The tag on my son’s Toronto Raptors jersey is almost tickling his chin as we rollerblade.
“It’s ‘redder,’ Dada, so I can look like a real ninja,” he says, like that explains why his top is inside out and backwards.
I’m in grey nylon gym shorts with paint stains from who knows how many walls ago. I’ve been sporting the same T-shirt for days. It’s 2:15 p.m. on a Wednesday. In 45-minutes, I’ll be on a Zoom video call with some senior leaders at work.
I’ll change my shirt.
Soon enough, school will start and our real lives will pick back up. Homework, rushed mornings and evenings, extra-curricular activities, and other routine calendar moments erased by COVID-19 will find their way back onto the kitchen whiteboard.
I find myself conflicted. While I know going back to school is much needed for my kids, I’ll miss the slower pace of having them home all the time. I’ll miss our family dealing with the pandemic together, sharing every meal nestled into our safe little corner of the world. I’ll miss our home being their playground.
We did more living in our home the past five months than we’ve done in the eight years we’ve actually owned the house.
It was hard; harder than I anticipated. My kids saw me struggle as a newly stay-at-home working dad. And we were some of the lucky ones. Other families have it much more challenging than us. We live in a decent size suburban home with a yard and driveway. We both have well-paying, stable jobs with relative flexibility. Many have the opposite.
Yet, now that this phase is over, I wonder if I’m experiencing emotions similar to what empty nesters might face when their adult kids finally leave home. A mix of reality and optimism for the next stage of life, see-sawing with trepidation and yearning for the past.
Whichever emotion it is, I’m thankful that this moment in time gave me a unique chance to really meet my kids. I’ll miss it.
Watch: Here’s what classrooms will look like in the midst of a pandemic.
The pandemic’s challenges brought out the best in us
Back in March my wife (a high-school teacher) and I decided to put our heads down, get to work and do the best we could to balance our commitments.
We divided up our time so we could give the kids (six-year-old boy and eight-year-old girl) the best experience possible and still get work done. At first, I worked the very early shift, which expanded into a few hours in the afternoon. My wife took on much more than me. She was the head of logistics for our family, for example, planning most meals and ensuring the kids’ online learning happened.
Yet, even with my lighter lift at home in comparison, I wasn’t as strong as her.
A demanding, busy (but flexible) job and high expectations of the kids to demonstrate good behaviour did lead to conflict. I shooed them away because I was tied up with something at work. I lost my patience too quickly when something spilled or broke, or when they were rude or didn’t listen. I’d get frustrated too easily if they didn’t want to go for a bike ride or play basketball during “my time,” or if they would constantly ask for snacks, or simply refuse to occupy themselves.
Too often, I felt like I didn’t live in the moment.
I know my kids’ behaviour was relatively normal, especially during a pandemic that upended their routines. But, instead of being patient and embracing their outbursts, I too often confronted them head-on.
My kids went through all kinds of emotions, too, and rapidly. My son might sweetly surprise his mom by making her a smoothie one minute, then aggressively shove his sister out of the way the next. My daughter could be reduced to tears over what I perceived as the smallest things, such as having to share a toy she had discarded years ago with her brother. They’d exchange fistacuffs and ninja kicks, then fall asleep cuddled together in the same bed.
As they move back into their regular lives — albeit with masks and social distancing — I hope they absorbed the fun times, too.
We all celebrated our birthdays in lockdown, we had “no saying no” days and scavenger hunts, we baked three-layer ice cream cake with candy in the middle, and transformed our back deck into a beach paradise with blow-up palm trees.
Our basement became an arena for dodgeball, an activity my kids played at school but never at home with their parents. Some dinners, my son wore a suit and my daughter put on my wife’s dress so they could “experience” our wedding day for themselves. An old mattress became a trampoline for months. I literally watched my son learn to read as my wife worked with homemade flash cards to help him sound out letters, while sitting on our kitchen bench.
A family member said that COVID-19 brought out the best in us.
I think it brought out the real us. Despite the challenges, I’ve always been an engaged dad, but definitely plan on continuing to use our home as their playground and life classroom. I’m more invigorated than ever for all the living we still have under this roof before we are actual empty nesters.
The other night, I was tucking my son under his Batman blanket. “Dada … you and mumma do a lot of work,” he said. “Not like work-work, like you do on your computer. But, like work. Like cleaning and cooking and stuff.”
It seems the kids got to know us better, too.
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