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This Togetherness Is Temporary

Get this: A couple of months ago, I quit my job in order to be home more.

Go ahead and laugh at the timing. I know.

At the time, it was hitting me that my daughter starts high school in the fall, and my son will be a senior. Increasingly they were spending their time away from me at school, with friends, and in the many time-intensive activities that make up teenage lives. I could feel the clock ticking, and I wanted to spend the minutes I could — the minutes they were willing to give me, anyway — with them, instead of sitting in front of a computer at night and on weekends in order to juggle a job as a bookseller, a part-time gig as a television host, and a book deadline. I wanted more of them while they were still living in my house.

Now here we are, all together, every day. You’re supposed to be careful what you wish for, but come on. None of us saw this coming.

This morning, I put breakfast on the kitchen table, placing plates of scrambled eggs on the same knotty pine slab that once supported piles of freshly folded baby laundry. Soon, my family members will disperse to the corners of the house we’ve claimed as work spaces: a laundry room “office” where my husband will hold conference calls; my actual home office, where I’ll do my best to somehow focus on writing; and two rigged up “classroom” corners, one for each child to log into virtual classes. We will accidentally overhear (or intentionally eavesdrop upon) one another’s FaceTime calls, take circuitous routes to the bathroom in order not to crash one another’s Zoom meetings, then reconvene in the kitchen in a matter of hours, as if we’ve all just returned home from our normal daytime lives.

What’s getting us through the days: Walking the dogs outside in the afternoon. Screening old seasons of at night. Baking whatever we’re in the mood for and can make from what’s in the pantry. Still, we bicker and snap (“Why is there on my phone charger?”) as we chafe under the constraints, unable to take a break from each other and see anyone else.

This isn’t exactly what I had in mind when I pictured “being home more.” To be fair, I didn’t quite know what to expect the first time I quit a job to stay home, either. Seventeen years ago, I stepped away from my full-time job at a nonprofit to take care of my firstborn and write freelance for a few years. I wasn’t taking some kind of principled stand. I just knew, in my gut, that my focus was shifting, and I needed to follow that focus for a while. I wanted to be home, and I loved it — at least some of the time. What I hadn’t anticipated was that the homebound repetition of feeding, washing and napping would sometimes make me feel smothered, held captive.

I have a tendency, when I feel trapped, to sense a false permanence. I don’t think, I think, I panic. I forget, although I’ve learned it countless times, that every stage of life changes, then ends.

If I could go back and tell my young-parent self one thing, I wouldn’t whip out that cliché about how the days may pass slowly, but the years go by fast, even though it’s true. I wouldn’t say, “Just enjoy it!” I did enjoy mothering babies often enough, but also, some things aren’t enjoyable. You don’t have to feel joy while scraping mashed peas out of the cracks of a high chair. What I’d tell my young self is this: Sometimes time moves quickly, and sometimes it moves slowly, but it always moves forward. This is not your life forever.

Back then, I dreamed of going to work in an office building again, wearing clean clothes. It burned me up when I took my kids to checkups and the nurses called me “Mom.” I’d think. I’m not mom just because I’m mom.

Over the past year or so, as my time with children living in my house has begun to dwindle, I’ve been changing my tune. Last month, I took my son and daughter to the dentist, and when the technician came out to the waiting room and said, ‘Mom?’ I stood up and raised both hands, “Yes! That’s me! I AM MOM.” I want to mother them all I can, while I can. As the coronavirus spreads and claims more lives, this protective instinct has only heightened. I don’t think I’ve ever loved anyone with the fierceness I love these people right now.

Back when my kids were babies, I couldn’t have anticipated how much I’d like having teenagers. When I saw older kids skateboarding down the street, I used to think, “I’m so glad I have and not .” Adolescents seemed so big, greasy and loud. Who wouldn’t prefer a sweet little bundle of baby?

Let me tell you something, parents of babies. You know how that rush of affection for infants feels like a drug, how you sniff their heads and say things like “I could eat you up”? Loving teenagers is not so much like taking drugs as it is a constant need to be sure that are not taking drugs, and they don’t like it when you sniff them, but loving a teenager is just as emotionally intoxicating as loving a baby. Maybe even more.

Plus, it’s fun. Really. Sure, toddlers may say hilarious things like, “When I grow up, I want to be spaghetti,” but my 14-year-old daughter and I just had a long talk about how much we both love depressing movies. You can’t have Sad Movie Club with a baby.

I used to think babyhood was the neediest stage of life, but teenagers need their parents too. They’re a bit like trauma victims, fresh off the car crash of puberty. They look like they’re functioning normally; but their brains are in a state of continual change and occasional malfunction. What better time to have a clear-thinking adult around?

A baby needs a snuggle, some eye contact, a song. A teenager needs a trusted adult to talk things out with when they or a friend gets into a scary situation. A baby needs clean, soft onesies. A teenager needs driving lessons. A baby needs to be fed at 1 a.m. A teenager who sneaks up the stairs at that hour needs to be greeted with a mix of love, relief and stern clarity on the point that, no sir, you absolutely will come traipsing in here past curfew again. That’s assuming we’re allowed to leave our homes again at some point … and that we survive this. Statistically, we’re likely to be OK, but in the wee hours, my imagination serves up every different possibility. Parental sleep deprivation comes in waves, apparently.

It’s emotional whiplash to go from wishing for a few more hours a week with the kids to being holed up in the house together ’round the clock. I feel guilty about loving lunchtime on weekdays with them, a little joy I didn’t think I’d ever get back. I’m so sorry they’re missing school and prom and graduations and sports and everything else. I will never forget this chapter in our lives. I hate the reason for it. All these things are true.

For now, I will let myself feel gratitude for this time with them. I won’t tell myself I have to enjoy every minute, because I know I won’t. And when the panic rises, I’ll remind myself: This isn’t forever. It never was.

————

By: Mary Laura Philpott
Title: This Togetherness Is Temporary
Sourced From: www.nytimes.com/2020/04/03/well/family/virus-teenagers-family-quarantine-togetherness.html
Published Date: Fri, 03 Apr 2020 09:00:09 +0000

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Written by Survivalist

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