“Mama, I don’t want quarantine to end.”
It was 9 a.m. on a weekday. I was sitting in bed reading when my middle child came in and joined me. Her declaration startled me so much that I dropped my book. Although I had been secretly hoping the stay-at-home order would be extended, I never expected her to share my view.
We were a few months into our state’s quasi-quarantine. Four out of five members of my family had mostly adjusted to this new, surreal life. My husband was working from home, my 20-year-old college student was back in her childhood bedroom, finishing her semester online. My 12-year-old had taken to wearing his bath robe everyday while toggling between online classwork and Minecraft from the couch. Two of my teaching jobs defaulted to video and Zoom lessons from my home office and my main job, writing, was already done from home.
The four of us who had adjusted — we are natural introverts. Staying in wasn’t that hard for us. But my 16-year-old daughter, a classic extrovert, was miserable. The toddler that never walked when she could run and climbed everything in sight had morphed into a teen who enjoyed a packed schedule. She volunteered as a youth leader at church and worked part-time as a barista. When she wasn’t at school, work or church, she was always doing something with friends.
Her life was built upon being with people and never slowing down. When she did have a gap in her busy schedule, she reported feeling “down” and “sad.” The thought that busyness equaled happiness for her had long concerned me as a parent.
The start of quarantine
The first two weeks of the stay-home order were extremely hard on her. Many of her friends were still getting together, but we insisted on following the rules. During this time, she alternated between bouts of crying and being really grouchy. Then her best friend said something that penetrated her haze.
“Maybe this is your time to learn how to be still.”
Although we had offered similar advice, hearing this from a peer resonated with her. It was like a flipped switch. She became calmer and even started smiling again.
With nowhere to go, our home atmosphere is more relaxed.
A forced pause
This forced pause has had a positive effect on my whole family. For the first time in years, my three children are choosing to hang out together outside of mandated family times. Because of their fairly wide age spread — ages 12, 16 and 20 — they have never been in the same stage at the same time. With different schedules, they were seldom home together. It wasn’t that they disliked each other, but lately, especially since my oldest had been away at college, it seemed they didn’t know each other.
I don’t think I realized how stressful the constant "going" was on all of us. Now, with nowhere to go, our home atmosphere is more relaxed. No one is arguing over who gets the car and there isn’t a parade of friends dropping by.
I’ve noticed that my oldest is catching up with friends who've moved away. She's making long phone calls, something that was always difficult with busy schedules and different time zones. My husband is helping our two younger kids with their schoolwork, something he didn't have as much time for when he was commuting. And although remote school ranged from extremely trying to nightmarish on most days, I gained a new perspective on what my kids do all day at school. It is definitely way more difficult than the schoolwork I had at their ages. I’m impressed by their workload and perseverance.
Some hard times
Don't get me wrong, some times have been hard. We’ve gotten on each other’s nerves. We miss our friends, our jobs and the outside world. We worry about how this will play out and what the future holds. And we feel very, very lucky that we aren’t dealing with food or financial insecurity.
We aren't baking bread or learning new languages, but we are spending time together. You can’t force quality time, it has to happen organically. And with more space and less structure, it is happening.
Now our state is starting to open up and loosen the social distancing rules. As the door to the outside world opens up a crack, I feel myself becoming anxious. Of course, I am concerned about one of us catching COVID-19 — it is still out there and spreading. But I think my bigger worry might be losing what we’ve gained during our family isolation: that feeling of peace and the knowledge of what is most important, human connection. I hope that we can carry these with us as we go out to face our brave, new world.