Twenty years ago this month, my then fiancé (I have always loathed that word) and I, having lived with my parents for four months, moved out of their home and into our first apartment in Manhattan. We have since married, had four children and lived independently for the past 20 years — until Coronavirus, until quarantine. At the end of March, we picked up our gazillion Fresh Direct bags filled with boxes of pasta, cans of tuna, bottles of bleach and rolls of toilet paper and in reverse order, 20 years later, moved from Manhattan back into my parents’ house. For the last four months we have all lived, schooled and worked together, eaten and slept, played and argued, laughed and cried together — my parents, my husband and I and our kids. And with a stiff upper lip (gratefully inherited from our English side of the family) we have watched important life events fall like dominoes in the face of the pandemic — trips abroad, school milestones, summer camp and family occasions all cancelled or postponed, the most surreal of which was our beautiful and corona-unique mourning of my Nana’s passing at 101.
During these long days, we have built a strange symbiosis, three generations living under one roof — loving each other and annoying one another — an ongoing negotiation amongst loud talkers on dueling speaker phones and unmuted Zoom meetings. We have eaten and drunken to excess, more recently attempting to scramble our way back toward some semblance of healthy living. We have argued about history, politics, race and gender as we witnessed our country’s pain through the screens of our computers and headlines of daily newspapers. We have been loving with small gestures of kindness and hugs for no reason and we have also been thoughtless, forgetting to flush the toilet and neglecting to unload the dishwasher. We have created rituals around our morning coffees and evening cocktails, clinging to them like lifelines to remind us that another night’s sleep has passed and another day is coming to a close. We have watched the end of winter turn to spring turn to summer, cherry blossoms giving way to roses blooming alongside hydrangeas.
This month, my family and I prepare to return to our former lives (if those even exist), repeating the same pilgrimage to Manhattan my husband and I took 20 years ago, now armed with the ordinary life lessons of two decades of marriage and the extraordinary life lessons gleaned from quarantine. And with all of that baggage, literal and emotional, I have been thinking most about my parents’ generosity during this time. Four months ago, we invaded their home with our noise and our mess, with our perpetually running children and our hogging of the Apple TV. We turned their routine upside down, filling every corner of their home with our books, iPads and forgotten apple cores. As our departure approaches, I have been sifting through the wisdom absorbed from my parents these past few months that I want to carry with me as we return to “normal” life — whatever that is anymore.
So 20 years of marriage later and (seemingly) 20 years of quarantine later, here are three life lessons from my parents I will take with me when I move out of their home…again:
- You are NEVER done being a parent. Your children will always need you for love and possibly even for safety. I hope I can always do for my children what my parents did when my family was seeking refuge: welcome them with open arms.
- Emotional honesty is HARD but important. When eight people between the ages of 10 and 79 are living under one roof, repressing feelings and avoiding difficult topics doesn’t get you through the days. Sometimes you have to express the stuff that is hard to say and harder to hear.
- There are times PARENTS need to be taken care of too. It has always been so easy to come home, no matter my age, and let my parents take care of me. This quarantine journey has taught me that my parents, no matter their age, need to be supported and encouraged and loved too.
Thank you Mom and Dad. Once we go, the kitchen counter will be clean, the couch pillows in order, the toilet seat down, but the utterly unique and visceral memories of these last four months will be with us forever.
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