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News & Events for the Smith College Community
Alumnae News July 7, 2021

‘I Cherished the Intimacy That Developed From Us Being Together So Often’

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Photograph by Travis Bara

In the midst of this strange year, I became a science writer. The specificity and sweep of the world of science and nature appealed to me, especially during the pandemic.

Suddenly, if I could follow the migratory path of alewives from my living room, I could put aside the map I carried in my mind painted not in the topography of mountains and rivers but in blotches of red and orange, signifying COVID-19 hotspots around the world. If I could wake before dawn to call a scientist in Sweden to ask them what it feels like to swim with a whale shark, then I could forget that in the past year I have rarely left my county and that all my adventures have been with two young children in tow. If I could write a great story about how a high tide and a tall wave might cut through the dunes of a beach and connect ocean to bay, then it didn’t matter that in more ways than one—no matter what I did or wanted—I was still a stay-at-home mom.

Since the pandemic began, my 6-year-old son, Toby, would sometimes come into my room while I was working. He couldn’t fall asleep, or he needed a snack, or he was restless because he sensed something was terribly wrong in the world. When he asked questions about what I was doing, I’d take my time responding. For a moment, I would let him watch me studying a book or listening to a recording of an interview—a mother caught in the act of writing an article. Sometimes I would invite him to listen to what I’d written, to see pictures of what I was trying to put into words. I didn’t ask him what he thought of all of this. Instead, I cherished the intimacy that had developed from us being together so often.

I’m only now beginning to sense the way parenting during the pandemic intertwined the lives of my children with the stories I told as a journalist. That as I worked away in the hours they slept or watched television, when I returned to them it was as if with feathers falling from my clothes, the mud of discovery beneath my fingernails, my shoes wet from exploring. “Let’s go,” I’d say, suddenly eager to take them down to the river not far from our house. Once there, I’d let them go off the trail, through the brambles, only stopping when we reached the slick rocks where crayfish hide. We didn’t have to talk about the news on the radio unless they wanted to.

When the pandemic started, I hadn’t realized that in contemplating the natural world, we would find such solace. And the adventures I’d sought for myself, I’d also sought for them.

Rachel Sturges ’02 is working on a collection of essays called Backyard Studies. She lives in Canton, New York. 

This story appears in the Summer 2021 issue of the Smith Alumnae Quarterly.


Read More Smart Ideas for a Post-Pandemic World

Education Policy: Lisa Daniels ’12, ‘We Need More Civic-Minded People to Step Up

Retail: Melissa Noonan ’96, ‘The Centers of Commerce Suddenly Shifted

Nature: Simran Sethi ’92, ‘The Health of Our Population Depends on the Health of the World