd like to mention?

Lizza: The only other thing is there was a time when Simone was sort of young enough when I wasn't really worried about the values I was instilling when I was telling her to stay away from people or stay away from her friends or if I scooped her up and kind of told her not to get too close to her friends, I didn't think it kind of had any type of influence on how she thought about thing. But definitely over the course of this year, it's something now that I'm far more wary about telling her, it's something that goes against the values that I would want to instill in her. I certainly would not want her to be afraid of her friends. And I want her and her friends feeling comfortable rolling around and wrestling together, or I don't know, whatever kids do, you know, spitting in their hands and shaking them or whatever gross things kids do, you know, sharing drinks. I've always been somebody who like, if it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger. Like she plays in the dirt. I want her to be kind of rough and tumble and not worry about kind of germs or something. And lately, I just have found myself kind of like worrying about germs, even regular colds this year have become a huge concern for parents. Because if you get if your kid gets anything a runny nose…Simone got a very, very mild runny nose in September. And she was out of school for a week, because any fluids are really not okay right now. And, you know, no daycare obviously wants to have children with any sickness, just because of the fears. So I've definitely become a little more like, I don't want to be as neurotic about those kinds of things. And I don't want her to feel afraid of her friends. So that's maybe a balance that I'm sort of trying to work through in myself. And as she gets older, I definitely I want her to feel comfortable playing with… obviously, I want her to feel, I don't want her to have to think twice about giving her friends a hug or giving anyone a hug. So I think I'm more aware of that now because she understands those types of measures and will wonder and I think she is sort of forming her idea of how to interact with others. And I don't want to have that type of anxiety be something that stays with her. So as we move forward, that's going to be something that I have to come to terms with.

Ellen: Well, thank you so much. It's been really interesting.

Lizza: Thank you. I appreciate getting the opportunity to kind of think about things in a different way or, you know, kind of step back a little bit from the daily interactions and grind of parenting. So I appreciate that.

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