No more cornflakes

Today is Day 38 of no school for my kids and Day 33 of shelter-in-place. It’s 1:48am and I am up again. We’ve been battling bedtime with one of my kids for what seems like an eternity (a year perhaps?). With the extra time at home, less need to be at work first thing in the morning, and generally more exhaustion, I have started falling asleep on the floor of his room (his preferred sleeping arrangement) more often than I would like to admit. After sleeping a good 3-4 hours, I find it tough to seamlessly transition to my own bed. Thus why I am up right now – writing for the first time in ages.

The past few weeks have been an adjustment, to say the least. Before I go into details, I first have to say that we have been very fortunate. My husband and I are still employed and no one we know or love has been ill with COVID-19, despite much of our family living in New York and New Jersey.  I work at a hospital but my department has made patient, faculty and staff safety a priority, and this has helped to relieve a lot of exposure anxiety. I am also 19 weeks pregnant and my colleagues immediately volunteered to take over some of my riskier patient care responsibilities, as the evidence regarding COVID-19 and pregnancy continues to evolve (fortunately, it has been mostly reassuring, but we are learning more each day).

We are very blessed and acutely aware of this, but also affected by the monumental change that occurred in our lives these past few weeks as well as the uncertainty regarding the future. What began as a two-week hiatus from school after there was a confirmed positive in the larger school community was gradually extended, until they just recently announced that school would be out until the fall. Summer camps have started to cancel. There is talk of the 2020-2021 school year looking dramatically different.

I do feel fortunate that my children are young (1, 3 and 5). Mostly they have reacted to the news with glee. For them, it is an extended vacation and their parents are home all day on most days (I am currently going into the office one day a week for essential procedures). They say they do not miss school or their friends. We live in a warm climate where they can go outside each day – even if it is only in our backyard or a short trip around the neighborhood. But I do worry about the change in structure. This week in particular was tough became it came with some change in behavior. My 1 year old is undergoing a sleep regression – often crying before bed, waking up in the middle of the night (he woke up as I was typing this), and a few mornings waking up before 5am. My 3 year old finds his way into our bed more often than not (perhaps related to my falling asleep on his floor most nights?). My 5 year old, who is generally very well-behaved, started to act out this week. Small things, for sure, but they pile up quickly when my husband and I are home all day, trying to fit work into any snippets of time we can find, and generally exhausted/operating on fumes. Parenting 3 kids 5 and under while both working full-time was hard at baseline and then COVID happened and it seemed almost impossible. (But I remind myself daily that at the height of my struggle with infertility I would have prayed for this conundrum. No matter how many kids I’ve had, there is no way to forget that burning desire for motherhood, the disappointment that came with every negative pregnancy test, and the fear of it never coming to fruition.)

And yet. Today was a hard day (also a hard night, it seems, with 2/3 of the kids already up 2 times each) and I started thinking about one of my favorite books from childhood – No More Cornflakes by Polly Horvath. I had forgotten the general plot and had a good chuckle when I read the Amazon synopsis: “Hortense seeks the advice and friendship of her eccentric Aunt Kate when her mother spends her days eating cornflakes and hopping around in public, pretending to be a rabbit”. It is about a girl growing up in a changing household – her mother is pregnant (and apparently losing her mind?  I should go back and read this now that I am an adult), her older sister is out more/becoming more independent, and she finds solace in a deepening relationship with her quirky aunt. The one thing I vividly recall, even decades later, is her aunt’s advice to find an “oasis”, a small ritual you have for yourself each day – one that is yours and only yours, one that brings joy always.

I love this concept even more now. As our world has become smaller – confined largely to the walls of our home – as our social interactions have become non-existent, as our opportunities for experiences, vacations, etc., have dissipated before our eyes, how do we find solace in our day? What can we do to bring a sense of peace, calm and fortitude into our lives? I’ll be thinking about this deeply in the next few days, as we continue to refine our daily schedules, to bring small rays of sunshine into our lives.

For now, I am trying to focus on the positives. I have had the opportunity to experience staying at home with my children (I went back to work with all 3 when they were ~4 months old). They have had the opportunity to experience a different childhood (I sometimes joke that it is my childhood) – one without planned activities, playdates, structure. We, as parents, are working on encouraging more creativity and independent play. We are trying to find small pockets of time for ourselves while the kids are awake, so that we don’t have to cling so desperately to the post-bedtime hours. My 1 year old’s language has taken off exponentially now that his brothers are home full-time. My 3 year old rode his bike for the first time today without training wheels. My 5 year old has been reading on his own and doing math. We are eating at home every night (we always ate together, but did often eat out) and I am so incredibly fortunate that my husband cooks for us every day. We are finding the time to complete random items on our to-do list that always fell to the bottom of our busy days.

One day, as long as everyone stays healthy and safe, we may look back on this time with some degree of fondness. I wonder if it is the closest we will ever be as a family. Soon, if we are still sheltering in place and socially isolating when this fourth baby arrives, we will be even closer!

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