They were born at the start of the pandemic. Now, they’re nearly 2 years old.

When the pandemic lockdown started in March 2020, Lacey Puleo’s baby, Scarlett, was not even 6 months old. Craving a connection to other new mothers, Puleo launched a Facebook group for parents to help each other navigate the new normal with newborns.

It’s now two years later, Scarlett is also 2, and Puleo and other parents are still relying on the Moms Group Long Island N.Y. community created to help them through pandemic-related concerns.

Puleo, of Holbrook, who works in sales support, recently reached out to the hive for tips on teaching Scarlett to use a mask. She had been practicing mask wearing with Scarlett at home — with mixed results. “It was more like a game for her,” Puleo, 36, says.

While New York lifted the mask requirement for indoor places such as restaurants and offices last month, masking is still mandatory on airplanes and public transportation, and in health care settings, and wearing one has become a new milestone of sorts for 2-year-olds.

For families with babies born during the height of the COVID-19 virus in 2020 or shortly before, the pandemic’s demands have been a factor for all of their children’s lives.

“It hasn’t been a normal upbringing by any means,” says Chole Murphy, 33, of Mineola, who works for an accounting firm. Murphy learned she was pregnant two days before the pandemic hit; her daughter, Fiona, now 17 months old, was born in October 2020.

After giving birth at a time when partners couldn’t join the moms in the delivery room and extended families couldn’t meet the newborns, parents then navigated cautious infancies surrounded by risk of exposure to the virus.

Now that those babies are advancing into toddlerhood, the little ones’ developing view of the world is still colored by current events, and parents are still adapting even as restrictions ease.

‘I WANT HIM TO SEE FACES’

When Puleo and her fiance, Dennis Divanian, who works in construction, took a trip to Florida this winter, Puleo worried about her daughter being able to keep a mask on in flight. Once they arrived in Florida, Puleo noticed that her normally social child was clinging to her, and she wondered whether that was because Scarlett hasn’t spent much time with a crowd of people, even family members.

Puleo says at least she’s been fortunate that her living situation involves her family in a downstairs apartment and her brother’s family living in the upstairs apartment. He has four children, ages 6 to 17, living there with whom Scarlett has been able to socialize.

With virus numbers dropping, she recently started bringing Scarlett to trampoline parks to play, and she signed up for a music and movement mommy-and-me class that starts soon, she says. “I’m pretty excited about that.”

Kristen Keller, a hairstylist from Hicksville, has been taking her son, Giannis, born in November 2020, to a mommy-and-me class, and says she has been dismayed that the adults have had to be so guarded for so long.

“We go to a gym class and everybody’s wearing a mask — all the adults,” Keller says. “I want him to see faces. I want him to recognize people. I feel like he’s not able to engage properly. It makes me sad that he doesn’t know anything else. If we go someplace and my mask is down, he pulls it up.”

“We just got to the point where we need to live our lives. We want to make memories with her.”

 Chole Murphy, 33, of Mineola

Keller is thrilled that just last week the mask requirement was eliminated for the classes. “This all just happened. I feel much better about it,” Keller says. “I feel a sense of relief, for sure.”

Murphy says during the first 6 months of Fiona’s life, “I literally didn’t take her anywhere. I always imagined when we had our one child, we would take her everywhere. That was all kind of squashed.”

A recent study, by Columbia University which included 255 babies, found that 6-month-old babies born during the pandemic (not infected by the coronavirus) had lower scores on gross motor, fine motor, and social skills than those born before the onset of the pandemic.

Dr. Victor Fornari, a child and adolescent psychologist with Northwell Health, says parents should feel reassured that their children will adjust just fine despite their unsual early years.

“Infants are resilient. Generally speaking, as long as the parents were able to provide for the children’s needs at home, the kids should be fine. A lot of play groups and mommy-and-me classes are opening up, and those are wonderful ways to encourage socialization for infants and toddlers.”

LEANING ON OTHERS

Changes wrought by the pandemic haven’t been all negative. Keller’s father, who had been living in California while Keller was pregnant and after Giannis was born, wasn’t able to meet his grandson in person until Giannis was 7 months old because virus spikes kept wreaking havoc with his travel plans. “Because of everything that’s going on, he actually moved back to the East Coast to be closer,” Keller says.

Courtney Rogener’s daughter Skylar was born in October 2020, and Skylar had the virus when she was 8 weeks old. “That was at the time of COVID being so scary because nobody really knew anything,” says Rogener, 34, a teacher from East Northport. But Skylar has recovered — “she’s a happy, healthy toddler,” Rogener says.

That experience has enabled Rogener to be a source of comfort to other new moms in her circle — whether moms she met at mommy-and-me gym classes or friends she’s had for years — who are anxious about the same thing occurring with their babies. “They feel better knowing that she’s OK, and that we went through it.”

The fact that Skylar recovered has also made Rogener more comfortable taking Skylar out places (while still taking precautions). During the summer when virus numbers were lower, Skylar had playdates and went to gym classes; during the winter the family has scaled back activities as a precaution.

“Now that we know more about it, we’re just trying to give her the most normal life,” Rogener says. Rogener and her husband, Charly, 34, a technology teacher, were thrilled to be able to have 1-year birthday party with family and friends — albeit outdoors — in October.

Puleo had to keep interactions limited and in smaller groups for Scarlett’s 1-year-old birthday in November 2020 and for her 2nd birthday, she held a party outdoors, but in one group. She hopes to be able to do the same for her 3rd.

WEIGHING THE VACCINE

Christina Ortega and her fiance, Jose Pimentel, have faced COVID double trouble. Their 18-month-old twin boys — Zander Jose and Zayden Bertilio — both got the virus in December after Ortega started a new job as a case worker for Suffolk County and Pimentel started a new job with emergency fire services in the city. Because their jobs are no longer remote, the couple, who lives in Huntington, had to sign the twins up for day care. Zayden is named for Ortega’s father, who died of COVID in April 2020. Finding out the boys were exposed was traumatic for the parents.

“It was scary,” Pimentel says. Both boys recovered after having cold-like symptoms, and she’s not sure whether they will be vaccinated when the time comes.

A number of moms talked about anxiety surrounding a potential vaccine for their toddlers — either because they are awaiting approval or are not sure they want to give the vaccine to them immediately, even if it is approved.

Brittany Mullings, 32, of West Islip, who works in human resources for the NBA, says she is hoping there won’t be a mandate for the youngest children to be inoculated because she isn’t sure she and her husband, Marcus Buffaloe, 39, a medical device salesperson, are comfortable vaccinating 18-month-old Brielle yet. “I’m personally vaccinated. It’s a little different with your baby.”

Murphy, on the other hand, says she plans to have Fiona vaccinated once it is approved for her age group. That would make her feel safer when venturing out and about.

Murphy and her husband, Steve, 34, who works for ConEd, recently embarked on their first vacation with Fiona to Arizona. “We just got to the point where we need to live our lives,” Murphy says. “We want to make memories with her.”

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