Zach Hillstrom

When my girlfriend Geanine and I would tell people we were expecting our first child, experienced parents would often give us the same piece of advice — essentially some version of: “Soak up the moments, because they’ll fly by faster than you think.”

In my introductory column in March, I wrote about how our daughter Winter suffered a traumatic birth and had to overcome some life-threatening health complications in her first days on Earth. She turned 1 in February, and she’s doing fantastic now; but that “soak up the moment” mentality is constantly in the back of my mind as I watch her rapidly grow. (And I do mean rapidly: She’s in the 99th percentile for height, which is apparently something parents keep track of and, in this case, brag about in newspaper columns.)

When I wrote that column in late February for the March edition of the Southeast Express, the world was a different place. It was just before the COVID-19 pandemic reared its ugly head in Colorado, requiring all of us who can to remain in our homes as much as possible in the name of public health and safety.

And when it comes to Winter, the pandemic has presented a frustrating challenge. She’s finally well and old enough that we can get her outdoors to experience the magic of summertime, but the pandemic has limited our options when it comes to the experiences we can provide.

For instance, there’s a very modest swimming pool in our condominium complex (that our homeowners association has chosen to fill, despite the pool being understandably closed right now), and we can see it from our window. Every time I glance out at it, I want to throw Winter in her adorable little swimsuit, grab a couple of towels and let her feel the hot sun on her face and her legs floating in cool water.

I wish we could take her on day trips up to nearby mountain towns. There’s a playground down the street with slides just screaming her name. And I would have loved to have spent time with family over Memorial Day weekend, letting my mom and dad and grandpa pass around the baby, pinching her little cheeks and kissing her on the face, getting their own soak-up-the-moment memories of this time in her life. 

But by postponing those moments temporarily, all of us have hopefully played some small part in giving other families opportunities to make memories they otherwise could not. 

So many — more than 100,000 American families as I write this — will never get to experience another moment with their loved ones again. Any sacrifices outside of theirs are infinitesimal by comparison.

And when it comes to appreciating a moment, I suppose that life in quarantine has taught me quite a bit.

I’m fortunate to work for an amazing company that’s kept me paid and employed in an unprecedented and uncertain time for journalists in the U.S., and it’s allowed me to work from home since the early days of the pandemic.

That, too, has presented challenges, as Geanine and I are both balancing our work responsibilities while trading turns looking after a toddler who stumble/sprints around the house all day like a broken Roomba.

But by being able to be home during this period of her life, I’m getting to witness her growth and development in a way I certainly could not have if I was still putting in nine hours at the office every weekday. 

Over the past few months, I’ve watched her teach herself how to throw a small plastic ball down the hallway (watch out, Drew Lock, she’s coming for your job!). 

I’ve heard her expand her vocabulary from just a few crude words to about a dozen. 

I’ve watched her try new foods and play with new toys, and seen the little wheels turning in her head as she processes these new experiences.

So in that sense, the pandemic has presented me with an opportunity. It has for all of us, in many ways, but especially those of us with kids. 

Because taking Winter to the pool and the mountains and the park down the street aren’t the only moments that are worth being present for. And those things will all still be here once the pandemic is subdued and we all can return to whatever the new normal will be. 

COVID-19 has shown me we all need to appreciate every moment we get with our kids and our loved ones, no matter how big or how small they might seem. We never truly know how many of those moments we’ll get.


Zach Hillstrom is a Colorado Springs native and graduate of Colorado State University-Pueblo. He has worked as a reporter for Southern Colorado print outlets since 2015.