We Didn’t Ask for This But Maybe it Was What My Family Needed

It’s week nine…or is it the end of week eight? Do I count the week I went into the office for one day? When did I start keeping track? No matter, we’re deep into it now, nine (or eight or ten) weeks from the time we walked into our house and more or less stayed there.

Our new normal doesn’t seem quite so new anymore. This is just how it is now.

March was a lifetime ago, a month that dragged on relentlessly. The last gasp of a cold and damp New England winter that seemed determined to stay forever, reluctant to cede to the coming spring, no matter what the calendar said.

The work keeps turning and things are slowly changing. (Twenty20 @musiena)

At first we chafed at the confines of our new reality

My family of three chafed at the confines of our new reality while we adjusted to the world of work and college classes all taking place in our modest townhouse. Our life as empty nesters had come to a halt, our daughter’s independence nipped in the bud. WiFi stalled and stuttered, bodies ached from sitting in dining room chairs or from shuddering in a cold basement ‘office.’

We peered at colleagues and friends in the tiny boxes of Zoom meetings and virtual ‘happy hours’ which seemed anything but happy. Cold walks around the neighborhood often felt like forced fresh air breaks as we trudged past silent houses with no signs of life and barren trees.

But the calendar turned as it always does, and the cool days of April crept in slowly. Inside our days started to relax as they quieted, and shifted, into a new rhythm, a new routine that actually didn’t feel so bad after all. We looked up from our screens to really see each other and were reminded of how strong and funny our family of three is. Oh.

So, this is how it is now.

Then we adjusted, slipping into a new normal

Almost as if to make up for the slow aching plod of March, April sped by in a blink. But as it did, I started to notice things. I was sleeping better, cocooned in my room, woken only by the shift of a cat or two looking for a new sleeping position, secure in the knowledge my family was safe under the roof with me. I was sleeping later – not too much but just enough to make up for not having to factor in my commute to the morning routine. I didn’t feel exhausted all the time anymore.

Some mornings I get up and walk before ‘work’, others I pour coffee and read, plowing through my stack of books and savoring the quiet. Our week days began to take on a comfortable hum, each of us working in our own space – our daughter in her room, my wife at the dining room table, and me in the basement “office” – meeting every morning at 10:30 for “coffee break” at the kitchen Keurig and a quick check in.

Lunch is a true meal now, not a hurried affair. We make beautiful huge salads, or sandwiches or pizzas often sharing lunch together, or eating and reading next to the sunny kitchen window before returning to work refreshed for the afternoon’s tasks. At day’s end we walk, sometimes as a family, sometimes just as a couple while our daughter undertakes another streaming workout from a local chain of gyms.

We make and eat dinner together and settle in for an evening of TV, often promising the college girl we will save certain shows until she has a break from her finals or on line meetings and gatherings to watch them with us. After all, time is one thing we have plenty of. Nothing seems rushed.

This is how it is now.

We’re at the beginning of June now. The sun is higher in the sky, the days are longer, warmer. Almost overnight my neighborhood walks became filled with leafy green trees, budding bushes, and the heady smell of bark mulch as landscaping and gardening begins in earnest. The empty silent houses now seem full of life and we wave at folks sitting on their porches or working in their yards. I recognize all the neighborhood dogs now and notice when a certain tree flowers overnight.

The signs of the outbreak are still all around us: in the masks I see on fellow walkers or joggers, in the way we now automatically cross the street to give each other plenty of social distance, and in the yard-signs proclaiming pride in our local high school seniors robbed of graduation ceremonies. Our daughter turns 21 and her day is full of special deliveries, ‘drive by’ greetings and honking horns, surprise and socially distanced visits (but no hugs), and takeout complete with birthday greetings written on the carryout bag.

We end the day sitting in the late afternoon sun on our deck sharing drinks and laughing. Not the birthday she planned, but one she’ll never forget.

After all, this is how it is now.

I get better at Zoom, at Microsoft Teams, at Google Meet, at Face Time. We play trivia and other games with friends over these new platforms, my daughter laughs late into the night with her friends from around the country who gather for virtual parties, club meetings and even a murder mystery event. We notice strengthened connections to those friends who stay in touch and the absence of those who don’t.

Our daughter finishes classes and marks the end of her junior year from our living room. We have long talks about her life, her studies, her art, future in a way we never seemed to have the space to do before when we had to snatch these moments between running from one commitment to the next.

I look at her and find a stunning adult where my little girl used to be. We share so much. We dive deeper into books, swapping with each other, ordering more from our indie bookstore. My life ‘before’ never seemed to have much time for sitting and reading, now I can’t get enough. We embark on redecorating projects to turn her room into a sophisticated space from which to work on her remote summer internship. We bake. So. Much. Baking.

This is how it is now.

I’m in no hurry to leave this nest

I see the tired expressions on the faces of my neighbors with little ones and hear the daily ups and downs of life with a small child through our shared townhouse walls. I recognize, guiltily, the privileges I have – a home, a wonderful family, a job that can easily transfer to remote work, and an adult child that feels more like a roommate than someone I have to parent. My heart aches for those who are not as lucky. I want to tell them it won’t last forever but I know it won’t help because all that matters is this is how it is now.

The world keeps turning and things slowly begin to change as life ‘opens up’ in different ways, slowly and carefully. But I’m in no rush to leave this nest. When this is all over will I want to go back to commutes and lunches at my desks, to cramming household chores into weekends and evenings, to being too tired to read?

We didn’t ask for this, we didn’t welcome this, we didn’t want this. Yet maybe in some strange way it was what my family needed. My anxiety is quieter, my migraines are less frequent, my sleep is sounder, my laughs are deeper, our meals taste better, and my family is stronger. This is how it is now, and I think I’ll hang on to it a bit longer.

More to Read:

The Storm We Face Is Scary, But Together We Will Weather It

What Does a Mom Do When Her Daughter’s Whole World Shatters

About Katie Collins

Katie Collins is a native Mainer who has called New Hampshire home for the past 30 years. A nonprofit development professional by trade, Katie also has over 25 years of experience in community and professional theater and in 2013 was awarded NH Theater Award for Lead Actress in a Drama or Comedy. She resides in quiet domesticity with her adorable wife, with occasional visits from her talented daughter, a college senior.

Read more posts by Katie

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