It has been more than two months since the beginning of our quarantine. All in all, our lives haven’t changed much, with the exception of my husband, who now works from home. We still wake up at the same time every day, eat the same foods, and do the same amount of schooling with my eldest. The kids still nap at midday, and we still take daily walks. If it weren’t for the fact that we haven’t had a play date in two months, or that we haven’t gone to a playground other than the one in our backyard, I don’t think my kids would even know that anything is happening that is outside the ordinary.
Some of the changes we’ve faced have actually been good. My husband is home for lunch everyday, and he’s been able to spend a bit more time with our kids. It’s been freeing not to have any “real” schedules, nowhere that we need to be at any specific time. You can’t be late when you’re spending all your time alone. I certainly am not going to fault myself if nap time starts five minutes late because I agreed to read one additional book, and neither will my kids. It’s been a relief not to have to plan for my eldest’s weekly preschool program or his gym class, or to worry about being late to Mass (though I am sad that we cannot attend our church), or to need to race away from play dates and park trips because the kids need to nap, or dinner needs to be prepared, or we have another engagement to attend.
Other changes have posed minor troubles, or else excessive burdens, to our family. News of the virus outbreak has also stirred my anxiety into high gear. Most nights can’t pass without at least one nightmare. I have watched both my children, my husband, and countless loved ones succumb to this disease while I sleep, and it’s been a struggle to keep the despair that accompanies those nightmares from leaking into my waking life. Grocery shopping is harder, and I never imagined that I would need to ration my family’s use of toilet paper. My kids thrive on outdoor play, and they love their friends. I also rely on the peace and adult conversation that generally comes with play dates and trips to the park. With no one to entertain the kids besides myself and my husband, I generally feel the need to be “on” while my kids are awake. I don’t get those moments of calm when my kids are climbing on the playground equipment or else are playing with their friends. I never realized how much I relied on those moments to maintain my sanity.
But more than anything, I’ve been relearning the art of leisure time. Now that we can’t go to the local playground, we spend a lot more time at home. We still go on daily walks, and sometimes we invite a friend or two along (while maintaining the appropriate amount of distance between strollers, of course), and we spend more time on our deck and in the yard when the weather cooperates, but we spend a great deal of time inside our home. I think we’ve read every book in our house (more than once), and both of my children have managed to memorize portions of some of their favorite books. I’ve memorized entire portions of their books as well, though I am not so proud of my own accomplishment in that department. I don’t think anyone will want me to recite the entirety of “Little Blue Truck” from memory any time soon.
We have all learned how to slow down considerably (which is saying a lot, since I am a typical fast-paced northerner who now resides in the south). My kids have learned how to entertain themselves for longer periods of time. Without playgrounds and playmates, my children have learned to use their imaginations. They play together, and they play alone, and every so often they play with me. We have not become quite as stir-crazy as I thought we would; my children have really learned how to thrive in this time of great leisure.
With nowhere to go and nothing pressing to do, we can just be. We can be ourselves. We can be together. We can be a family. And in a time when our sense of community is threatened, when distance has forced us all to remain apart, the opportunity to be these things to one another, to be together as a family, to be hope in the face of despair, to be joy in the face of sadness, life in the face of death, is paramount. So go be with your family. Be with your children. Be together, and just be.