I used to be good at avoiding my kids — all five of them. We had a mutually beneficial arrangement: I drove them to every soccer game, theater rehearsal and guitar lesson, and they stayed out of the house, allowing me to love them from a safe distance.
“Social distancing” with young children lacks the welcome isolation those two words bring to parents, especially if you’re a miserly introvert locked up with five kids, many of whom you acquired by marriage. We’re all in a three-bedroom apartment, which is still better than that time we got to know each other in a one-bathroom duplex.
The apocalypse notwithstanding, I have always suspected I wasn’t cut out for motherhood. Warmth is not something I generally bring to skinned knees. “You’re fine,” is my eye roll response to cries from the next room.
The injuries are never anything serious now, not while we’re wearing our pajamas all the time. In the old days a trip to the lake might require more attentiveness in case one of them snaps and tries to drown the splashing offender. Now, in-home stubbed toes and dry hands fall outside the spectrum of my empathetic bandwidth. I might be better suited for the trenches of the coronavirus battle, something where I can be useful without having to kiss any boo-boos, but alas, domestic life is my burden to bear.
At first, things weren’t so bad. I delight in chaos — not the unimaginable suffering part, but rather the destruction of the day-in and day-out. Most of us lead busy lives, rushing from one purpose to another. The eye of the hurricane brings a welcome quiet to weary go-getters.
Of course, a societal breakdown is not at all sustainable. A routine, much to my inner anarchist’s dismay, is a necessity for us. After a while, a new normalcy has to set in, though I much prefer the old rush to this new life of strategic grocery shopping.
Three boxes of family size Cheerios is a regular weekend for children who derive their sense of security from cereal. With limits placed on the quantities of food you can buy, I started taking advantage of the free school lunch program, though it took me two weeks to gather the courage to go down to the school and ask for five lunches. I was afraid someone would call me out for being a liar and thief — no one under 5’3 in ripped jeans has that many kids.
The first week of distance learning, I spent the mornings playing IT support, bouncing from one glitchy Zoom meeting to the next, secretly hoping one of them would get hacked just long enough to break the trance of their sour breath. The third-grader “accidentally” changed the language of her assignment into something impenetrable, but I had already spent my last bit of energy convincing the youngest that spoons, not fingers, were the proper utensils for applesauce, and so I retreated to my second shower of the day.
Self-care and cheap distractions are necessary, now more than ever. Exercise and eating peanut butter by the spoonful are both excellent modes of escape. I do not, however, suggest the vortex of social media. Twitter is a playground for the paranoid.
Just the other day, I read that we should be microwaving our mail. (Not only is this fake news, it’s a fire hazard.) I simply decided to stop getting the mail altogether. It only took one kid to cough over the taco bar for me to hide in my room for 18 hours with two battery-powered metal rods wrapped in wet paper towels, willing the virus and 5G signals away with finely tuned electromagnetic frequencies. (I read how to do this on the internet.)
A warmer May brings a sense of wide open spaces. Our community pool is still closed, but the kids can roller-blade and bike around the neighborhood. They have colored the sidewalks with pastel flowers of blue and yellow, competing with neighborship children in a distant game of tic-tac-toe.
Encouraging and familiar messages in sloppy cursive line the walkway up to our door:
“Stay Safe and Smile.”
“Stay Home and Save Lives.”