My kids don’t go anywhere anymore. We started out 2020 by taking some great trips, but obviously Covid changed all of that. For the past 8+ months, our lives have mostly been confined to the house. We are all on top of each other all the time – for school and lunch and playtime and work and everything in-between. Just like every other American family, I guess.
Do I want to let them have more freedom? Yes. But Covid makes me nervous, because even though I know we’d all likely be okay if we got sick, I don’t have a guarantee. Sure, it may be only a very small chance that one of us would die if we contracted this disease. But statistics really don’t make me feel that much better. I mean, what are the chances that a healthy 40-year-old man will die of cancer six weeks after his diagnosis?
So we stay home, and I try and control my anxiety around the kids, which is not a new practice for me. Like many widows, I have spent the past three years reassuring my kids that they are safe and reminding them that there is so much good in the world, even when bad things happen. I try not to let them see when I feel nervous or overwhelmed, though they can still sense it. I try show them all the fun that we can still have.
We dance in the kitchen as we make dinner and we take bike rides together at lunch. “Isn’t this fun?” I say often to my kids, who sometimes smile at me and sometimes roll their eyes. But even my pre-teen daughter is cautious enough that she’d never remove her mask in public. There are risks that may be reasonable, but she knows enough to understand that if you can avoid disease, you should.
All this means that sometimes the kids feel trapped. The other day, Chris and I decided that things had reached a breaking point and everyone needed to get out of the house, so we took a quick trip to get a few things at the store. The plan was that the kids would sit in the car with me while Chris was inside. Was it a great plan? No. But at least we’d get out of the house and have a change of scenery.
As we were leaving, Chris said to me, “do you think we should bring some food for them if they get hungry?” I took a look in the fridge and we had almost nothing besides a few pieces of cold pizza, which I wrapped up in tin foil. Then we loaded up and drove to the store. I sat in the car with the kids and played some music, and everyone was decently happy.
Okay, fine, everyone was decently happy for about 5 minutes before the whining started. I let them play in the (somewhat deserted) parking lot and then Chris came back and we sat in the car and tried to figure out what to do next. As Chris predicted, everyone was already hungry.
“I’ve got cold pizza and that’s it,” I said to the kids, who made faces at me but ultimately decided they were too hungry to pass it up. So we opened up the back of the Mazda, laid down the seats and gave out pizza. The kids turned up the music and smashed their bodies next to us as we dangled our legs out of the back of the car. “I mean, this is pretty terrible,” I said to Chris, and he laughed. It was pretty terrible.
But I was smiling and so was Chris. He reached out and squeezed my arm. “It’s actually great,” he said.
It wasn’t, of course. The boys were trying to arm wrestle next to their sister, and someone had taken off their shoes and smelled up the car. The pizza was stale and it was cold outside. It was one of those (many) moments in parenting that are awful, the ones you try and avoid when you’re planning an outing, the ones you just grit your teeth and get through because oh my God parenting is hard.
“Can we have dessert?” Austin asked, and I pointed out that we didn’t have anything besides cold pizza.
“There’s some gum in the glove box!” Claire said.
I let them have it, and then the whole car smelled like bubble gum, and then everyone wanted to spit the gum out and we had no wrappers so I just took it in my hands and put it with the leftover pizza. Chris picked up the trash and I told the kids it was time to buckle up, because we were going home.
I rolled my eyes at Chris, because I knew the trip had been sub-par, to say the least. He looked at me and smiled. “I love you so much,” he said.
You’d think that if I lined up all the events of 2020, my most memorable ones with our family would be the days we spent together on the beach in Maine or the weekend afternoons when we jumped in leaves in our yard, and those would be some of them.
But somehow, that day with cold pizza in the back of the Mazda would make it on the list as well.