One day early on in the coronavirus lockdown, I trundled the few steps from the small, messy home office where I work, seeking televised distraction from the teeming worries that were multiplying at a tribble-like rate in my restless mind. I decided to watch a movie, something guaranteed to make me feel better: the 1993 classic “Groundhog Day,” starring the brilliant Bill Murray (personal hero, lifelong celebrity crush).
For the benefit of the smallish handful of people who maybe haven’t seen it, “Groundhog Day” is about an acidly misanthropic Pittsburgh weatherman named Phil Connors who travels upstate to Punxsutawney to cover the annual Groundhog Day festival sighting of the town’s famed season-prognosticating marmot. Phil is bitter and condescending about the whole thing, loathing what he judges to be an assignment that demeans him. When a blizzard grounds him in Punxsutawney, he enters a time loop: Triggered like (alarm) clockwork each morning, he is condemned to repeat Groundhog Day overandoverandover until he passes through various redemptive stages of self-awareness.
In one scene in the film, as Phil’s compounding despair overwhelms him, he laments to two small-town barflies, “What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?”
In the protracted monotony and strain of these house-arrested days of pandemic parenting, I’m sure most of us can relate. Despite different circumstances — and solemnly acknowledging that this pandemic harms some more than others — we are all facing a similar existential murk that pools ever deeper as our concerns mount for the safety and future stability of our family, communities and economy. Self-doubts about how we are coping — or not, so much — have most of us gripped in our own loop, an unspooling of time where the days feel oddly undifferentiated from one another.
“What day is it, even?” my son asks. “Pretty sure it is Whateverday — does it matter?” I reply.
Murray’s Phil and “Groundhog Day” of course have been meme-ified endlessly during these now months of sheltering in place — gallows humor is, after all, a natural human response in times of desperation, threat and hopelessness. And, to be clear, I invoke Phil’s redemption story not as some blithe encouragement to seek silver linings or grind out gratitude: What I take from his and our skipping-record experience is that our actions do matter, even when every day feels exactly the same.
This month’s issue of ParentMap features a collection of parent essays aimed at exploring a gamut of relatable emotions and reflections about imperfect parenting in a perfect-storm crisis. We hope they will serve as a reminder that getting through this will require us to be a little kinder to each other and a whole lot kinder to — and more forgiving of — ourselves.
It’s 6 a.m. on Whateverday — when we wake up, there’s no need to look for our shadow: It’s time to parent again, and that matters a whole lot.
Happy Fathers’ Day to all you dear dads out there!