Doors close. Doors open.
This day in mid May was a day of ease, a gentle coast on this COVID-19 shelter-in-place roller coaster. It was both a high (cherry picking with our besties in masks and at “bicycle length” apart) and a crashing low (hangry tantrums with echos of “you DON’T understand!”).
That day, just after we finished dinner, we played out a skit where Charles was away at college, binging on TV and Sprite and we’d call his roommate Monty (who Charles said he had known since 2nd grade) and try to get Monty to police Charles’ indulgences. But both Monty and Charles kept hanging up on our napkin and ketchup bottle cell phones. Then we played two raucous laughter-filled games of Exploding Kittens. Somewhere along the way we started grooving to the Spice Girls’ Wanna Be and then to Donna Summer, which made me hunt down a song that I loved so deeply it haunted me when I was around my son’s age: Donna Summer’s I Feel Love. That song takes me back to my father’s basement, with its black paneled walls and orange shag carpet, the full bar, the dance floor, the velvet-lined chess booth. I have written at length about that basement and hearing that song always takes me there, back to the musky scent of my father’s kingdom, Club Christman.
When I was my son’s age so much was spinning out of my control in my turbulent life. From 4 to 6, my world was particularly rocky. At 7, things were still being shaken up just as they started settling down.
We take turns joking and discussing soberly about how this entire generation of kids, across the entire planet, living through this coronavirus pandemic will be deeply defined by it. It will be the subject of their college essays. It will be in origin stories: “It was during the COVID-19 pandemic that I started playing the piano…” It will be the fabric of their living narratives.
When I was my son’s age, I made one of the most important decisions in my life, the fodder for my college essays. Pumping up and down on the elliptical in our garage to I Feel Love, remembering my father’s basement, remembering my father and his drunk then sober volatility, remembering that important decision I made at age 7, when he asked me to live with him instead of my mother. Remembering who I chose and how it shaped me.
When we were getting ready to be parents, I asked my husband if I could have the first six years of my son’s life to raise him. Because I wanted to build for him a base of security. A base of safety and stability. A base of uninterrupted, unconditional love and devotion. A base of joy and laughter. I asked my husband to work himself to the bone to support our family so that I could make sure that the first six years of my son’s life were as different as possible from my own.
Time’s up. We beat the deadline. We got him to six and three-quarter years of a “mostly happy life”, by his own admission during our nightly thankfuls. There is no denying that Charles’ seventh year has been turned upside down and that this pandemic is redefining normal for our entire world, all 7.8 billion of us. Hopefully we had enough time to equip our son with the tools to handle–and by handle I mean at the very least be at ease with–the ebbing and flowing of life and life in a pandemic.
The good news is that we get to navigate these uncharted waters together as an intact and stable family. We are all learning, together, how to be: how to be present with each other; how to give each other space in tight quarters; how to stay connected in isolation; how to make sacrifices to keep each other safe; how to keep reinventing 5 meals a day (765 of them and counting); how to make ourselves feel different, fresh and engaged, throughout the mundane grind, through this Groundhog Day reality. We are all learning how to keep laughing and loving, experiencing joy and gratitude for all of our moments together.
I think it is safe to say that Charles’ first seven years are as different from mine as they could be. There is one major similarity. At 7, he is learning how to be resilient in ways that we never could have imagined. Like me, he is using his smarts and sensitivity to notice, to learn and to adapt. His newfound scrappiness is helping him survive and thrive in a novel reality. Unlike me, he’s not feeling alone. So many doors are opening and closing in rapid succession. But here we are together, standing hand-in-hand in each and every threshold. Our love and our togetherness are, in and of themselves, the ultimate wins.