Being at home, pretty much 24/7 with my husband and three teenagers has been interesting, to say the least. In some ways, it’s been wonderful. Having a much more relaxed schedule and nowhere to go has meant that we’ve been able to slow down as a family. We have dinner together every night, play board games, and have conversations that don’t end abruptly with someone rushing out to an activity or plans with friends.
As my husband reflected the other day, one day we’ll look back on this time and see that it was so special to have had all of this quality time together at a point in our lives when our children are on the cusp of adulthood. It’s a family super boost before we enter the empty-nest stage.
There’s also something lovely about being able to sit down and watch a movie with my husband in the middle of the day, go for aimless drives, and take walks through the neighbourhood. The extra help with dinner preparation has been great too, especially when he hands me a quarantini and takes over the onion chopping.
On the other hand, not everything is always quite so rosy. We’ve had some family blow ups, one of which was instigated by a game of Pictionary. The constant cleaning and cooking makes me want to scream. I’m drained and anxious. I obsess over the number of cases and flattening the curve. I want help around the house but get agitated when things aren’t done “my way”. I’m on top of everyone about hand-washing, sanitizing and not touching their faces. We’re all exhausted and often short-tempered and all together all the time. Doors are slammed. Voices rise. We love each other, but don’t always like each other these days.
There’s also a lot of sadness thrown into the mix. I see that my kids are lonely. Teenagers exist for their social lives and living in quarantine has put a huge damper on that. My older two are in serious, committed relationships, and I viscerally feel the heartache that comes from being physically apart from their significant others. The other night, my daughter’s boyfriend came to “visit”. He sat in his car in the driveway and she sat in hers, and they talked, from a safe distance, through their open windows. And I sat in my bedroom and cried, wanting to make this easier for them.
Fortunately, as the days go on, we’re getting better at all of this. We’re learning how to communicate more effectively. We talk about how we’re feeling and, in turn, we actively listen and validate, and acknowledge each other’s fears and concerns without being dismissive. I’m also learning so much from my kids and how they’ve adapted to the “new normal”. They’re taking their remote learning seriously, they exercise daily, they’ve gotten really good at doing the laundry and may have even cleaned a toilet (once, but it was a proud mom moment). My youngest daughter has taken up painting, taught herself to play the ukelele, practices her basketball skills in the driveway and organizes themed Zoom parties (Zarties!) with her friends. She’s inspired me to return to art journaling, a hobby I’d loved but neglected over the years. It’s an amazing stress release that does wonders for my mental health.
When you live with an anxiety disorder, there’s nothing worse than the unknown. I like to anticipate, plan and strategize so that I feel more in control. But the whole world is in a holding pattern, and no one knows when we’ll return to any semblance of normalcy. There is no long-tern planning or strategizing. So I’ve learned, from my kids, that I have use a day by day approach to get through this time. I exercise, write, give back and create. I reach out to my friends virtually. I try to plan one activity for the next day.
And as each day passes, I’m feeling stronger and more resilient. The anxiety is still there, as it is for most of us, but this has been an opportunity to appreciate that I can keep it at a low simmer rather than a rolling boil.
One day, when all of this is behind us, I hope we’ll look back on this time and remember it with the solemnity it deserves, but also with fondness and a sense of pride. We’ve already learned so much as a family – about resilience, perseverance and communication – and I truly believe we’ll come out on the other side, proud that we triumphed through an unprecedented and stressful time. But, to be on the safe side, we’ll probably never play family Pictionary again.