There is an end in sight now to #stayhome with the work-from-home orders being eased, salons and restaurants opening up, and beaches and parks open. I know we won’t know how this all will shake out in the coming weeks and months, and what feels like the right answer one day can be the wrong answer the next, and maybe we will look back and regret or be happy for our decisions as our city opens back up. We just don’t know yet.
But. If I am holding onto all the good and positive of this Great Pause, (and I AM, because it’s all that keeps me sane after 10 weeks of being home with four kids on two different remote learning programs in two different schools) it’s that I feel like this time has been a gift. After my last maternity leave ended four years ago, I never, ever expected to have this much time with my children again. Twelve weeks of caring for a newborn, then off to daycare with you, baby, and I’ll see you for a full week or maybe two, max, during winter vacation or spring break.
I have held close to me this unexpected extra time of being with my children. I am not encasing myself in a bubble; I know this time has been a nightmare for many, many families; I know how fortunate I am that my biggest challenge, and it has been a challenge, has been learning how to balance my four kids’ school needs and physical and emotional care with my job and the enormous amount stuff at work we have going on right now. Still, I unexpectedly got 10 plus more weeks of my babies. And now I’m not sure I want it to end. (Not the joblessness and the health crises. They can end now.)
I am savoring every second I get with my kids, as it looks like I’ll be back in the office soon and the two youngest will be back in daycare and my oldest two off to day camps. And then who knows, maybe it will be winter break before I have so much time with them again. Even just calculating what time I spend the car in the mornings and afternoons I save myself about 10 hours a week working from home. Add that to the baseball and ballet, errands and birthday parties, church and school events, and well, that’s a lot of free time we have had suddenly. All of those things are wonderful and good and I started out this quarantine desperately sad at all we were missing. However, now that I’ve moved past the sadness, I’ve come to cherish this time at home with nowhere to go and nothing we’re required to do.
I feel as if, with all this extra time, my kids are finally getting the childhood they should always have had. Instead of staying at daycare or riding around in the car every afternoon, as soon as I’m done with work, the stroller and scooters come out and off we go. We have found several special new nooks in our neighborhood we didn’t know about, including a park with six swings, a tiny beach on the river, and turtles to visit and ducks to feed. We have checked on the same tadpoles in a nearby old fountain for weeks now, watching them grow bigger and bigger. We have spent endless days in the backyard, chalk mashed into the pavers, balls and bikes strewn across the grass. We have planted flowers and strawberries, watched caterpillars grow into butterflies we then released, and dug in the dirt with packets of seeds to see what would bloom (um, nothing). We made an Easter egg tree with salt dough, painted so many pictures there is paint everywhere, gone on rainbow hunts, learned names of flowers, hit baseballs, and scooted for miles and miles.
Our driveway is covered in chalk pictures until it rains and then new ones appear. We have drawn pictures for our neighbors, decorated postcards we put in their mailboxes, sent the grandparents actual real mail. Sure, we have done worksheets and iReady and endless tracing of letters and numbers and online resource projects. My kids have also played in a bin full of rice, covered themselves up to their elbows and eyebrows in shaving cream, dyed their hands bright pink with food coloring while making paint out of cornstarch and water, blown bubbles until their cheeks hurt, played capture the flag, and made animals out of clay. They spent an afternoon jumping in puddles in the rain, chasing a toy boat down the gutter on our street, getting completely soaked and laughing the whole time. They’ve actually sat still on the banks of a creek, fishing.
The days are so full, but in new ways, and it has been so sweet. Every night they pass out, wiped from all the exploring, dirt still on their feet no matter how hard I try to clean them in the bathtub (Florida kids haven’t worn shoes in weeks), sunburn on their noses. My oldest disappeared with friends on a bike for hours, and I didn’t even think to be worried. My youngest boy covered himself head to foot in mud after falling off a swing in a mucky area at a nearby park. I’ve peeked in on my youngest girl, playing with her stuffed animals, making Play-Doh pizza and cookies and tea and having full conversations with them. We have played hours, hours, of Monopoly after dinner with my oldest boy, so much Monopoly he’s memorized every single property card and all the rents on each one. And my oldest finally has time to be outside, to be on a bike, to explore with friends, to walk our neighbors’ dogs, and not worry about homework or being back at school for a club or event.
This is, I think, what their childhood should be. I hope we can hold onto it, in as many ways as possible, after this abnormal period of life is over. When I look back at this time in a few years, I know the tantrums over manipulating Microsoft Teams will have been forgotten and the constant irritation of counting iReady minutes will have slipped my mind. My kids will get over their two canceled birthday parties, the lost baseball season and lack of fifth-grade graduation and the end-of-year parties; they’ll forget they didn’t see their friends for a few weeks and start up where they left off. And I will remember this as a sweet time when we had extra hours and warm evenings together to eat a picnic dinner outside. I will remember the world paused long enough that they had a chance and the time to enjoy the childhood they’re supposed to have, and how much they — and I — loved it.