That sound you don’t hear is our kids at camp. Oh, yes, the house is quiet this morning. For the first time in 16 months, my wife and I can reasonably expect our kids to be out of the house for the better part of the day.
Sure, there have been a few short periods without the ever-present companionship of our offspring. There was the time they both went down to the neighbor’s house at the same time and we said, “We’ll be right there,” but we were lying. There have been many fleeting moments — brief, irregular and unplanned.
My wife and I made some choices that enhanced our COVID parenting experience: We decided to homeschool, and we’ve spent a cumulative five months of this pandemic traveling in our RV where our habitat shrank to a small room on wheels. But, the road has also been our escape, where the kids can roam new, expansive spaces so that their parents can relax with a book and a cup of coffee.
Alas, this morning is the first day of a new era. One in which camps and schools become our routine again. I don’t really care about the other aspects of the “new normal” — the things that won’t go back t0 their pre-pandemic state like readily available Ubers, going to work sick, and vaccines being a widely accepted tool for preventive healthcare — we can again send our kids off into the care of others.
I mean, seriously. This started without warning! It wasn’t like we had a month to prepare for the fact that we were suddenly going to be sentenced to full-time parenting. We were like astronauts who weren’t told this rocket ship was going to Mars instead of the moon. One day in March 2020 they closed schools for “two weeks.” While everyone else was cleaning out the toilet paper aisle, I was buying a cheap, above ground pool. We didn’t know that “two weeks” was a low guess, like when someone guesses “$1” on “The Price is Right” because everyone else’s estimate is so woefully wrong.
School administrator: How long should we tell them we’re closing school?
Epidemiologist: Tell them we have no idea.
School administrator: Very funny. An educated guess?
Epidemiologist: Well, I’m sure everyone will listen to the experts, so things should be normal by fall.
School administrator: Fall 2020! Are you insane? Can we just say “two weeks” and ask you again later?
Epidemiologist: Knock yourself out.
I don’t want to sound too cynical. It hasn’t been all torture. There have been some really memorable times, like when our son cried tears of gratitude after my wife helped him understand a math concept that had long frustrated him or when our daughter nonchalantly coined the term “cautious like McClellan” in reference to the embattled Civil War general.
We’ve been fortunate during the pandemic. Healthy, safe, and secure. And we’ve learned a lot about everyone’s needs and differences. The growth we’ve made as a family, and the reliance, the love and the support is something that we can all carry as we go out into the world.
Jon Kile is a stay-at-home dad, writer and amateur homeschool teacher in St. Pete. He and his wife Monica, a nonprofit consultant and marathoner, have a habit of loading their two kids into their RV and disappearing down the backroads of America. After he was diagnosed with a rare condition called Vascular Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Jon adjusted his lifestyle while finding inner peace and humor. Visit dontmakemeturnthisvanaround.com.