The other day, I was on a drive with my wife. It was just the two of us, and we drove along this dirt road not far from our home. It was dark, and we ended up parking with a view of the city lights. We just sat there and talked about the kids, the pandemic, the vaccine, and looked at the view. We held hands, we kissed a little, and I couldn’t help but realize that we’d been married for 16 years, yet we hadn’t done something like this since before we had children.
Not that we didn’t want to. Surely we did, but we have three children, our oldest about to turn 14. For years I was in college, and then Mel was in college. Once that was all finished, I worked three jobs, while Mel worked full time. Our kids had sports, church events, homework, and after school events. For 14 years, it seemed like we’d been in a rush to get to the next obligation.
But now, with the pandemic, a lot of that stuff has been stripped away. We don’t have kids’ sports anymore. We don’t have church events, or after school events. I still work two jobs, but Mel and I both work from home, and the kids go to school at home. As crazy and stressful as the last several months have been, I cannot help but realize that it has afforded us the simplicity of being able to go on a drive a couple times a week, just the two of us, and look at the city lights.
As for the kids, I’m seeing more of them, too. In the evenings, instead of Mel and I setting sail in different directions — one of us taking two kids to the church, while one takes another to gymnastics or soccer — we sit at home and watch a movie as a family. Or we play a board game. In the summer, we roasted marshmallows over a fire in the backyard. Sometimes we worked in the family garden, or we drove to the coast and walked along the beach. In fact, just before Christmas, I was able to take our kids sledding for the first time — which seems a little sad considering we live 45 minutes away from snow, but have never been able to make the time to break away and find a sledding hill.
I wish the pandemic, with all the death and chaos and uncertainty and job loss, had never happened. I know that for a fact. I’ve watched close friends and family fight COVID-19 in the ICU, or struggle to make ends meet because they’ve lost their job. My wife spent three weeks in the hospital fighting septic shock in late October. I sat next to her hospital bed wondering how I would ever make it work without her, and I must say, I’ve never experienced fear like that. I have sat anxiously, watching my phone with each round of layoffs at my work, wondering how I would find a new job in a pandemic job market. We struggled to figure out how we’d make ends meet when my wife’s and my own salaries were cut, and we felt the uncertainty of one medical bill after another rolling in because of an unexpected hospital stay.
The last 11 months have been very hard. I want to make that perfectly clear.
But if there is a silver lining, it’s this. With all the busyness of raising kids stripped off the table, I’ve started to see that I have been in a rush for far too long, trying to maximize my kids’ childhood, without taking a moment to see the wonders of just being with my family. Of taking a drive with my wife, or hanging out on the sofa to watch “Star Wars” with my children, our family just being a family — joking and laughing, all of us in the same room.
So once this pandemic is behind us, once the world is vaccinated and working like it used to, I plan to live my life differently. I plan to schedule my children to do less, even when they have the opportunity to do more. I plan to be involved in fewer things myself, and I plan to make sure we have time for the simplicity of just being together, and enjoying one another’s company. I plan to rush less, and prioritize simple moments like I had with my wife on the mountaintop, looking out at the lights of the city, just the two of us, chatting it up and enjoying each other.
Because if I’ve learned anything from living through a pandemic, it’s that life is short — and that time with my family shouldn’t be about running to the next extracurricular activity, but taking advantage of our ability to be together.