When my brother in law’s helicopter exploded on his paramedic test run in El Paso, he was only a year into his sweet marriage. We had a three year old, one very curious and sensitive to emotions; she’d picked up survival skills in her orphanage and was acutely attuned to hints of fear and sadness. “Let’s go to the zoo.” There we soberly walked, reminding ourselves “right foot, left foot” while our daughter gleefully danced ahead. We lied with every step. It took NTSB six months to evaluate the helicopter wreckage, his wedding ring melted in the carnage.
“School is closing.” The last vestige of normality succumbed last week.
We implemented a structured weekday routine for our daughter, now 12. Reading first with page requirements, piano, math, Spanish. A journal, or log, to document the actions. A few hours during mid-afternoon in the park or hiking. Finally, TV/free electronics time conditioned upon goals met allowed for facetime with friends. We’ve learned with trial and error now after a week. For instance, reading in the afternoon doesn’t work for her; she’s too tired to focus properly. Piano is challenging, so that needs to follow morning reading. Get dressed every day. “Did you brush your teeth?” Math is fun so that can be later. Spanish is the cherry on top, so it goes last. Days are busy. Busy is good – it keeps the mind from wandering…
Structure is a form of care. It signals normality, which we long for. We focus only on today. Goals met. Pages read. Problems done. Piano minutes. In a strange way, our lives are more real, more existential. Terrifyingly sober. We can’t possibly think about the future.
My work from home continues and I successfully set up remote piano lessons. Our electronics keep us connected to life, keep us focused, and allow for some separation from each other. We have it all – computers, and our daughter has an iPad and flip cell phone. I congratulate myself on my efficient organization and access to education and plans – then catch myself. I cringe at my fortune, realizing it has life and death implications, and momentarily try to focus outside my newly shrinking realm. It’s surprisingly hard, like trying to cry, and I’m ashamed of myself.
The news gets grimmer. The counts. Italy. The stock market. I can’t watch it after a while.
“Mommy, what happens if you and papa lose your jobs?” Well, I ask her, before I answer, “what do you think will happen?” It has been a great opportunity to discuss life, perseverance, and resilience. Life amid worry is itself a type of optimism. The questions continue, including the big one. My answers are honest without grimace but, like a government spokesman, say only what’s necessary and hold a little back.
Hugs, hugs, hugs. All the time and out of the blue. Last night my daughter asked if she could help with dishes. My husband and I just stared at her.
And then there’s the safety regiments, the constant hand washing. “Papa touched his face!” We implemented a $1.00 violation fee and created an envelope with check marks of shame next to our names. After a day we were out of one dollar bills and I started borrowing from the envelope. But after day 3, we had few violations.
Today I peered over my daughter’s shoulder to check her math work on Khan Academy. She quickly toggled her screen away from my view. “Turn it back to what you were on.” Instead of the algebra she had started, she was doing something fun. Discipline during a time like this is hard. We are all together in a modest little house. She is outnumbered by parents and visibility.
We go to the park mid-afternoon. The sky is Colorado blue and knows nothing of our worries. Dogs are barking and tennis balls are strewn. I almost forget it all for a moment.
18 months until a vaccine.
Many years ago I drove my former boss to the ER. He was coughing up blood and I was terrified. His wife and kids arrived. She turned to the kids and told them to get out their homework. I stared in disbelief. I wasn’t a parent at the time but understand now what she was doing. “You’re not off the hook – it’s going to be okay.”
I’m not sure if she believed it at the time. Not sure I do now.
Right foot, left foot.
Written By Guest Blogger: Alexis Senger, Colorado parent.