Saturday, May 23, 2020

Quarantine, Currently.

     When the days get warmer, Henry starts making grand plans for his birthday. It doesn’t matter that it’s usually two months away at the time, he knows in his heart that we celebrate him in Summer, and as soon as the weather of the day matches his memory of sweaty, pi├▒ata-breaking, sugary frosting-covered days, he’s ready to talk party details.

Quarantine Chronicles: What isolation is like for our family. | www.jennrych.com     This morning, he sat at the patio table with the iPad, searching eBay for unique Minecraft and Sonic gifts he’d like to put on his wish list. At bedtime the other night, he talked about wanting to get a bounce house with a slide (a tradition we’ve been repeating since his 4th birthday) and being able to show his friends how skilled he’s gotten on his hoverboard. As a fellow summer birthday baby, I understand his impulses. Though we’re two zodiac signs apart and my birthday ushers in the start of a new school year, I’m familiar with the thrill of finally getting your turn. When you’re a summer baby, you spend all year watching your classmates bring treats to school and trot around in their birthday crowns feeling like YOUR day is eons away. The freedom of summer has its own thrills, for sure, but for us it also ushers in the season of celebration. America’s birthday first, then ours.

     I don’t know what either of our birthdays will look like this year. And that’s okay - that’s been true for nearly 70 birthdays’ worth of people - paring back their celebrations to some cake and socially responsible hooplah, like overdone zoom calls and boisterous car parades. I couldn’t care less about what my birthday will look like. Turning 36 is no special feat, and I’ve already enjoyed the compact spoiling of a quarantined Mother’s Day. But for my sweet, soft-spoken Henry, who has been anxious to turn 9 for a while, wanting nothing more than to share his physical prowess with his friends in the wide open space of our back yard, it’s a hard blow. The other night I told him that we *might* be able to arrange a bounce house, but it would be just for us - we probably won’t be able to invite a big bunch of friends over. And in lieu of a party, we might try to arrange a parade or a virtual gathering. I expected him to be more crestfallen than he was, but he knows the reality we’re living in, and wants us all to stay safe.

     I sat down next to him on the patio swing this morning and he was clearly deep in thought. I didn’t break his silence, just smiled his way. After a few minutes ticked by he quietly and carefully asked, “Mom? How will I get birthday presents this year? Can I still get those?”

     He’s not a greedy kid, but we’ve organized our kids’ influx of “things” so that they’re only free + clear on birthdays and Christmas. They have to earn things they want the rest of the year, and it can take them quite a bit of time to earn enough for some of the things they want. Everyone looks forward to the treats in life, and I think he was just honestly curious if birthday gifts were one of the quarantine sacrifices he’d have to adjust to. Like, rationing milk because we can’t just run out for more, and jumping inside the house in the middle of a driveway hockey game when the UPS man pulls up to make sure they keep a safe distance.

     And, quite honestly, when school sent them all home that Friday in March and asked us to all stay in our houses, we never thought this would touch his mid-July birthday. There, in the middle of a cold and grey winter, it felt impossibly far away and safe in its distance. But now, his heart was telling him it was time to set his sights on birthday details, as his mind could tell we were inching towards the reality that he maybe couldn’t ask for what he normally would.

     It’s far from tragedy, but I do have a soft spot for him. His big brother’s birthday went off without a hitch in January. And having a summer birthday squashed by something other than a thunderstorm is a rarity. The kid in me would have been a lot more upset than he seems to be so far, though I’m sure he’s carrying a lump of hope around (about the size of two months of potential change).

Making primitive tools out of things he finds in the backyard and garage is a favorite past time for our youngest guy. | www.jennrych.com     What strikes me, though, is how easily we can change and adjust after so very many years of feeling like we couldn’t. Given the choice, we tend to follow the same paths - the same bounce house party with the same guest list and the same spot where we open his gifts. Being forced to swerve feels unexpectedly welcome. Maybe not so much for him, but we’ll see when the day arrives.

     While Henry plans his birthday, his brothers take to the warming outdoors differently.

     Jake’s preoccupations seem to be with three main things that have stood the test of a few years: bees (namely avoiding them), making crude tools out of backyard treasures, and fishing. It takes a lot to coax him outside because of his all-encompassing bee fear. Sometimes he’ll even stay in the house and eat alone while we dine at the patio table saying, “I’m not getting stung today!” If we’re already outside, he’ll stand safely behind the screen in our kitchen asking us to scan the area for bees so he can then walk to us without being tailed. This is a request that can happen upwards of 25 times in a given afternoon, since he’s jogging in and out of the house as playing kids tend to do.

     His requests to fish are relentless, and since we have a pond at the back of our lot he thinks there’s really no reason we shouldn’t be spending all of our time on this endeavor. He takes turns convincing each of us (as everyone in the house is his elder) of the merits of time spent fishing, assuring us that he has the necessary talents and equipment. You know, just in case we feel the urge.

     As far as tools? The kid has made everything from a fishing rod, to a bow and arrow, to wildly blunt axes with nothing more than downed branches, rocks, and string. Today he split the top of a hardy stick, presented me with a flat stone and asked, “Can you twine it on, Mom?”

     And then there’s Luke - my calm and mannered cerebral guy. Collector of facts and stats. Nostalgic dreamer of both memories and potential plans. He settles himself on the patio swing and drinks in the beauty of the yard with nearly the same fervor I do. Our sun signs share their roots in the Earth, and it shows.

It's the pretty little things tha keep us going, these days! | www.jennrych.com     Today he filled the bird feeder himself, then settled in to watch who would dine on his offerings. He exclaimed at every new visitor - naming their types, recognizing their calls, pride in his growing bird knowledge showing (and mine of his). He announced that for the rest of the summer, he wanted to keep a journal to track how many of each type of bird he sees and what time of the day so he can chart what times he should be on the lookout and which birds enjoy our yard the most. We talked about how both we as humans and they as birds think we own this plot of land - both of us likely finding the other’s idea of territory and ownership to be trivial or nonexistent.

     And then he allowed me to read to him from a former first lady’s memoir for the better part of an hour. I’d stop to check that I hadn’t lost him, and he’d ask me to go on - he liked hearing about what it was like to move into the White House. He rested his head on my lap while he listened, eyes trained on the bird feeder, giving my arm a loving tap every few minutes. He’s 11 and then some, and it scares me to think that his patience and affection with me won’t last much longer. To me, this has been a gift of quarantine. Many nights, the two of us cuddle up under a blanket and read a few chapters from the adventures of Doctor DoLittle - him begging for just one more chapter, and I get to say yes because bedtime is fluid and there’s no morning bell to rush off to. He comes to me with ideas about games he wants to play or meals he wants to try making, and we all have the time to say yes. He is RACING towards adolescence, and our isolation has expanded our chances to fill this race with as many snuggly, creative, deep-thinking, conversation filled moments as we can manage. And fair weather brings out the best in all of us.

     It’s not a perfect world we’re living in right now. In fact, outside of this quaint acre, it’s kind of a disastrous mess. But here at home, our hearts are getting comfortable on our sleeves - trusting our downsized environment with their tenderness and learning the intricacies of each other’s that we didn’t realize we’d missed.

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I am personally super curious about what quarantine looks like from person to person - what's the same, and how people are affected differently. If you'd like to follow our family's experience, I've started collecting my typed-up journal entries here - temporarily replacing my "Reading This Month" tab with a "Quarantine Chronicles" tab since my reading life has been sporadic and off-kilter in isolation. I post new entries every Monday - Friday.

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