Everything was fine until I realized it was not
A few nights ago, The Kid and I made dinner together. It was a hamburger pizza casserole out of the Betty Crocker cookbook I’ve had for at least 20 years. While I gathered the ingredients and chopped the vegetables, she mixed the hamburger, egg, and breadcrumbs for the crust. She layered on the toppings and poured on the sauce, I placed it into the oven and set the timer.
When our final creation came out of the oven, she was beaming from ear to ear. It was the first time she had prepared the raw meat for our dinner and she was proud. I was content because we spent an hour together with no distractions. My phones were set down; the television was off. It was quality time for the two of us doing something we both enjoy.
Since Michigan first closed schools to slow the spread of COVID-19, she has been doing more around the house. She has always been good about helping, but instead of helping for a few minutes and walking away, she has insisted on finishing whatever she started. From laundry to actually cleaning her room, she has been determined to earn her keep.
I was concerned that she was doing this because Anne of Green Gables talks about earning her keep a lot. The Kid has watched a few different shows that interpret the book series and enjoys them. We spend a little time after she’s watched a few episodes talking about Anne and how they are two different kids, but I know The Kid sees a part of herself in those stories. She just isn’t always sure what part.
Earning her keep. That is the part of Anne’s story that seems to stick most with her, and the part that I was afraid she would relate to because that is not why we adopted her. We adopted because we wanted a family and could not make one on our own. We were in a place of wanting to share our love with a child, not looking for a child to take care of us and eventually fall in love with her.
So, I have been chalking up The Kid’s desire to earn her keep around the house the past few weeks to this book series. And, I was wrong.
Last Wednesday, The Kid had a rough day. Everything seemed like a fight with her, from getting dressed in the morning to eating dinner that night. Knowing that we were all feeling the effects of being cooped up in the house together for two weeks, I started asking my usual questions. Was she concerned about her health? About Mama and Papa? About Grandma? Did she have any questions about the virus? The answer was no to all of them.
We have been asking her if she has any questions about the Corona Virus because we know she has heard conversations about it, so we have been answering her in the same way we answer almost everything else with her. We tell her what we know in an age-appropriate way.
Her behavior last Thursday told us that something was wrong; she was acting the way she acts whenever something is bothering her. So, we sat in our living room with her and asked our questions again. This time we asked if she was worried about anyone else.
Her best friend in the whole wide world. She was desperately worried about her best friend. They go to school together and had not spoken since school was abruptly cancelled. The moment that name crossed her lips; the sobs started. Huge tears of grief that she was scared her friend was in danger and relief that she was finally able to tell us. Her entire body was consumed with concern, a concern that she felt no relief from, and it was too much to bear. When she was finally able to tell us, she felt like she could breathe again.
We snuggled on the couch for a while. The Kid and her Bestie have been that way since kindergarten. This was really the first time I had stopped to consider how frightening and confusing living through a pandemic must be for a kid in the second grade.
She had been telling us that everything was fine for a few weeks. Her stuffed animals were convalescing in Grandma’s living room (my mom lives with us) as they recovered from a stuffy version of the virus, but she seemed to be fine. One day, she told us she knew how the corona virus spread. When we asked how, she proceeded to tell us that it was like the plague in one of the Gregor the Overlander books, and she described clearly. I have asked her a few times if she wanted to talk with friends, and the only time I accepted was when I took the phone to her when her new friend in our neighborhood wanted to talk.
I thought she was fine, and she was not.
The past few weeks have been a whirlwind for me. Running social media for an electricity and natural gas utility means that I am often busiest when others are not. My family is used to thunderstorms or windstorms scuttling our plans because I am working, and they are becoming used to the hectic schedule I have been keeping during the pandemic.
Thankfully, I have been able to work at home since the middle of March, as has my wife. We’ve been able to eat our meals as a family, read to The Kid before she goes to bed each night, and even sneak in lunch together between conference calls.
I thought it was enough, and it was not.
After making sure The Kid had a chance to talk with her best friend by phone, I also resolved to do a few things differently. Putting my phones down more often and taking better advantage of my days off are a part of it. But what has really changed is how we are spending time together.
She is a quality time person, at least when it comes to her Papa. I have prioritized a few activities with her, like cooking dinner together because she wants to learn how to cook. While we are cooking, we pretend we are taping a cooking show, just like the ones she likes to watch on Food Network. She’s gone on a few three mile walks through our neighborhood with our dog Barney and I without complaint, too. Our conversations are all over the place, but it is our chance to have time together, just the two of us without interruption.
What I have found is that prioritizing time with her has helped me put things in perspective. I am blessed that my team understands how important family time is for our collective health. Prioritizing time with The Kid meant that I had to let go of a few things and let other people step up to the challenge (p.s. they have!). By forcing some balance on my work from home life, I have also been better about helping around the house. Gladys is an acts of service person, so this also helps make things go more smoothly in my relationship with her.
It has also been good for my relationship with myself. I have been able to journal a bit more and stick more closely to my evening devotionals. I have been able to sleep better, and my anxiety has dropped. If anything good comes out of this pandemic for me and my family, it is that we recognize that we aren’t always doing enough, but we can have tough conversations to get us back on a healthier path.