Given that we are always under the same roof, my wife and I don’t talk that often, not about things that aren’t directly in our path like what we’re having for dinner, how many conference calls we each have that day, or what time our youngest son woke up from his nap.
When we do have time to talk, much of it is about something we’ve generally taken for granted, at least on a day to day basis: the well being of our children, in particularly are older son, who is in the first grade.
Of course we’ve regularly talked about how are kids are doing in the past. But now that they are both stuck in the house with us all day for going on a year, the concerns are more pressing. It might need by every night, but most nights end up discussing the state of our children and what we can do to make their lives better.
It won’t end until the pandemic does, at which point these conversations will back to happening as needed, although I suppose that suggests that they’re not needed as frequently now, when the truth is they are.
I have tried my hardest to make each day as structured as possible because that is what works for our children and, honestly, it’s the only way to survive this. But there is a great deal of variation within that structure and every day is different. The mood of a shelter in place 7 year old is not consistent from hour to hour, let alone day to day.
There are times when I allow for the chaos purely out of convenience. Our older son has had way too much screen time the last few weeks, but that has made getting work done and taking care of our younger son (now 2) possible. It’s like napping though: you nap during the day and then you can’t fall asleep at night so you’re tired the next day and you need to take a nap. Letting the older one have too much screen time affects him, makes him more irritable and hard to communicate with.
My wife has a job that requires her to be a desk during specific hours of the day. I can do my job from a laptop and often just a smart phone, and my work is never so urgent that I can’t do it after hours and on the weekends. This means that I’m the one in the best position to take care of the boys during the week, which includes preventing our fearless two year old from hurting himself and helping our sensitive seven year old with Zoom classes and school work. Somewhere in there I have to do my won work, too.
My wife jokes that my ADHD, now controlled by medication, is part of what has made me successful in dealing with our current reality. She’s not wrong; being able to split my attention yet actually see things through to completion is the greatest gift anyone in this position could have. Well, I suppose that and a ton of patience, which I suppose the other medications I’m on are good for.
Most evenings, after the boys are asleep, my wife and I talk about our days. Mine is, obviously, more interesting. We talk about what steps we can take to help our kids make it through this pandemic with as little mental and emotional trauma as possible.
Because that’s the thing: they will ALL have mental and emotional trauma because of this. There are probably a fair number of adults who will, too. But our kids are going to be dealing with the impact of this pandemic for years. There’s no protecting them from it, there’s only helping them deal with it.
This has become the new routine. Here are the things that happened today, here are the moments that were concerning, here’s why I think they happened, here’s what I think we can do about it.
We talk about it. We make suggestions. We try to follow the line from point A to point B using empathy and wisdom. We try to figure out how we can change the daily routine, how to communicate any changes in a way that will help them sink in.
We go to bed. We try to sleep.
I wake up every few hours to either pee because I’m old or try to get the two year old back to sleep because he’s going through sleep regression or to check on the seven year old who moves around so much that he sometimes kicks the wall. And sometimes the cats wake me up and sometimes my wife, her head overloaded with too much information and too many feelings, talks in her sleep.
And then we get up and we do it all over again.
And we worry. We worry so much.
This is not what we wanted for them. This is not what they deserve.
But I know first hand that children do not always get what they deserve. I know that sometimes they have to live through things that they shouldn’t. But I also know that they can get to the other side and that the journey can be made much easier with people who love them.
Tomorrow is Sunday and we will spend a decent portion of the day preparing of the week ahead and at night, before we go to bed, we will talk about how we hope it will go.
And Monday night, as we talk before we go to bed, it will all have changed.