If I Never Let Go, I Would Be Having a Much More Stressful Pandemic
By Paul Simard
Photo © sashapritchard/Twenty20
Aug 26, 2020
I was not expecting the level of lockdown that we've gone through. I am not sure any of us did, really. For the most part, I thought it was happening “over there.”
But then it hit, and I was not ready. Not even close. Were any of us ready?
Didn't sign up for this pandemic parenting business? This mom agrees with you. Read here.
Here's what I know:
I was not ready to protect my family from this unseen intruder in our lives — a virus no one knew much about, and that had conspiracy theories terrorizing social media.
I was not ready to work from home — overnight we shut down our office to set something up at home, like many of you.
"How did we go from seven hours at school to just 30 minutes?"
I was not ready to live in a world where toilet paper was flying off the shelves and two-hour lineups at grocery stores were the norm.
I was not ready to take care of my children’s education when it moved into our house — and yet there I was, responsible for it.
And I was really not ready for the schools to give us the equivalent of 30 minutes of work per day for the first six weeks of lockdown. How did we go from seven hours at school to just 30 minutes? How was that even remotely OK? I had no idea, but I knew I had to do something.
So, as a dad, and as a man who falls into the old stereotype of “fixer” and “master of his domain” (or tries to), I sought to fill up the rest of the day with lessons and work for my fourth grader.
I also have a full-time job, and my wife is as busy as I am running her small business, as well as the five-person organization we call our family.
So, filling in all those extra hours, and making sure they were used effectively, was going to be no small task. It seemed absolutely impossible.
And I'll be honest, in the early days, I was failing.
Pandemic Privilege — do you have it? Read about what this author believes that means here.
Where Do the Old Rules Go?
I needed to find ways to make sure I was able to do my work while the kids were at home and unable to see their friends or go outside and play. That's when I started to slip on some of the old rules of our household.
First, Facebook Messenger Kids was installed on the iPad. Then a game, followed by another. Then, finally, came the big ask: Minecraft.
I had always drawn the line at Minecraft. I had heard about the zombies and the blood and the death. I always thought, “No way am I letting my eight-year-old daughter near that.”
I didn't budge when she was nine.
But this time the ask was coming from her older sister, 15, and so I thought, “Well, they’ll be playing together, at least.”
I allowed it but did not pay much attention to what happened after.
"I always thought, 'No way am I letting my eight-year-old daughter near that.'"
A few days later, I was upstairs getting a drink during a break. And there were my three girls (there’s a third — she’s 20) sitting in the living room, all playing Minecraft. I listened for a moment and was pleasantly surprised.
Not only did this game require them to talk, it became a truly collaborative process. They needed to pool together their resources, their collective imaginations and creativity in order to trade materials and build their world.
I didn’t hear the words “zombie” or “blood” or anything else violent, at least not at that time (yes, it comes later, but still with all that magical creativity woven in).
But this is not even where it ended. The newfound open communication and laughing and playfulness led to all kinds of other moments, including going for walks and listening to music, or just sitting after dinner, talking about ideas and experiences.
And there was not one “LOL” or “SMH” to be heard. They were using actual English sentences, with complete words and correct grammar! Granted, I did not understand a lot of it, but I know good communication when I hear it, and that was it.
Dude, Lighten Up
During this pandemic, e-mails have been exchanged in flurries. Messages of "stay safe" and "I hope you're staying sane (haha)" have replaced boilerplate valedictions like "best," "warm regards" and "let's put a pin in this and circle back tomorrow."
Among the many e-mails I've received, one felt more pertinent than others.
After telling my friend I needed to "up my home schooling game" and how I felt inadequate teaching a fourth grade curriculum, my friend said this:
"Dude, lighten up. I get it, but this is not the time to put all this crazy pressure on you, or on the family. Do what you can but focus on being there for your kids and enjoying the time together."
Honestly, it was the mic drop I needed. It's probably a mic drop that a lot of parents, struggling in the early days of an unforeseen global pandemic, needed.
Today, I have learned to let go a little more.
It is late summer as I write this, and my soon-to-be fifth grader still does 45 minutes of “school” work every weekday, just to stay on top of things. And with the parks reopened and small groups allowed, there is a lot more of the real world creeping back into our lives.
The difference is, when I get asked if it’s OK to download a game or for a bit more time on the screen, I take a breath, ask a bit more about what the plan is, and let go.
Because really, in a lockdown, I've found that's the best way I can show up for my family and for myself.
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