Monday, April 13, 2020

Let's Call It Social Huddling Instead

According to my mom, my nephew Max is convinced he's "died and gone to heaven" amid the coronavirus-mandated social distancing restrictions. Apparently the introvert gene is strong with that one.

For those of us, including me, who derive a lot of our happiness from our own elaborate little internal worlds, rather than from much of anything the external world and the people who inhabit it provides, I get what he's saying. If you think about it, a twelve-year-old lucky enough to have been born into a caring, middle-class family has just about everything he needs and wants right there at home.

He has a big yard complete with a nice above ground pool. His brother, Harrison, is a bit younger but big for his age and rowdy enough to hold his own when they play together. He has plenty of video games for when he doesn't want to move from the couch. His mom's cooking is better than anything they're serving at the school cafeteria. And despite everyone's best efforts to keep the learning going, whatever homeschooling set-up they've arranged isn't likely to be as restrictive or demanding as a traditional school day.

What's not to love?

Quarantine has since wiped out the rest of the school year, but I doubt these two are upset.

More to the point, what's really missing from this new existence? Social interaction with his friends is the obvious choice, but that's offset by more time with his mom and dad and he's still just barely young enough that they're the most important people in his world. If I had to guess, I'd say Max would gladly trade FaceTiming his friends for more time at home with his nuclear family.

Priorities are about to shift though, if they haven't begun to already. He's involved with sports, and that's only going to become a bigger part of his teenage life. Soon, girls will also start to play a more significant role. As late-blooming as I was, bloom I finally did, and that silly boy eventually will also.

Right here, right now, at this exact moment in time very well could be the last window of opportunity for Max to really bask in the love of his family and feel that he's completely fulfilled, or at least so close that a few missed activities pale in comparison. Yet what do I see many families with children similarly situated in those preteen years doing instead of taking advantage of this time that can never be regained?

In a word... complaining.

For every social media post I see about families snuggling up with a big bowl of popcorn and a movie and enjoying being together with no outside distractions, I see five where they're whining about how their kids are driving them nuts. They've had enough of this seclusion and can't wait for schools to reopen and life to return to normal.

These posts make me want to tear my hair out by the roots. Not really. I like my hair. It's rapidly graying, but I've been blessed to keep a fair amount of it. I think I'd rather pull the poster's hair out, or maybe do something a little tougher like grab him and try to shake some sense into him.

What are you talking about you're sick of your kids? You do realize they share your genetic makeup, don't you? Ergo, if they're that unbearable to be around, maybe take a glance in the mirror.

The way I see it, this is is your chance to really get to know them. Instead of sleeping through another boring Zoom meeting with Bob and Carol and Andy from the office, cancel that dumb meeting. 

Grab that baseball glove you haven't touched in twenty years and head out to the backyard for a catch with your kids. You might be surprised at the things they'll tell you about their lives while you're throwing a ball back and forth.

Tell Bob and Carol and Andy business sucks right now anyway, and since there's nothing to do about that you think they should go have a catch with their kids, too. They're probably just as sick of Zoom as you and will gladly zoom right on out of there.

The reason I have so little patience for complaining about being stuck with your family is simple. I lost a child. Cancel that. I didn't lose her. I roll my eyes when people use vague terms like that to be polite. I know right where she is, and she's never moving from that spot. So just spit it out. She died.

Call it what you will though. That doesn't really matter. I'm just providing some context for my perspective on this whole quarantine thing.

To me, all the wallowing and self pity is simply short-sighted, self-centered, and downright soft—not gentle soft either, but spineless soft that nobody wants to be. You're supposed to want to spend time with your children more than anything else.

I'd trade anything, including your kid, to be stuck somewhere with my kid. We'd build a blanket fort and hunker down in it, just the two of us in our secret hideout while the rest of the world passed right on by. We'd bake some cookies. We'd make up stories about her stuffed animals' adventures. Who am I kidding... I'd break out my own stuffed animals for adventure stories!

We'd do anything and everything besides complain. I wouldn't let myself do that, and I wouldn't let her either. If things got a little tense or we grew weary, I'd hold her precious little face in my hands and I'd say something like this: 

You're my one and only daughter. You're my world. I love you the most, and we're fine. We're more than fine. We're whole and perfect and I selfishly don't ever want this to end. But when it does end one day, as all things do, and you're back out in the wonderful world, I want you to remember this special time we had together. When you hit a rough patch—and you will—I want you to know that I have your back no matter what. Be whoever you want to be. Change your mind as many times as you want. My love for you has no conditions. It is limitless and eternal.

I think a lot about creating my legacy. When I waste an afternoon scrolling social media and don't write anything, I get mad at myself because I didn't add anything to this so-called legacy and I'll never get that time back.

I'm right to a point, at least about time being our most precious resource. The reality for most of us, however, is that our legacy isn't about stuff we do. We're not going to do anything memorable enough for it to be about that.

It's about lives we touch. If you're a parent, far and away the greatest impact you'll ever have on the life of another human being is the imprint you'll leave on your own children.

That's your real legacy, and I'm trying to tell you not to blow it. Don't let yourself be distracted by work or friends or social obligations or charity or anything else. There will be time for those things or there won't. It doesn't really matter.

When I step back for a second, I do realize it's easy for me to sit here on my couch and play armchair quarterback. It's just me and my fiance, and we have it pretty good here. We have a large enough home with separate work spaces so we're not on top of each other all the time. We haven't suffered any drastic loss of income. We even have a killer home gym and can keep right on training as usual. Apart from me chewing through our groceries faster than she can order them, our stressors are pretty minimal.

So sure, I can tell you how I'd entertain my child all day in some blissful land of make-believe, but it's speculative. I'm not really responsible for doing any of that anymore. 

We talk about the "new reality" of the pandemic. I have a different sort of new reality that isn't really so new anymore after seven years, but that I'll probably never adapt to completely. 

In this reality, I spend my quarantine days watching exactly what I want to watch on TV rather than catering to a child's programming tastes. I fritter away my afternoons writing blog posts instead of morphing into a teacher for subjects that didn't even really interest me when I had them much less years later. I don't even have a full-time job to juggle from the confines of home-based isolation.

My situation is probably quite different from yours. In some ways it's harder, but in some ways also much easier.

Lessons roll on, and you can even bring a stand-in to this school.

When you really think about what you were doing a couple months ago though, do you even miss the rat race of running from one practice or activity to another, schlepping your kids around like some kind of parental Uber service? Doesn't the whole thing seem a little shallow and pointless? Surely there's a bit of relief in having a temporary—emphasis on that last word—break from maintaining that hectic pace.

I've heard folks describe quarantine as a version of the movie, Groundhog Day. I suppose I can see a bit of truth in that, but I see even more similarities with the furry rodent in the monotony of most people's ever-repeating workday and lengthy commute.

We'll all be back to that drudgery at some point. Then maybe we'll find ourselves wishing we were back here with the ones we love the most. That’s how life often works—longing to be someplace we’re not and only realizing after it’s too late that where we were is the place we always wanted to be.

Without being completely naive to the challenges of your situation, I'm simply suggesting a flip of the script. I've read some interesting viewpoints questioning the social distancing strategy, and perhaps a prolonged period isn’t even the right public health call, but we have to play the hand we’re dealt. Instead of seeing being sequestered with our families as complete drudgery, let's try using the time to connect with those we live with everyday, but maybe don't really see as clearly as we should, in meaningful ways that might not be possible under normal circumstances.

We're not social distancing from all those people and activities we miss. We're social huddling with the ones who matter most.

The two interspersed photos are of my friend Stacy Bartlett's children. Stacy also shared an Easter poem he wrote for them that echoes the theme of this blog post. I'll end with that.

An Easter Message for Morgan and Schaffer

The Easter Bunny is sad to say
Coronavirus came his way...
I’ve been “holed-up” with family,
And could not make deliveries

To all the kids this Easter season,
Social-distancing is the reason.
But have no fear as all is well!
To you both, I’d like to tell

How great you’ve been
while stuck at home -
When outside is where
You’d like to roam…

I know it’s tough
to be away
From friends and school
And to miss your Play…

And the Disney Trip
That you had planned,
Coronavirus
Sadly canned…

But think of all the fun you’ve had!
Being “trapped at home”
With Mom and Dad!

You’ve done school work from home,
Helped with chores-
Piano, singing,
Karate and Puzzles galore…

Morgan made a movie
That I really liked!
And Schaffer learned
To ride his bike!

I hear you’ve been watching
The Masked Singer,
I thought the Rabbit (season 1)
Was a Ringer (that means I thought he was the BEST!)

And LEGO Masters
Looks like fun!
Which team, do you think,
Is Number 1?

Hours of Fortnite,
Haiku, and reading books-
Eating everything dad cooks…

Walking Luna-
Playing “Wall Ball”,
Glad to see you’re not
Bored at all!

Tornado watches, movies,
No A/C-
This too shall pass,
Just wait and see...

So, in the meantime
please enjoy
A couple of the gifts and toys…

That I could get for you
From your list -
If I’ve missed some items
Please don’t get....angry

Besides, it’s not about
Those kind of things
That get you through
The day with wings…

It’s always about
the love you share each day -
How you show it,
And the things you say…

To those closest to you
Friends and family you love -
And don’t forget your God above!

Please make the most of this
Precious piece of “together time" -
I hope you both enjoyed
My Easter Rhyme...

Love,
-E.B.