Two weeks have passed since our children returned to their day-jobs, leaving us alone in a slightly worse for wear house, the silence ringing in our ears. As we stepped into the light, bleary-eyed, we gingerly asked each other, “so how was it for you?”
Lockdown was not a simple time for any of us. It met each of us in a different place, and affected us in different ways. Over the last few weeks, as we emerge from our homes and slowly readjust to the office, seeing other people, the commute, and the general pandemonium that is life in Israel, I find myself wondering if anything will actually change as a result of this experience.
We are full-time working parents of four children aged 2 to 9, and as we stayed home over the past few months, my husband and I found ourselves questioning each other, ourselves, our parenting skills, and the absurdity of the situation.
Just like maternity leave, I started the lockdown period with an optimistic list of household jobs, home improvements and special projects I wanted to achieve. I would put up shelves; I would clean out the play room; I would bake phenomenal things, and master a new skill. It soon became clear that this was entirely unrealistic. An average day involved managing the children’s various physical and emotional needs, supervising their school work and zoom calls, providing creative activities and various distractions for our five-year-old, and trying to keep the two-year-old from destroying the house or hurting himself. Not to mention the constant cleaning, feeding, laundry, and fighting over screen time, while attempting to work from home. I say “attempting” because the expectation that any parents of young children could manage to simultaneously work from home and look after their children is somewhat ridiculous. Still, in the midst of all this, as others faced job uncertainty and financial pressure, we knew that we were the lucky ones.
I have spoken to friends and colleagues in the same circumstances, both in Israel and abroad who felt the same. Bewildered. Overwhelmed. Stressed. They were exhausted by the constant juggling and felt the situation was completely out of their hands. Some were alone with their kids all day, while their partners worked, holed up in a home office. Others managed extraordinary schedules in which they looked after their kids by day, and worked by night, somehow getting by on a few hours of sleep a night. One friend gave birth to her fifth child days before the lockdown began, and although physically and emotionally drained throughout, she battled through, trying to meet everyone’s needs.
That said, everyone I have spoken to has acknowledged that there were some wonderful moments in those strange and stressful days. The time at home gave us all the opportunity to look at our everyday lives from a different perspective, and to think about how we might like to do things differently. There was something freeing, one said, about not having to think beyond tomorrow. In the absence of future planning, we focused on today, on the present.
We appreciated the slower pace of life, the stress-free, no-rush mornings. We enjoyed daily local walks, family meals, chatting to the neighbors, time to cook and bake, and tend to plants. Yes, the children fought like cats and dogs, and seemed to take it in turns to be grumpy and irritable (or was that us?), but they also played together for hours every day, and made up creative games and dances.
Friends and family reached out to support each other via WhatsApp and Zoom; frequently checking in, sharing ideas and photos, moaning and commiserating. We had a special moment with our neighbors on seder night when we sang “Ma nishtnana” together, with voices joining in up and down the street.
I learned that we are far more resilient than I thought, both as parents and as individuals. Had you told me before that we would spend ten weeks in our homes with our children in those circumstances, while working, and make it through without injury or insanity, I wouldn’t have believed it. I would have laughed.
This week, as extra-curricular activities start again, we will be back to full speed ahead. Besides the filling out of health declarations, the wearing of face-masks and some remnants of social distancing, I wonder if life will be any different to how it was before. Will more people seek a way to redress the work-life balance, and slow down our fast-paced, over-programmed lives, or will everything go back to the way it was before?
Perhaps herein lies an opportunity. I am sure that many have felt it: the gentle but determined tug towards a quieter, simpler life. A life with less attractions, with more humble pleasures. Perhaps we can start small by trying to hold on to some of it – more family meals, more deep breaths, a minute to stop and chat, savouring a cup of coffee, being kind to ourselves and saying no sometimes, without feeling bad. I, for one, am hoping that I can seize this opportunity, and hold onto the quiet for just a little longer….