Social Isolation Has Turned Me Into My Tween Son's Friend -- And I'm Loving It

by Angela Grossnickle
Originally Published: 
I'm Playing Like A Little Kid With My Tween, And It's Actually Fun
Courtesy of Angela Grossnickle

I have a strong type-A personality. I love schedules, multi-tasking, planning, and time management. The busier that my life is, the happier I seem to be. I love a full calendar, and right now my calendar is empty except for an eye exam on June 4th that has already been rescheduled twice. I am not thriving right now; many days I feel like I am floundering to stay focused and motivated.

I miss going out to dinner. I miss watching my ten-year-old son, Andrew, play sports. I miss going to the grocery store without a mask. I miss hugging my family and friends. I miss going to church. I miss sitting around a conference table with coworkers. I miss picking my son up from school and hearing all about his day. I miss traveling; next week I was supposed to be hiking in Yosemite National Park.

The list of things that I miss could go on and on, but the thing is, I know how good I have it. There are families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. There are families who are experiencing real financial hardship. There are healthcare and essential workers who are bravely serving others while I shelter in place with my husband and son in the comfort of our suburban home. My husband and I are both able to work remotely and I only have to support one child with e-learning. One of my friends is seven months pregnant with a three-year-old and she has been quarantining from her husband who is a firefighter for the city of Chicago since mid-March. She has posted heartbreaking images of her son on Facebook saying good night to Daddy through the window … so do I really have any right to complain?

Even if I don’t have the right, I am still entitled to feel the way that I do — because I can’t help it. We are all grappling with how to live life during a pandemic. I am restless, stir crazy, and anxious for what the future holds. Will my son go back to school in August? Will my husband, who just got a pay cut and furloughed one day a week, still have a job two months from now? Will I still have a job two months from now? Will any of my loved ones get infected with COVID-19? Both my husband and son suffer from asthma, so I worry about them.

The stay-at-home order has also turned Andrew’s world upside down. He is a social boy and loves being surrounded by people. Every morning he would bounce out of bed excited to go to school. Now there is no school, and all of his activities and sports have been put on hold indefinitely. He is not thriving either; he has become moody and gets frustrated quickly.

This is not an easy time for anyone, but I have found a silver lining in all of this. I have been given the gift of additional time with my family (although occasionally this feels more like a punishment than a gift!).

I was previously commuting two hours a day, and now my commute involves walking across the hallway to my desk in the guest bedroom. And although I miss our active social calendar, sometimes practices, games, school events, and birthday parties consumed our evenings and weekends.

Courtesy of Angela Grossnickle

I now have the opportunity to spend more time with my son — which is a blessing, because time is not on my side. I was very emotional when he turned double digits last October. As each year passes, he becomes more independent, which means he needs his mom less and less. I am no longer the center of his universe, and his friends are becoming more and more a priority in his life.

Friends and social distancing, however, do not mix very well. Sheltering in place is a lonely predicament for an only child. You don’t have a sibling as a built-in playmate. As his mom, I felt like it was my job to keep him entertained so I started playing with Andrew again.

Of course, I spent quality time with him pre-coronavirus. We would go on bike rides, read books together, bake muffins, watch movies…but this is different. This play is letting Andrew call the shots. It is interacting with him on his level, and not as a parent who constantly needs to be in control.

I have built a motorized boat out of K’nex, Lego, and Styrofoam that was destined to navigate the high seas of the bathtub (she capsized immediately). I have flown a Minion kite as high as the string would allow and shouted “BANANA!” at the top of my lungs … maybe more than once. I have donned a bandana like Rambo and battled in a Nerf gun shooting competition. When there was a stubborn balloon that just wouldn’t pop, I helped my son body-slam it, WWE style, with a couch cushion.

I have cruised on a Razor scooter while Andrew pushes me from behind on his hoverboard … instant electric scooter. I have built a chain reaction in the living room that started with a hair dryer and ended with a ball swishing through the hoop … and we went wild! I have fashioned a tennis net out of string, and reenacted the final match of Wimbledon in our driveway complete with obnoxious grunting. I have shoved Mentos in liters of Diet Coke to make eruptions of soda spray into the sky … ’cause that’s just totally cool.

I have constructed a fort complete with twinkle lights and an emergency escape hatch to have a sleepover in. In that fort, I watched Papa Jake’s latest box fort videos and “Let It Goat” (for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure yet, it is essentially a goat screaming at different times while Elsa sings “Let It Go”) way past Andrew’s bedtime. When it was finally time to go to sleep (on the floor), I was ushered off to a not-so-sound slumber by a nauseating smell and a whisper in the dark, “Silent, but deadly.”

So while playing hasn’t always been good for my back, it surprisingly has done wonders for my soul. It has given me an outlet to temporarily escape from reality and be carefree. It has pushed me to reconnect with my imagination and engage my creative side. It has taught me to be present in the moment with my son and to just have fun despite everything that is going on in the world. Playing has forced me to prioritize joy, silliness, and laughter … things we all could do with more of right now.

I went into this thinking that by playing with Andrew I was performing some sort of motherly duty so he wouldn’t be bored or lonely. It turns out that by playing with my son, I found a new friend. A friend who is helping me to stay strong, positive, and keep things in perspective during a challenging time.

I miss my pre-coronavirus life a lot, but I am going to cherish this time with Andrew while I can. I know that he misses his friends dearly, but hopefully playing with Mom has been meaningful for him too. I have noticed an improvement in his attitude. He is smiling more often.

Either way I am going to kick his butt in our homemade BattleBot tournament this weekend. I duct taped forks to a remote-control car. He’s going down!

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