Extra Pulp: Family Matters

Laura Anders Lee reflects on ways the pandemic has changed family life for the better.
Grounded Hog Days


I hope none of us ever has to repeat the spring of 2020. Being home, unable to go anywhere, I’ve felt like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Every day has seemed the exact same as the day before in an endless loop.

My sons, Anders and William, who are 9 and 7, have never eaten so many snacks, gone through so many dishes or gotten in so many arguments. Overnight, I became a short-order cook, an elementary school teacher, a coach and a full-time referee as well as a not-so-professional groomer for our 50-pound puppy.

While I haven’t been thrilled with being on lockdown, I know my family has been among the lucky ones. First and foremost, we’ve stayed healthy. Secondly, my husband is a hospital administrator, so his job—while stressful—has been secure.

Like so many health care heroes, Bryan has worked hard, long hours to combat coronavirus. No matter how tired, frustrated or anxious I am at the end of another day, I know that Bryan, his staff and their patients have had it worse. For my part, all I’ve had to do is hunker down. While some days have been harder than others, I’ve tried to see the good through the bad.

My kids are at good ages for staying at home. Anders is perfectly happy missing school, lounging around in his underwear and not going anywhere. While William misses his friends and teachers, he loves having unlimited time with me. Based on the Facebook posts, memes and cries for help, homeschooling has made everyone appreciate our teachers more. Thank goodness my kids are in first and third grade, and I’m not teaching trigonometry or physics.

Extra time is a gift—it wasn’t too long ago we were all begging for it. With our overscheduled lives on hiatus, we’ve taken more time to enjoy our families and the outdoors. Instead of rushing to the next after-school activity or weekend event, we’ve paused to notice the little things. I’ve stopped to watch a hummingbird on our bottlebrush, a white egret fly over our lawn and the jet stream from a rare plane glow in the setting sun. I’ve taken the boys for morning hikes, and we camped overnight in the backyard. We’ve never seen so many people riding bikes or walking in our neighborhood. Where was everyone before?

My children have learned to live with what we have. For the first time in their lives, we’ve had to say, “There was no bread, peanut butter or milk at the store. We’ll have to make do with something else.” (We haven’t run out of toilet paper … yet.) Instead of constantly asking for more, the boys discovered old toys and found new books to read from their own rooms. We’ve been far less focused on material things and have gotten back to the basics. I’ve gone weeks without makeup or manicures, and nobody has seemed to notice.

With theme parks, attractions and entertainment venues closed, we’ve created our own fun. Neighbors hid bears and stuffed animals in their windows for children to find and scribbled sunny messages with sidewalk chalk. I’m not the crafty type, but I’ve gotten out of my comfort zone, helping the boys make Play-Doh, chocolate chip cookies from scratch and fossils from plaster of Paris. We’ve done more chores and have played more games together as a family than ever before.

Social distancing has not stopped us from connecting with loved ones—in fact, it’s inspired us to reach out more. Thanks to Zoom, I had coffee with college friends, drinks with moms from my old neighborhood, and church on Easter Sunday. We’ve FaceTimed relatives and friends and chatted with neighbors across their lawns. For Bryan’s birthday, the kids and I threw him a surprise Drive-Thru party where friends decorated their cars and cheered from the windows.

In a time of uncertainty, layoffs, illness and death, people have been exceptionally kind and joyful. We have not lost our sense of humor. We’ve shared memes, songs and spoofs to lift one another’s spirits. Laughter is good medicine indeed.

With times at their worst, I’ve seen mankind at its best. So many moments have touched my heart: Italians singing from their balconies, the Hamilton cast serenading a Jacksonville girl for her birthday, and the generous donations, homemade masks and free meals by everyday people to those in need.

Like everyone else, I am ready to get back to normal. But when that day comes, I hope our normal looks a little different. I  hope that for my family, we continue to live a simpler and richer life focused on what matters most.

Categories: Column, Community