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That quarantine mom

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TOGETHER TIME It hasn't been easy keeping kids cooped up, but nobody ever said being a parent was going to be easy. (Illustration: behance.net/runamokstudios)

It’s not my job to make you like me. On a normal day with kids, that’s my mantra. I love my children dearly, and I know they love me. But when you strip it down, my job is to guide them to be self-sufficient, good people, and to keep them healthy. Not to make them like me.

I tell them this when they want to go out with friends instead of going to a family dinner, or when I drag them to the doctor for a sore throat, or when they roll their eyes and tell me, “You don’t have to make everything a life lesson.”

But over the past six weeks, all that’s been amped up a thousand times, now that we are all living together at home, not going to school or work or lunch.

It’s been amped up because we are all together, all the time, and because now, there isn’t anywhere else to go. There’s no point even asking.

Still, they want to be with friends, in houses, in cars. Which I understand. I, too, want to be with friends, and with family for that matter. Nobody wants to be stuck at home all day long, every day, I tell them. Nobody is trying to isolate you or make your life miserable. Nobody wanted you to have to sit in front of your computer at home and see your teachers and friends in Brady Bunch tiles on a screen. Nobody wanted you to have to end your spring semester at college early.

Nobody wanted any of this.

But here we are, in the middle of a pandemic that’s wreaked havoc on our health and economy and emotional states and life as we know it. And our only choice, if we want any chance of making this coronavirus situation any better at all, is to stay home. But my kids aren’t convinced.

“I am the only one who didn’t stay at school,” my college student tells me, as she shows me videos of friends dancing in their apartments, sheltering-in-place together. I’m so sorry, I tell her.

“Everyone else is getting together,” my high schooler tells me as she looks at Instagram pictures of kids gathered in each other’s homes. Yes, some of them are, and you’re not. 

“I can’t get dressed in a T-shirt and be here and not go anywhere for one more day,” they tell me. I know, and I know there are a whole lot of worse things going on in the world, so get dressed up if you want to, but you’re staying home.

It’s not my job to make you like me.

Everything about this pandemic is hard. That includes the fine line between being able to tell a college student, who is used to being relatively independent, what she can and can’t do. But I’m just going to throw this out there: The parents letting their kids get together with friends are making it that much harder for those of us mean moms and dads standing our ground. I’m sorry if you’re a fun parent and hope I’m not offending anyone. At least your kids like you.

During this closer-than-we’ve-been-since-they-were-toddlers phase, I have withstood a whole lot of eye-rolling and a whole lot of, “You are the most freaked-out person we know.” Maybe so. But you know what? That’s my job.

And besides, the time together not spent jockeying for the best Zoom spot in the house has actually turned out to be a gift. Because while my children and I haven’t spent this much time together since the baby days, we’ve also never spent this much time together since they’ve grown into real people who can have real conversations. I dare say there might actually be some things we all will miss about this time: twice-daily walks through the neighborhood with the dog; reconnecting with neighbors on the lawns; games of Onze and gin; movie nights. 

Oh, who am I kidding? None of our kids are ever likely to cherish the time they got to spend with us, cooped up in our houses. But maybe they will understand someday that we were just trying to protect them, keep them healthy, do our jobs. 

For now, though, it’s not my job to make them like me.

Note: This story was written at the beginning of April. We have no idea what May will look like, when the magazine is in print. I am hoping that everyone you and I love stays healthy. And I have faith that my children – and all of us – will have settled comfortably into the new normal.

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