Coming up on a month of being homebound and today marks a week of DC having an official shelter in place order in effect. Which to be fair, didn’t really change much for people who were already social distancing, but it heightens the feeling of claustrophobia just a tad. Luckily, the order still allows exercising in nature with members of your household and we have been LIVING for that. We do lots of walks around our neighborhood, but those are actually trickier, as everyone else is walking around too and it is much harder to keep our distance from friendly neighbors we know, not to mention their dogs and the sticks in their front yards- two things my children live to touch. Though many official nature centers, public parks, and green spaces are closed, there are still a lot of lesser known ones open, and the kids and I have been hiking our way through every forgotten stretch of woods we can find, feeding any duck that crosses our path, and routinely coming home in various states of undress after playing in creeks. Everyone is different, and I know some people keep the anxiety of the whole global pandemic situation at bay by staying home, but I have to have spaces to explore to avoid the suffocation of the news these days.
While the first couple weeks passed with our children mostly so thrilled at more parent time that they didn’t question the changes, the last week has had Henry asking if other kids are like him, you know, “not allowed to see any of their friends.” It’s crushing to see him process missing his friends without the perspective that adults have. But at least we have our family. James and I were waxing poetic last night about what quarantine without young children would be like. Would we lounge about all day watching TV? Would we get caught up on sleep and exercise and look presentable for teleworking and do home projects and read good books? Would we be insanely productive? Because the same quarantine with young children means all the regular things that make life hard without the things that make it easy, ie, distractions, play dates, babysitters, etc.
Yet even if this season is uniquely draining, there is some unique beauty to it. I feel a little squeamish typing that, just like I do when I see a constant stream of perky Instagram posts and pithy taglines about how good this time is for us all, how it makes us slow down, value people, reduce waste, count our blessings, etc. Those things are true, and they are wonderful things to find in life… if you have the luxury of getting to look for them. But for people out of work, sick with anxiety over still working on dangerous front lines, panicked over longterm financial implications of all that is happening, mourning the loss of things far greater than playdates and mom group- being told to count your blessings and enjoy this time is, frankly, tone deaf and cruel. I am fully aware of that. I’m not telling anyone in a situation less comfortable than mine to enjoy it. Grief and anger are emotions that are just as real as joy. But I am sharing some observations about this concentrated time with my family that have been good for us, because we are each other’s world these days, or at least- we are the limits of it.
James still had to go into work the first two weeks, but the last two weeks he has been able to hole up in our study and work from home. It has been wonderful cutting his commute out of the day and having him “home” earlier in the evenings and able to sometimes duck out during the day and help wrangle a kid for a minute. But also like- he is here- in my space, my domain. After I had some slightly less than adult emotional outbursts, James very diplomatically suggested that we have a summit meeting about expectations and schedules, how we wanted both of us working and parenting from home to look. We agreed that nothing said during said meeting could be taken as an insult, so after hashing out how the days should look, James then calmly suggested that we take a moment to share things the other person does that are easy to ignore during normal times, but may drive us to insanity during quarantine. That’s right, we got to throw down what drives us crazy about each other. And y’all- because we were doing this not in the middle of one of those pet peeves actually happening, but rather serenely in our kitchen (ok, semi serenely… I may have actually locked the kids in the backyard so they would stop interrupting, and Henry was literally hanging from the lattice over the kitchen window begging to come inside), it was a good and productive conversation that has led to really doable and good expectations for the logistics of this concentrated family time. Being together all of the time either breaks you, or teaches you to communicate even better than before, and I appreciate that.
This has also been a really unique time to focus on the training of my children. They are each other’s main entertainment, friend, and antagonist all wrapped up in one these days. It means that they have never played better or more together… and are constantly creating situations that are clearly “learning how we treat each other moments.” But since we aren’t running off to do a million things (which I love and PLAYDATES I MISS YOU), I have time to stop them, talk about behavior, playact other ways to handle a situation, and straight up practice the good. Obviously, they are still tiny trolls, being almost 2 and almost 4. But the good moments are stacking up, the thousand times where I see one of them stop and redirect themselves to respond in a way that we have been practicing. One morning Etta and Henry both climbed into bed with us and I turned on a Beatrix Potter audio book to keep them snuggly and silent so that James and I could continue procrastinating the moment when we would have to get up and start the great debate of cheerios or eggs or toast. Etta had brought all her favorite stuffed animals with her, and out of my half closed eyes I saw Henry reach to snatch one away for no reason. But then, he stopped, pulled his hand back and in the sweetest whisper asked if he could take a turn and she happily handed it over.
These are the moments that have peppered our weeks at home and they are sacred to me. We have been spending so much time practicing asking for things and to see it play out unprompted was the best gift. I am far from a perfect parent. But for this brief moment, I am a parent who is able to take the time to more perfectly parent and it is humbling how good that is for my kids. (Yes, you can appreciate the irony that I am saying that one paragraph after admitted that I locked my kids outside to finish an adult conversation).
True, there have been many moments where I am so over it all and have put my kids to bed and then helped myself to the stash of Easter Candy that is ostensibly for them. But when this is all over (and it will end sometime!) I will remember instead the lazy mornings, evening bonfires in the backyard, family walks, and nature adventures. I will remember how much family time demanded of us all and how much it gave back in return.