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The Short Story: Measure by Marlowe

Erin Ryan ’07, MS’09 is a self-proclaimed “word nerd.” She got her start as a writer with Hallmark, writing greeting cards, children’s books, and more. Today, Ryan wears many hats: a full-time content creator for an educational nonprofit, a freelance writer and strategist, a therapy-animal handler, a member of the Wisconsin Alumni Association’s Alumni Advisory Council — and to top it all off, a new mother. Here, Ryan reflects on the pandemic’s passing time through a joyful perspective.

December 07, 2021
Erin Ryan's daughter and niece.

While some measure the passing of this time in days at home, weeks since a trip to the office, or months away from family, I measure it in Marlowe.

In the early hours of March 3, 2020, my niece Marlowe was born in Madison (to Badger parents Chris ’04 and Jennifer Canty ’05). The family group chat pinged with news of her arrival. Two thousand miles away, I stared at her face in the blue glow of my phone. She had sleepy brown eyes and pouty lips, and precious, wrinkly fingers. She was absolutely perfect. A little ball of joy.

As the happy news spread, I couldn’t help but think of the virus quickly dotting the country. Surely, this baby didn’t arrive just in time for the world to fall apart.

But she did. 

Like the pandemic itself, her first three months were a blur, as everyone attempted to adjust to a new normal. My wife and I were fortunate enough to work from home.

“Just two weeks,” my manager said. Followed quickly by, “Definitely no later than May.”

I tried to occupy my busy mind. Marlowe helped. Near daily pictures of my niece in a tiny hat or learning to roll over. Before long, summer arrived. The heat brought unearned optimism.

“Maybe things will slow down, with the warmer weather? This could all be over by July,” we all said, lying to ourselves.

As cases ticked higher, Marlowe was becoming. She learned to laugh. Ringlets of dark brown curly hair sprouted on her head. She clapped.

I looked for new ways to spark joy. Marlowe helped. Facetiming with an infant is an exercise in being present. We made spit bubbles. We babbled. We laughed at nothing in particular. Once a week, the world outside of us paused.

Winter came, and with it, videos of Marlowe trying to walk, only to plop down on her butt. The perfect metaphor for a world facing setback after setback. But as Marlowe began to stand, we did too.

Vaccines rolled out and a new administration arrived with optimism and what felt like the first real plan to fight back. A glimmer of hope.

In late January, my daughter, Campbell, was born. I imagined these cousins, born less than a year apart, one at the beginning of the pandemic and one at the end. We made it.

Of course, that’s not quite what happened, but babies help.

A few months later, we traveled to Madison to introduce Campbell to her family. After warming up to us, Marlowe saw Campbell and said, “Baby!” with a toothy grin. She kissed Campbell on the forehead and wrapped her chubby arms around her younger cousin. It was the first time I’d met Marlowe and she was no longer a baby herself. But there she was, just as I’d known her all along, a little ball of joy.

Marlowe and the pandemic in the United States are now 21 months old. One day, I hope to tell her how she arrived just in time — not for the end of the world, but to bring light and hope when we needed it most, just by being herself.

This story originally appeared in the December 2021 issue of Badger Vibes. Learn more about this monthly email newsletter from WAA, and sign up for the mailing list.

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