I can see light. After so many months, I can see light.
It was March 13th, 2020. Remember? Sure you do. We all do. For me, I was picking up my son from a half-day of school. My daughter was already home, sick with the flu (the actual flu). Then, that was it for eighteen months.
Eighteen long, glorious, amazing, challenging, mind-bending months home with my two elementary school-aged children. First, I tried to teach them (We can do this!). Then the schools wanted to teach them via printed workbooks (This is the best you can do?). Then the schools send out laptops and taught via video (Hello, Minecraft!). Then I took them to visit every freaking national park, state park, county park, creek walk, reclaimed landfill, and tree memorial I could find across the tri-state area (Daddy, my feet hurt).
Finally, we settled into an uneasy alliance, the school district, my kids, and me. I would not try to teach them Spanish or give them daily quizzes or lose my temper because I was not working. They would not expect me to be a cruise ship entertainment director from 8AM until bedtime. But, it seems they secretly agreed to still not pick up their wet towels off the bedroom floor, so I was still a personal valet.
My kids grew up right in front of me, and I mean right in front of me because we’ve been sitting across from one another in the dining room the entire time. They are different children than those who bumped into the global pandemic with me so many months ago, and I guess I am a different dad. All for the better, I hope.
Somewhere along the way, we stopped playing tag, and that makes me sad. My daughter turns eleven soon. Maybe that has something to do with it. Perhaps it was because I turn fifty soon, and my knees hurt. But we play card games and table games, and we read together at night, and I still try to get them both out for a daily walk, just around the neighborhood — wave if you see us. Weekends are still reserved for road trips. We hit all the hot spots: Cooper’s Rock, Harmony, Saxonburg, Raccoon Creek. These are basically extended drives to buy coffee and ice cream and the occasional book. Exciting stuff.
I wonder if we don’t intentionally burden ourselves with challenges, like buying an expensive pure-bred puppy when making road trips was the only liberation available. Do you know how many roadside restaurants do not take puppies? All of them. Do not spill another taco in my car!
The universe still spins. To it, eighteen months is nothing. To my kids, it is a foundational passage in their lives they will never forget. I can only hope they did not learn too much from me, like how to yell, or cry, or generally just hang around at home all day without a job. To my new dog, these pandemic months have been the entirety of her life. She’s potty trained now but still afraid of the cats.
To me, the last year and a half has been among the most challenging experiences of my life. It was a mirror I could not avoid. It was constantly held in front of me. It reflected all my weaknesses, and all along, my kids were right next to me, looking into it as well.
No father wants to be unveiled like that in front of his kids. But I was exposed, day after day after day after day, for eighteen months. Why are you so impatient? Why are you always yelling? Why don’t you have a job? Why can’t we do something fun? Why can’t you make food I like? Why can’t I see my friends? Why can’t we play tag? Why can’t you fix everything, dad?
In the end, though, I did it, made it through. We did it, I mean. My wife and I and the kids. And the dog. No, I am not going to add and the cats, those pompous elites, always looking on in bored judgment. We did it, and I don’t know. Now my hugs feel firmer, the moments richer, life is more real. I am not simply punching in and checking off a list. You know, drop off the kids, go to the office, lunch with the guys, afternoon meetings, pick up the kids, order dinner, catch up with the spouse, watch a show, get some sleep. No, I have no idea what my day is week-to-week or when my next job will come. My kids are in school, and they are happy. And now I can create and build.
I can connect, and see, and be authentic. I can grow and listen and be patient. I am no longer racing. I am existing.
I can see the light. And I am ready for it.