When my office closed, our kids’ schools began to contemplate shutting down, and our fear changed to panic — the pandemic shook us all pretty hard. I was used to the hustle and bustle of the mornings, running to catch my train heading into New York City for work, and the humdrum of my routine. I was used to thinking about dinner even before I swallowed the last bite of my breakfast.
I was comfortable seeing my wife for an hour at the end of our days, soaking up the little alone time we had, and watching the latest episode of Workin’ Moms on Netflix. With one ear bent toward our twin daughters’ bedroom, expecting to be interrupted by one of their night terrors, feet up and a bowl of popcorn sitting on my laptop — this was our normal before coronavirus.
The pandemic quickly uprooted us from our normal lives. We were forced to be with each other, my family of five, all of the time. Being stuck at home with my entire family was not something I looked forward to. At first, it was so hard to be with the same four people day in and day out. We got to truly see one another, understand the parts of each other we had not seen before because we were all busy rushing to get to the next activity or meeting.
Even though I practically forced everyone to shower and put on new clothes every day — as if we all had somewhere to be that wasn’t in our living room or dining room — all of it was unbelievably hard.
The first week, my wife and I argued every day. We had some kind of disagreement over what to have for dinner, over how much screen time the kids should have, over who gets the laptop and when, over why there were so many dishes in the sink, over how many snacks the kids should be allowed in a day. It was hard. Those first few days seemed to be consumed by discussion after discussion, countless miscommunicated requests or unheard asks.
By the end of that week, we all needed a change of scenery, so we went outside — and this is what turned things around for us. Every weekend, we found a new park to explore and discovered a new hiking trail. We took the kids’ scooters out and they sped down any empty path we could find. We explored the woods, skipped rocks in creeks, and searched for worms, all of which also doubled as supplemental preschool lessons for our daughters.
We had picnics in our backyard and movie nights snuggled together in our bed with bags of Trolli candy worms. I baked batches of homemade chocolate chip cookies, restocked our snack drawer, and gave up on trying to get our kids to eat fruits or vegetables. I began to relax into life in the pandemic.
In order to make the experience as normal as we possibly could for our kids, my wife and I recommitted to being on the same page. We knew we needed to release our tension — hiking gave us that. It allowed us to let the wind blow away our frustrations, and the sun to melt away the uncertainty of what lies ahead for us, especially for our kids. Being outside saved us. Once we got past the first month of being quarantined inside of our 1,200 square foot home, tensions eased and we began to look forward to the weekends, the excitement of discovering something new outside with our family.
We were almost a month into the pandemic when I realized I was nagging less. My wife asked how she could help more. I learned how to bake homemade bread. She helped the kids set the dinner table each night. We were navigating waters we’d never had to before. Reassigning the roles we’d previously had in our home and adjusting to our new titles gave us the opportunity to learn that we really did need one another. We needed to be able to ask for help and to step in when it was clear the other needed a break. We could not have gotten through (and could not continue to push through) the pandemic alone.
Prior to the pandemic, we played a game of hot potato with text messages reconfirming discussions we’d had the night before while in bed. “So, you’ll get the kids tomorrow, right? I have an event.” Or “We said we’d order take-out tonight, can you call it in before you get off of the train?” The pandemic made us communicate more, face to face, in real time. I discovered it wasn’t so bad after all, sans cell phone in hand, to ask for what I needed right then and there. I had no choice. I could not ruminate over why my wife did not fold the laundry, or why my kids only wanted pasta ever. I had nowhere to go or to be, so I made them pasta and enlisted them all to help with the laundry.
Of course, my wife still did things that annoyed me (and I am sure I did many things which annoyed her…I’ve yet to ask her about those). Like, every night while watching television, she would finish my glass of water instead of getting her own. She would insist on having deep conversations first thing in the morning. We needed to work through these “issues” if we were going to live harmoniously together, every single day, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, without the distraction of preparing for the next day — running to the train, dropping the kids off at school, grabbing breakfast on the way into the office. Life was different.
Prior to the pandemic, I felt pieces of my marriage changing, parts of ourselves getting lost in the daily work needed to keep both a household afloat and three kids fed, healthy, and happy — while also showing up to give our all at work, too. When we got married almost ten years ago, this was not what I thought life would be like, trying to figure out how to readjust, rediscover the reasons we fell in love in the first place. I didn’t know these kinds of growing pains existed — that the love we had in the early days would need to be shined and polished.
With all of our bickering in the beginning of the pandemic, when we let the small irritations about one another swell into an irrational view of the present, our marriage briefly got a little weaker. But our kids were watching, and that mattered to us more than my nagging about how many servings of dessert my wife had or any bickering session.
The pandemic has been stressful for us on many different levels. From the homeschooling of our preschoolers and our 8th grader to the social distancing barbeque with my in-laws to celebrate Memorial Day, and everything in between. The working from home, the home cooked breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, the endless begging for snacks, the middle school caravan celebration to the graduating class in lieu of an actual graduation — it’s all been a struggle.
As we round what we hope to be the end of the pandemic, the flattening of the curve, our trek toward a new normal begins. What exactly lies ahead for my wife and me, for our kids, remains unknown. What I do know is this: I love my wife. And on most days, I like her too…even when she snores or finishes the last bite of my ice cream. This pandemic has taken so much away from our family, but it’s also given us something we often take for granted: time together. We’ve had countless hours to strengthen our family bond, to reawaken the butterflies of our dating past, and to give one another the space to be heard.
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