Unfortunately, the dumpster fire that is 2020 is already a forgettable year and we’re not even halfway through it. I’ve already written off any plans I had for this year, and I’m hoping 2021 proves to be better. I would say it can’t be any worse, but I don’t want to tempt the fates because living in poorly-written disaster movie is about as fun as watching paint dry.
That being said, it would be melodramatic to say nothing good has come out of this. Sometimes, there’s a patch of blue in a gray sky, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t point that out, but first, it helps to have a perspective on a typical day in the pre-pandemic era.
With two teenagers in school and both my wife and I working, our weekdays were a churn of seemingly endless activity, and our weekends were mostly filled with things we couldn’t do during the week plus any fun activities we had planned. The days and weeks flew by. I’d blink, and another month had passed. There were days when I barely saw my kids. Being teenagers and all, they’d hole up in their rooms after school with their doors shut. I rarely made it home for dinner on most days because there was always something more to do at work. I’d come home and reheat my dinner and chat with my wife while I ate. Time for bed. Repeat ad nauseum. Phil Connors had nothing on me.
The pandemic changed all of that. First, schools shut down and relegated my kids to online learning at home. Then, my wife started working from her home office, and a week later, I joined them working from my home office. Suddenly, the four of us were together all day every day. Gone were the commutes and after-school activities and programs. The weekends, often crammed with chores, errands, and activities, became drawn-out days void of any intentions. My kids, like feral animals in the night, ventured outside their rooms for long stretches of time because even teenagers cannot soak in their own privacy indefinitely. They need some social interaction, and in desperate times when all else is lost, they’ll socialize with their parents.
It took a bit to get used to this new home order. With our usual routines upended, new ones formed. We have dinner together on most nights. Even if I have work to do, I can walk the 40-odd feet from my office to the dining room and have a meal with my family. The conversations have been wonderful ranging from the humorous to the serious. Even my son, whose predilection for grunting one-word answers to any question, has emerged as a thoughtful conversationalist. Weird times these days…
Just about every evening, all four of us take the dogs for a walk. We have a standard route we take weaving through the neighborhood, carefully maintaining social distance from our friendly neighbors whom we see regularly these nights. The mile-long walks offer up more opportunities for conversations, which helps my wife and I feel more connected to our sometimes brooding teenagers. I worry about how hard this is on them. They are disconnected from their friends and the other social aspects of school, but one thing I’ve noticed is how resilient they are, how much they have adapted and accepted our current state of affairs. They’ll be alright when this is all over (whatever “over” ends up being).
I can’t help but think that this significant pause in our lives is giving us a chance to connect with our kids on a deeper level than we would have otherwise at this point in their lives. In the former order, it was easy to keep moving forward without much concern for the moment. They’d be less inclined to engage with us because there were too many other things going on – school, activities, friends. Now, there’s just this void that stretches on for days, weeks, and months, and we’ve filled it as a family.
The hardest part of being a parent is letting go. It’s a necessary part of the circle of life because you want your kids to grow into independent adults, but that knowledge doesn’t make it any easier. One day too soon, these two will venture out on their own and have lives completely separate from us, but for now, we’re getting an opportunity to enjoy our time with them as we’ve all been thrown together in isolation from our usual busy lives. If that’s not a silver lining in all of this, I don’t know what is. I suspect that years from now, when it’s just my wife and me, we’ll think back to this time and remember it more for the opportunity it gave us than for the inconvenience it caused.