I’ve had lunch with my 16 year-old-son nearly every day for the last two months. We sit side by side at our kitchen table without fail at 11:30a.m. as he takes a break from Zoom school. I shut my laptop in my makeshift office in our living room so that we can eat our soup/sandwich/cereal while watching Governor Cuomo’s daily press briefing on our small kitchen television — together.
My mother once told me that she walked home from her elementary school (I think they called it grammar school in the 1950s when she was there) every day to have lunch with her mom at their kitchen table a few blocks from her school. This is nice, I think to myself for a moment. But it’s not normal, is always the follow-up thought. And I am not a fan of the term new normal — not in the least.
By every standard we are lucky
I am lucky. My family is lucky. We are healthy. We are together. We have food on our table. We are able to work and learn from home. My kids don’t have toddler tantrums nor did they need me to be their homeschool teacher. They did not have to move home from a college dorm room or from young adult life in a far-away city.
Some might even say that my kids are in a kind of sweet spot of life at home during a pandemic. They still live at home but are rather independent, and prior to the outbreak, were becoming more so day by day. They slept in our house every night, but spent few waking hours in it. I mainly saw the backs of their heads early in the morning or late at night as they ran through the kitchen off to school and then up to their rooms to finish their homework or text with friends before bed.
Our old life was crazy busy
Our old life was busy; maybe even a little nuts. My husband often traveled for work, I was in the midst of a book tour and my kids’ days and nights were filled with school, sports, plans with friends (near and far), more sports (sometimes seemingly too far) and other activities. I recently listened to a podcast the speaker discussed the busy-ness of his old life, realizing that if this outbreak had never happened, he would have kept going and going and running and running a la the Energizer bunny until perhaps the very end of his life. He saw the silver lining in the slower pace of his current life. I am a fan of the term silver lining.
I too see the silver lining in this found time of being home at with my teenagers, but then again I have the perspective of being an adult — a more fully formed human being. I know that however long our time at home will last, it will be a blip in my life and in my husband’s too. I am not sure what it will mean for my kids.
What will our kids remember of this time?
Will they remember with fondness the nights we talked for longer than ever possible before at family dinners in our kitchen, reviewing made up “what if” scenarios, testing each other on riddles or crossword puzzle answers and answering questions about our pre-parenting lives? Will they smile when they think about the funny movies we watched together (and that we could actually agree on) or the time we roasted marshmallows in the fireplace or rode bikes in circles around our neighborhood?
Or will they recall with frustration watching their mother vigorously wiping down cans of soup and beans and their father having an ongoing battle with the bird who won’t stop flying into the window outside of his home office? Will they remember with angst and regret being stuck at home, missing out on being with their friends and seeing them every day in school, playing on sports teams, getting a driver’s license, being scared that they will get sick, or that we will get sick?
I wonder if or how this time at home, will ultimately affect the trajectory of their lives? Will they want to go to college closer to home having seen what so much time at home could be? Or will they run far in the opposite direction away from us and home life the moment they can?
I hope this time helps them build resilience, allows them space for reflection. I hope this time teaches them to be grateful for what they have and who they are and helps them figure out who they want to become.
Only time will tell. In the meantime, I am going to try to enjoy this silver lining — these moments which will surely become memories and moments that I never expected to have — like my daily lunch breaks with my son, and Governor Cuomo.
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Rachel Levy Lesser’s articles and essays have appeared in various outlets, including The Huffington Post, Glamour.com, Parenting.com, Kveller, Modern Loss, Scary Mommy, and The Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. She is a graduate of The University of Pennsylvania and received her MBA from the University of Michigan. She is the author of four books. Her most recent book, Life’s Accessories: A Memoir (And Fashion Guide) was released in 2019. Lesser lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two children. Learn more at www.rachellevylesser.com