Six hundred thousand years ago, around the start of quarantine, we were doing theme dinners for the kids. We wanted to take their minds off the approaching doom—or more specifically, the departed normal. One was a “submarine supper” for reasons I cannot recall. There were menus in the shape of the USS Alabama. We hung blankets over the windows like a gross dorm room and I think we ate hot dogs.
It was one of many manufactured distractions. We also made a 10-stop fitness trail in the yard at one point. There were a couple full-blown Memory tournaments (with much-debated bracket seedings). Multiple scavenger hunts. A legitimate “movie night” complete with tickets, concessions, and—again—blankets over the windows.
None of these distractions or normalcies occurred without varying degrees of preparation, effort, and patience.
Nowadays, though, we are plum out of all three, and we have been for quite some time. Oh, you want a “theme lunch,” do you? GO EAT SOME JELL-O SHOTS, THAT’S FUN!!
The bandwidth is simply no longer there for such frivolous diversions. It’s barely there for the critical things: working remotely, Clorox’ing the Costco deliveries, running a goddamn homeschooling compound on the fly, Clorox’ing the Target pickups, staving off panic attacks of existential dread, breaking up fistfights, not gaining 70 pounds, washing dishes, procuring alcohol, washing MORE dishes, and vigilantly making sure the kids aren’t TikTok messaging with some disguised murderer in Oregon.
Certainly there are parents out there who are thriving in this lockdown. Excelling, even. High-octane, high-achieving assholes who are not only providing super-fun activities for the kids each day, but who are also ENRICHING them—teaching them to play the cello, setting up mindful yoga with friends via Zoom, or learning Portuguese. The kids are remaining engaged, challenged, and fit. Those kids will emerge from quarantine a better version of themselves.
My kids will emerge as fat juvenile delinquents, far dumber and lazier and more maladjusted than when all this began. Think four Nelson Muntzs.
(Well, the three older ones will. The fourth—a 2-year-old—is emerging from this as a straight-up gangster, a feared kingpin with a quick trigger and a keen criminal mind. He has learned a valuable lesson here in lockdown: When something displeases him even slightly, he screams the crazed, piercing howls of some unholy hellbeast, part tornado siren, part concussion grenade, and whatever it was that displeased him is quickly remedied.
In olden times—in, like, January—he’d have been disciplined like the other toddlers were for such treachery. But these are not olden times, and breaking in a wild stallion-child takes a great deal of time and patience. Yeah, well, Dad’s holed up in the attic trying to secure a PPP loan, Mom’s trying to decipher eighth-grade algebra. The theme now is TENSION, not just for every meal, but every hour. The little shit holds all the cards and he knows it. We’ll hand him a loaded heroin needle to keep the quiet. Mistakes have been made.)
Here’s the thing, though: We are doing our best. Our best won’t win any awards or enrich our kids in any feasible way, but I’m hopeful it doesn’t have to. Remember those dreadfully endless, wonderfully awful family spring break drives to Florida? Maybe this is that.
Maybe our best is simply getting them there in one piece, wherever and whenever “there” might be. That will have to do.