Meredith C. Carroll: Throwing Cheetos at the problem

Meredith C. Carroll
Muck Off

We have reached the Cheetos and M&M’s portion of the pandemic. Trust me: I’ve been here before so I know what it looks like. While COVID-19 is technically my very first pandemic, I was once the lone adult in the car for a 2,200-mile-long road trip across the United States with my daughters when they were 6 and 9 years old, so I’m no stranger to feeling forlorn and delirious.

It was in late June 2018 that the girls were hungry somewhere between Washington, D.C., and Wilmington, Delaware, when it was 87 degrees outside with 4,000% humidity. The prospect of being accosted by the heat when rolling down the window to order lunch from a drive-thru felt too harrowing, so I assessed our food supply in the car and then tossed a party-size bag of Cheetos and a 62-ounce jug of M&M’s at the problem. It wasn’t a move that’ll earn me any praise from the American Academy of Pediatrics, but I couldn’t find anything on their website about how to get kids to sit for 217 miles in grateful silence, or even regular silence.

Next week marks one year since Colorado’s inaugural COVID-19 lockdown and it has only been in the past little while — as the number of confirmed cases have dropped and more people have received vaccinations — that a finish line has started to feel less like an abstract concept and more like a tangible commodity. However, I’ve been fooled before by a mirage in the desert (like when the girls and I got to where we were going on the road trip yet eventually still had to turn around and go back the way we came).

Despite the real possibility of an end in sight(ish), I haven’t started planning my post-corona life, especially since I can’t actually figure how it’ll be much different from my pre-corona life. Instead what I am steeling myself for is the likelihood that life will keep looking the same as it is now, although maybe with less mask littering (but probably just as many Zooms).

I never really thought about measuring time or its value, especially time spent alone, when I had more than I knew what to do with. Then I lost it instantly, in letter and spirit, by becoming a mom and then continuing to mom during a pandemic. One day all you have is time and then just like that — poof! — you have kids and the little time you’re left with to yourself is spent wishing for more of it, or a better quality (although that would definitely probably mean less of it, so go ahead and debate which one is preferable when you wake up at 3 in the morning, or is that just me?).

It’s a nice idea to think we’ll be back in restaurants and bars before long. On the other hand, if I’m being honest, eating out lost its luster following the first 739 times my husband and I tried taking our kids with us. We ended up frittering away half of our retirement savings on untouched bowls of overpriced unbuttered noodles sprinkled with parsley, because the sight of the latter instantly, and always, renders the former inedible (duh).

Both parenting and the pandemic started out so earnestly: We’ll play games! We’ll be better people! We’ll grow our own food! And despite that, yesterday my fourth-grader indicated in so many words that having to reheat her own bowl of mac-and-cheese for lunch was both above her skill set and beneath her pay grade.

The pandemic is winding down(ish) but it’s not over, and the transformations to which I’m bearing witness are less of an Oprah “Aha!” moment and more of a switching-deck-chairs-on-the-Titanic kind of situation, which is to say: Don’t think too hard about whatever feels good right now.

There once was a time when, if I envisioned Cheetos and buckets of M&M’s at all, it was via a pregnancy craving (or a special Colorado craving) and not as a suitable breakfast substitute for my baby on a school morning. But if I’m still being honest here, if my 9-year-old will serve herself the chips and chocolate without needing my help, then I’ll happily bid her a bon appetit.

More at and on Twitter @MCCarroll.