Sometimes our living room is covered in laundry as it is right now.. piled up, haphazardly- organized loosely by person. It's mostly comprised of play clothes, fitness clothes, nothing too fancy. Our kitchen table is the science lab, the seedling incubator, the UNO sports stadium, the one room school house desk. It is not perfect or camera ready or Pinterest -worthy. COVID-19 built this house.
One minute, laughter resounds in this place. The next moment is marked by short bursts of yelling- at the top of the lungs. Those moments germinated from bumping up against a challenge or a moment of tension. That friction erupts after being bottled up and held in one space with the same faces, the same walls and counting the same hours.
Today, as my boys took their positions with breakfast and incoming assignments from their remote teachers, I was struck by the irony of the situation. Exhausted parents all over the modern world worry about the struggles... the fights... the yelling, the tensions, the nagging sense of inadequacy. We are called to do so much and we are supposed to be the ones with all the answers- yet, the answers are not ours to own right now. WE are so full of questions and so full of fear and so protective and soooooo tired. We want what's best for our children and our communities and yet, we feel so ill -equipped to provide the sense of calm our children need right now. "The struggle is real" is a phrase often thrown around... everyone comiserating in the short call placed to a friend or in passing over a Zoom Virtual conference. YET- what if it isn't the struggle that is REAL?
As usual, my oldest completed many of his assignments upon rising and my sleepy head woke up late. As soon as Petey channeled his focus toward school work, the oldest lost interest in algebra or studying the universe. Petey's learning about animal classification and today is reptile day. He loved the "Black Mamba" so, of course, big brother decided it was time for a wrestle break- one he initiated by "modeling the actions of a black mamba." Today's tousle was good-nature distraction- a source of frustration for a parent who has a job to do aside from parenting and teaching them at home. Schooling feels a lot like a circus with energy cycling from ring to ring. Momentum passes between children- who can distract whom? Who will send the frantic energy, who will absorb the tension, who will go quiet, who will explode like a shot from a cannon? A parent can feel frazzled with a simple sideways glance.
So Is the Struggle Real?
We hang our heads low as parents and think we are somehow failing if we don't have that little, fake, twinkle on our smile when we greet the new day or open the front door for our partner (enter June Cleaver). We feel like we should be able to teach and clean and somehow do our jobs and put food on the table- and facilitate peace in the home. Yet, we were never trained to deal with our grandmother's reality- nor the reality we are in now.
Sure, our grandmothers and fathers may have been able to do this with ease, but that was a different time. My grandpa would have sent me down to the basement for a jar of canned beets and grandma would have pulled out the cloth diapers instead of sending us to the market. The norm would be to spend more time face to face and in the same space as 9 other siblings, not to feel crowded by one. The norm would be to provide for ourselves, to work hard quietly and to prioritize only what is "essential".
We've been so socialized, and schedule driven that we've been paying other people to provide almost all of the essentials we now need to provide ourselves. I can recall sitting in a restaurant in the not so distant past and if it took too long to receive the meal, hearing "What did they have to go out to grow and harvest the grain for the cake themselves?" This is the ironic equivalent to raising our kids right now. We are called to do the planting, the watering, the harvesting and the preparing. Others of us have to worry and pray that the pieces come together after working the front lines and risking our health. It's no wonder we are out of sorts. We feel a thin string holds all the parts together and that string is fraying.
What if the SNUGGLE is actually REAL??
With all of the challenge, these kids will one day live to tell the stories that only THEY experienced. Our families will have these memories of a time when we were the ones to go for months without seeing other people, without sports, schoolmates, celebrations, and graduations. We will probably remember the fights- the REALLY good ones. After all, I will never forget jumping off the Sit 'n Spin then pushing my sister through the screen door of our house- all over a bowl of brownie batter and who got to lick the spoon. Don't judge, I bet if you tried my mom's brownie batter you would have had your fists up, too. I bet you have fond memories of torturous moments of yore, as well. Life is like that. We take what we want to hold onto and we leave rest.
What if in all of our desire to be perfect (or merely acceptable)... in all of our yearning to survive and all of our feeling of failure- we are not in fact failing- we just THINK we are? What if these kids and this life moves on and the fondest moments are of triumph- an underlying sense of having survived this incredibly difficult time? What if we are full of gratitude for our families- our imperfect, tumbling, fighting, tense and yet... loving families. The ones who didn't give up or walk out or stop trying- the ones that tortured us and tickled us and celebrated getting from level K on Rocket Math to Level M in a day... the ones who messed up the toilet seat and left it- then later cooked an incredible grilled cheese (insert hand washing in there, please). What if those moments of SNUGGLE are the realest part of this all?
Then, we wouldn't have failed. We'd have succeeded. Today, I am reminded to be grateful to have the opportunity to plant and water and grow my family. As dirty and difficult and exhausting as it might be- I believe we will have succeeded if our kids have just a few memories of all out fights and mostly memories like the one in the picture above. Show those moments to yourself and show them to your children. You are doing an amazing job, Covid-Cleavers.