Working, studying, wandering

For the first six months of Covid, we pretty much hunkered down at home and outside. Frankly, no complaints! The kids did a great job of entertaining themselves with what we had, and sitting on the patio with friends wasn’t that different from a normal summer – a mask isn’t that big of a deal. Still, in the same way that I wondered how to approach opera without a theater or an audience, we started thinking through what Covid would allow us to do. Over the summer, the answer was to have camp at Sassy‘s house! The kids were there most of the week, and Dave and I joined them on the weekends. I know the kids love camp, and we were sad not to have them out making new friends all over the place, but we still had a pretty awesome summer.

I’ll be honest; fall was depressing. I work in an industry where gathering together is a critical piece of what we do, on stage and off. The kids going back to school in the fall is always a high energy and high enthusiasm part of the year. We all struggled to adapt to fall without the benefits of the things that make us tick. So, like most of the country, we wandered. We went for hikes across the state, learned to pack snacks, wipes, and layers. Honestly, for our kids who live close to all the different parts of their life, the drive was half the fun. Sometimes we take Leroy, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we plan a big adventure, and sometimes we hit the road and I pick somewhere to go as were driving. It doesn’t really matter. It’s a great opportunity to focus on what’s beautiful around us, and getting some space from the world.

I have friends and relatives who are true nature nerds, and I’m sure I could survive alone in the wild for weeks at a time. We do the clamping equivalent of hiking, and the kids can’t carry-on at a fast clip. They’re too busy looking at everything around them, darting into the bushes or making up stories for what happened in a ravine. it’s torture for a fast walker! But letting them set the pace means less whining, and ends up being really enjoyable for the grownups too. Turns out speed isn’t everything.

Lord knows how much longer we’re gonna be doing this. The vaccines are rolling out but it feels like forever until everyone in our house will get a shot in the arm. For a family that has been full steam ahead since the marriage that started all of this 11 years ago, it’s forcing us to learn how to slow down. That lesson can be a challenge sometimes, but you can’t truly wander unless you give yourself a little freedom to lollygag. Beautiful things happen when you are open to a detour, or a pause. So we stop and talk about frogs, or leaves. Inside adventures happened too – performances, cuddles, even the rare tiny reader sighting.

So as far away as a total return feels, we are also thinking through other ways to wander. Working and learning or not going to stop, but who says the adventures have to? Roaming is on our horizon, safe and isolated wanderings that we hope the kids will remember for a long time to come. as they get older and start going on adventures of their own, we want them to welcome the freedom of not knowing entirely what comes next.


What I learned from 2020

I’ve spent years working on not “waiting out” parts of my life. It’s how my brain works, but when I get sucked into it I miss so much. Kids certainly keep us in the moment, but a pandemic doesn’t.

In March, we were functioning in total overwhelm. It was a madhouse, a mad world. Trying to stay functional was enough of a goal. Summer made life easier, and eventually even became fun. Fall brought some panic, as we all realized what we’d lose as the weather turned. And yet, as we move into a (thankfully) mild winter, I found myself more resigned and ready to recognize the weird pandemic upsides.

So I’ve been reflecting on what we’ve learned this year, and the now ever present question of what we want to keep. I’d already learned that I individually can slog through almost anything, and that Dave and I can survive it all. But what surprised me was how astute and sensitive our kids could be. They understand the concept of the virus, how to stay distant from others (with my constant badgering), share their loneliness and lean on each other when it’s a hard day. They miss their friends the same way we do, and want to be anywhere but home. The magic of our backyard hasn’t dwindled though, and they continue to find imaginative ways of playing together. I’m in awe of their resilience.

I’ve learned that the Au pair program continues to be an incredible opportunity to meet wonderful people and create relationships that will last forever. We hosted 4 Au pairs last year, staggered pairs. These women have handled screaming, spills, potty training, jumping Leroy, virtual school and piano lessons, unbelievable headaches. And they’ve done it with love and a smile. We all acknowledge an awful day/week, but I don’t know if I’ve ever had their level of grace. And they and the kids adore each other.

Can you imagine preparing for the adventure of your life, looking forward to meeting tons of people and roaming a country you’ve only dreamt about, only to end up in lockdown with five small kids for months? Flora and Aïssata, our current team, have embraced all our family activities and take our breath away with their kindness. Something as simple as coming downstairs after bedtime and before a work marathon into the wee hours to see an already cleaned kitchen sometimes makes me want to weep. They don’t have to do it; but they can tell when we’re about to crack. So we are so excited when we can do anything fun and show them how thrilled we are to have them here. And they’re both extending! So we have some adventures planned.

Finally, the people and rhythms that make life more beautiful still making life more beautiful under these changed circumstances. I would rather gather with my family around my mom‘s dining room table then sit on the patio in winter snow, but it doesn’t change how much I love all of the people I do that with. I have become closer with some friends despite the ridiculousness of garage cocktails, I have even forged great connections with new colleagues who I’ve rarely seen in person. Snuggling up to watch a movie with my kids in front of a fire, reading a story before bed, quietly taking in a slightly tilted and overly large Christmas tree with a glass of eggnog and the adults in my home? They haven’t lost their magic.

This reflection isn’t about cheesy preaching, or the upsides of a pandemic. It’s more about recognizing that everyone on the planet has experienced a traumatic upheaval, and that we’re not out of it yet. I’m not a big New Year’s Eve fan, but my heart ached to celebrate without our usual crew. Still, the glow stick dance party wasn’t a hardship. Let’s optimistically say that we are past the halfway point, and start thinking about the highlights of this bizarre frame of time: the dramatically increased outdoor family time, the focus on the people who mean the most, the engagement with our kids’ learning, and the gratitude for hard-won travel or experiences. I underestimated how impactful an outdoor garden performance could be for an arts junkie like myself. My hope for 2021 is to hang onto that gratitude, as we hopefully slide back into our new normal. I hope 2021 surpasses all of our wildest expectations – so far, so good.