On Friday night my husband and I settled into our couch with the iPad screen on the table in front of us. The seven faces (plus 3!) that used to grace our dinner table were beaming back at us from their homes in the area. Okay, two of them were upstairs, but you get a picture in your head of our family meeting during the coronavirus pandemic.
Our son Tom had asked if we could meet online to discuss how things were going and to check in with each other about who we are seeing and what precautions we are taking to stay healthy. We all muted ourselves and each person had a chance to share how she or he is dealing with the virus.
Our family has been very careful with each other when we gather in person. We always meet outside either at a public hiking area or in someone’s backyard. We make every effort to stay six feet away from those we don’t live with. We clean a bathroom and save it for the visitors, when possible. We don’t share food. Every gathering is a BYO affair, even our daughter’s recent wedding. We have been committed, since March, to doing our part to ensure we don’t inadvertently spread the virus.
I can tell you that while I am in full agreement with all of the measures we have been taking, it has not been easy for me. I am a hugging mom and grandma. I miss being physically close to my kids and grandkids. Sometimes I get to push my grandson Martin on the swing, from the back, but this is as close as I normally get to any of them.
What has made it even more difficult for me this summer is seeing all of the extended families gathering and interacting normally at our pool. One Friday night my husband and I jealously watched as a granddad gently held the hand of his one year old granddaughter as she stepped into the water into his arms. “Look at that!” I exclaimed, not even being able to picture myself having the luxury of this ordinary experience.
When all of my kids , their spouses, and my husband finished sharing their stories on Friday, I piped in a few of my own thoughts. I asked what everyone thought about the upcoming winter and the holidays starting with Thanksgiving and Christmas. I wondered if they were getting ready to just take the plunge and get together inside once the weather got bad. I told them all that we were the only family I knew who did not interact normally together.
My daughters immediately chimed in that it didn’t matter what other families were doing. We are a large family with members working in factories and office buildings all over the DC and Baltimore metropolitan areas. Although we are always careful and diligently wear masks and use hand sanitizer, everyone else does not. Also, two of them have spouses with local families. Did I want to leave them out?
Of course they were right and once again I was justifiably corrected, my own words to them flying right back in my face, “We are Not other families!” How many times had I said these words to them as they were growing up?
It stings to have your adult children chide you, but if I am to keep moving forward as a mother and grandmother I need to graciously accept their criticism, especially when they are spot-on.
We continued with the family meeting, agreeing to check back again in late October to asses the health of our area and decide then how to move forward. As a group, though, we were not optimistic that much will be changed by that time.
I am trying to move myself forward in this brave new world that is the current reality. I am struggling to maintain health in both body and mind these days. Something my daughter in law Catherine said to me yesterday really helped. She said that we have all had holidays in the past that have been ruined by sickness or some other misfortune. This year we need to just plan on things being different.
Catherine is a genius. And she is also correct, what is needed is a mental adjustment. We cannot move our nation to behave itself so that we can safely gather for the holidays. This Thanksgiving and Christmas are not going to look the same as previous ones. We will all be able to enjoy them better if we adjust our expectations. ( And buy some heavy winter clothes!)
We immediately started to brainstorm ways to gather in the cold, outdoors, the way we have been doing in these warmer months. We googled outdoor heaters for our new backyard porch that my husband recently built. My son pointed out that we could extend the porch even further by putting up our camping canopies. We could change the traditional menus or continue just bringing our own as we have been. We agreed that what would be important this year would be just seeing each other.
I am embracing this shift in thought. It is healthy and productive and will protect those people I love the most. This, after all, is what being a family is all about. We set aside our own personal wants for the greater good.
Once again, I am grateful for the lessons I am learning from my kids and their spouses. I am glad they speak up and voice their opinions and correct me when I am wrong. I am overwhelmed by their love for each other and their commitment to caring for one another.
I am blessed beyond reason.