Like many parents right now, a big part of parenting duties is looking for different ways to keep kids entertained and not at each other’s throats during "coronalife". I am grateful for the community of parents sharing ideas on Facebook, and for entertainers on YouTube helping us find humor in all this. From Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s “Just Stay Home” PSA to my new favorite singer Chris Mann’s rendition of Billy Ray Cyrus and Adele tunes, I have found a few outlets to counter the underlying stress with an occasional laugh.
This time of shelter-in-place has also become an opportunity for my boys to learn a lot more about me. Pre-COVID, it’s likely most kids viewed parents as chauffeurs, social coordinators, cooks and homework slave-drivers. They didn’t pay attention to what parents might actually be interested in or good at. However, that dynamic changed when mom, dad and brother became my son's entire social life.
My boys have learned that mom knows how to cook more than three things, and that she is much better at cleaning dishes than the sinks and toilets the cleaning lady used to tackle. They’ve learned that mom was on the Math Bowl team in junior high, that her first kiss was from a boy who went on to become an Emmy award winning weather anchor and that she was “most improved” on her high school’s new soccer team, formed as part of Title IX’s expansion.
My boys have also realized that they are living through a unique time in history, something that will shape them and create powerful memories. When we discovered that spring break would be spent sheltering in place, we needed to figure out how to create some fun to balance the frustration we were all feeling. That started with a list of movies to watch. For my 7th grader, this is pretty much anything with Tom Hanks. Although he had in mind historical dramas like Saving Private Ryan and Apollo 13, Sleepless in Seattle is what I was able to rent at the library just hours before it closed indefinitely.
Knowing that my son loves learning about historical moments in US history, I also grabbed Argo from the library. It sat by the TV for weeks, and when we couldn’t decide what to download next on Amazon Prime, it was time to watch this movie about a time in US history that my boys knew nothing about. I had seen Argo when it first came out in 2012, and watching it again gave me a rush of memories from a childhood spent in suburban Washington, DC. The footage of gas lines, President Carter and the Iranian hostage crisis with yellow ribbons on trees took me back to my own experience as a 5th grade. When I shared this with my sons, they were intrigued.
Living in the shadows of Washington, DC in elementary school was thrilling and at times terrifying. Throughout the 70’s we were never quite sure if the Soviet Union would decide to bomb the White House after all, and fallout shelters were a constant reminder of the tenuous nature of the Cold War. 1979 was a year marked with unforgettable challenges in the US. I have indelible memories of the Three Mile Island meltdown a few hours away in Harrisburg, hours spent in gas lines in the station wagon, and footage on the evening news of Iranians storming the US embassy in Tehran.
My own experience is also a reminder of how quickly things can change again, shifting the rhythm of our lives to yet another “new normal.” 1980 marked the end of a tumultuous year in the US, and a new beginning for the Brady family with our move from Arlington, Virginia to Lexington, Kentucky. President Carter was replaced with President Reagan, and my pageboy haircut was replaced with a feeble attempt at a Farrah Fawcett.
My boys could hardly believe these were things I lived through, and it helps them to view what they are experiencing now in a different light. In a matter of days, they had to adjust to elearning and band classes via Zoom. Cell phones that were previously a luxury became a lifeline to friends. They learned to be a little more self-reliant around the house, recognizing that while mom or dad was around more, they had their own Zoom meetings to attend to.
While the middle school play won’t be performed this spring and it’s unlikely that my Boy Scout will get to go on his first parent-free sleepaway camp, my boys are managing to roll with disappointments large and small. Despite frustrations with this present reality, they are learning not to take things for granted. They've shown maturity in unexpected ways, and have learned to support one another and their mom during a time of uncertainty. They are also creating memories that will not soon fade, and I'm optimistic that some will be fond ones. And I am learning too. Learning that my 11 and 13 year-old boys are far more resilient than I ever imagined.