Photo: mybabyfingers.com

Lately, a walk through the park (even wearing a mask) has been a welcome escape from the confines of home. Throughout my life, swimming, singing, and reading books have provided opportunities for me to escape. But I rarely have access to a pool in my adult life, there are too many people in my home for me to sing every time I want to, and I’m embarrassed to admit how long it’s been since I’ve read a book for pleasure. I used to go through three books a week and tune out the world as I read. I found joy in reading to my children, or even sitting in the same room as we all read our own books.

This week—after far too long—I finally started reading Becoming by Michelle Obama. It’s a relief to escape into someone else’s world, adventures, successes, and struggles. As an educator, I read constantly for work, and while I enjoy much of it, it’s not really by choice. 

In mid-March, like most kids, my boys had to continue school from home, online. My boys are now 19 and 21. They came home to continue their first and third years of college from their bedroom or our living room, on their laptops. They celebrated their birthdays at home—I put together a surprise Zoom call for my older one. Twenty-one. I wanted there to be something to remember beyond ‘COVID-19.’ He was initially so annoyed that I told him “Nana wants to say Happy Birthday via video after dinner.” Actually, so annoyed doesn’t really describe it. He used some not-so-lovely words and told me that his birthday was always about me. Actually, it is so close to Mother’s Day, a day that usually winds up being about him, or everyone other than me. Anyway, he was pleasantly surprised that I figured out how to contact his friends from camp, high school and college to join our family from near and far—everyone said ‘surprise!’, sang happy birthday, and chatted for a while. I had the chance to do a little activity which, of course, embarrassed him a bit before he continued the call with a small group of close friends who remained. He couldn’t go out to a restaurant or bar and order his first legal drink that night, but he was able to buy himself a gift, with his face mask on, at the liquor store. A rite of passage, I suppose. I just hope that when my younger one turns 21, the coronavirus is truly a thing of the past. Not that he will need to go to a bar in order to celebrate his 21st birthday, it would just be nice for him to be able to be with friends. 

Sheltering in place. We’ve had select moments here and there, though honestly, it has been anything but ‘sweet’ to be home all together these past few months. My husband and I were supposed to be ’empty-nesters.’ Initially, that made me really sad; my kids had grown up, gone away to school, moved onto a new chapter in their lives. We knew it was temporary, but no sooner had I begun to kind of like it, did they move back in with no real end in sight.

Their summer jobs were even canceled. My husband and I also both teach for colleges, so with the four of us at home, there were many hours each day that at least 3 of us needed a private, quiet space to take or teach classes. Now college semesters are over, but there are still times when more than one of us needs a private, quiet place for a meeting or a class, to practice guitar or drums, have a Zoom call for fun, or simply to be alone for a few minutes. We don’t have an attic or a basement or a garage or a back yard, so I had made a color-coded schedule to hang on the fridge to minimize the arguments when it came to who got the bedrooms behind closed doors and who had to be in the living room while someone else was there working out in our new mini ‘home gym’, or watching TV with headphones. It was agreed that the drum set and the beds couldn’t be moved out of the bedroom, yet that didn’t keep one brother from being angry with the other for needing the space.

I’ve always worked part-time from home. However, having to balance parenting young adults with 100-percent of my work from home and limited opportunities to be with friends, colleagues, students, and clients is not easy. I have the good fortune of still having my work. And yes, I can also go out without worrying about not having a babysitter. We have our health and one day I’m sure I’ll miss them so terribly, perhaps I’ll look back on this time feeling grateful that we were together. Perhaps.

I’ve known that one day my kids would grow up and move out. As difficult as parenting is, I never thought I’d actually want them out. And at the same time, I never want them to leave. I question my parenting skills and choices, I then question my professional self because I have a deep understanding of child development and human behavior. I feel the challenges of being a good role model for adapting to change and dealing with stress when I’m trying to adapt and deal.

I have to trust that I’ve given my kids the love and guidance they need to survive with us and on their own, pandemic or not. This story is not yet over, but of course, I’m hoping for a real happy ending. Life as a parent certainly isn’t ‘a walk in the park.’