As I sit down to write this column, my family is about one month into social distancing. It’s hard to believe how abruptly everything around us has changed. Even pre-pandemic, as full-time working parents of a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old, we thought we were busy, that we had very little free time in our schedules and that we were master multitaskers.
Oh, if we only knew what was coming in 2020.
For the past month, my wife and I have been balancing the demands of our full-time jobs (working from home) while ALSO caring for our kids, who are now home full-time. Our support network of friends, family and babysitters is unavailable as we try to do our part to flatten the curve.
One of the toughest choices we’ve faced is whether to allow the kids to see their grandparents. My mom is already providing childcare for us a few times a month — and we desperately need the help as we are so tired and overwhelmed. Plus, the kids adore their grandparents and it’s one of the reasons we moved across the country this past summer — to be closer to them.
On the other hand, my dad is more at risk for complications if he catches COVID-19 — and we want to minimize contact to help protect ourselves and others.
No matter what, the choices we make now can have a serious impact. I’m working to follow the guidance of medical experts, checking in with myself and my family/friends and working to find a path that keeps everyone safe and healthy. Right now, we’ve decided to continue the childcare my mom is providing with a few significant adjustments to increase safety, but we’re re-evaluating that choice every week.
I’ve felt so many emotions as I work to wrap my mind around what’s happening globally, locally and in my own home. Disbelief, fear and anxiety have taken more than their fair share of my mental space, but I’ve worked to balance those thoughts with finding opportunity in this time.
There’s so little I have control over right now, but I can control how I show up for my kids, wife, family and friends each day.
There’s a long list of opportunities I’ve found, but here are a few of my favorites:
- We have time to slow down and play, talk, listen, read and eat as a family EVERY DAY.
- My kids get to play with each other way more than they did before.
- We have more opportunities for the kids to be involved and learn household activities such as cooking and cleaning.
- Our mornings are slower and more relaxed as we aren’t racing to get out the door at a specific time.
- We’re appreciating and enjoying our outdoor spaces (front porch, backyard and walks around the neighborhood) more consistently.
- We’ve found so many creative ways to leverage Zoom and FaceTime to connect with others outside our household — playdates with friends, art lessons with preschool teachers, dance lessons, family chats and virtual happy hours with friends.
My job coordinating volunteers at a local hospital put me in the midst of COVID-19 discussions early on, but still I was shocked at how fast things changed, and how drastically our lives were affected.
Simple freedoms I took for granted such as going out to eat with friends, shopping and traveling felt too risky — and then many businesses closed.
Right before Gov. Tim Walz ordered Minnesotans to stay home, my husband and I had already started working from home; he had the basement and I had the dining room.
I was so grateful that everyone in the family still had their jobs. My son who lives with us was navigating his job as a yoga studio manager: Online classes, anyone? My other son in Denver had just started working at a water treatment plant (Could there be anything more essential?) And my daughter and her wife were juggling their work-from-home jobs AND the care of two active young children, since sending the kids to daycare no longer seemed wise.
Since I had already started doing daycare for them every other Wednesday, we simply continued that schedule, but the care now happens in their home.
I feel so fortunate to still see the grandkids and spend a little time with my daughter and her wife.
Because my husband has a compromised immune system, we decided it would be best to keep him safely stationed at our home while I serve as the go-between grandparent for now. Recognizing that even just going out is a risk, I’m taking as many precautions as I can — religious hand washing, constant cleaning and putting on a face mask in public. That’s my decision so far.
COVID-19 has undoubtedly turned our world upside down, creating damage to our country’s economy, sadly causing death and health challenges to many, and even threatening the health of the professionals we count on to treat us.
Who could have imagined this kind of chaos and disruption — except maybe epidemiologists? And yet, there have been silver linings. These are just some of them:
- I’ve been able to work from our lovely home on a lake and watch spring unfold, including gaggles of geese nesting, male turkeys proudly strutting their stuff and a pair of noisy sandhill cranes grazing at the bird feeders.
- Skipping the daily grind of commuting means I’ve had an extra hour of time every day, plus I’m saving money on gas.
- My husband and I started taking an hourlong walk at the end of the day in a nearby nature preserve park. Every person we see allows enough distance for us to feel safe, but greets us with a friendly hello — as if to say, We’re in this together, even though we’re separated.
- When I check in with extended family and friends, the discussions are more meaningful and filled with expressions of love, care and compassion.
- Time seems to have expanded and I’ve been able to read more, watch more movies and enjoy our favorite shows.
- We’ve been making and enjoying a homemade dinner every night.
- I’ve started a gratitude sheet that I keep posted on the fridge. I add two or three things daily such as family, friends, good health, scented candles, fresh-brewed coffee, sunshine, music, radio announcers, FaceTime sessions; the list grows long.
- Last time I was at the grocery store, I thanked the checkout person for being there. I’ve never done that before.
- And then there are all the helpers coming to people’s aid. Those with sewing machines creating face masks, the restaurant owners who now make and donate meals for people in need, the University of Minnesota meds tudents who have started providing daycare for the health-care workers … and so it goes.
No one has a crystal ball that will tell us how and when this will end, who will survive and who won’t. But I’m choosing to embrace the one-day-at-a-time approach, keeping vigilant about safety and cleaning, while enjoying the many wonderful things that life still has to offer. And I’m going to keep looking for the silver linings.
Mary Rose Remington, a Twin Cities-based baby boomer, is documenting her grandparenting experiences with her daughter, Laura Groenjes Mitchell — a millennial mother of two, who lives with her wife in Minneapolis. They’ll also be sharing their generational differences in our sister publication, Minnesota Good Age.