Finding relief and fun on the fire escape in NYC.
Finding relief and fun on the fire escape in NYC.

Silver Linings? All The Things I Hope Stick Around After This Crisis Passes

I am an optimist by nature, but this pandemic has thrown me off my glass-half-full, always-look-on-the-bright-side stride in short order. On Wednesday, March 11, I was a NYC mom about town, enjoying a rare trip to Broadway with my oldest kids courtesy of tickets gifted by a friend. By the time the curtain closed and I exited the theater with two kids in tow, I was hit from all angles with breaking news alerts as I flicked on my phone. An NBA player had tested positive for the coronavirus; the season was off. Tom Hanks and his wife were positive, too.

By noon the next day, I learned my son's high school was shutting down indefinitely. By the time I went to pick up my two daughters from their school that afternoon, my husband and I had already had the "are we stupid/irresponsible/bad parents to keep sending them to school" conversation, and I was spiraling out of control with worry.

The hits kept coming. One by one, the things we relied on to enrich our all-too-cramped New York City way of life were taken away. No school. No museums. No libraries, No playgrounds. No ballfields. No safe escape from our Harlem apartment, where the virus had stricken neighbors one-by-one and our zip code quickly ranked among the hardest hit in the city, which was the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak. We don't have a car, relying on public transit to get around. It suddenly felt like a surefire way to invite the virus into our home.

Fast-forward 122 days (I Googled that ... who has time to keep count while working from home full time, playing teacher, tech support, and mom?) and New York is on the downside of the curve. Mask-wearing is a way of life. I keep a bottle of hand sanitizer by the front door and constantly remind my kids to wash their hands, and then tell them to do it again, for 20 seconds this time, but things are starting to reopen and our city is crawling back to a bit of normalcy...for the moment.

No longer is the night pierced by ambulances racing up my street to the massive medical center nearby. That sound became so familiar on our suddenly eerily quiet street that I could tell without looking the difference between a Mt. Sinai ambulance vs. a Columbia-Presbyterian ambulance vs. an FDNY one simply because their omnipresence taught me the subtle differences in their sirens.

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A rare family photo outside the apartment.

I'm certain we aren't out of the woods yet, and I have new worries related to the fall and a possible return to school hold, yet, I find that this little pause in the pandemic here is giving me a moment to be thankful again and to look back on what we've gained. Parenting during a pandemic is stressful and frightening for everyone, and even more so for some, including those who are food insecure, who don't have the privilege of working from home, or who have lost someone to COVID-19. I don't mean to discredit that pain or those experiences, but looking back on March and April, I'm finding a few bright sides within the chaos of the pandemic, in between tantrums about technology (my kids) and a near mental breakdown on the bathroom floor (me). Call it my list of Stay-at-Home silver linings. Here's what I'm grateful for in the midst of this global health crisis, and hope sticks around much longer than the virus.

Family Meals Together

For starters, giving up takeout meant I was in the kitchen every night, and while it is exhausting and monotonous putting together a meal every night, without an end in sight (nevermind breakfast and lunch), my family of five now sits down to dinner together daily, a feat that's not always possible when my husband works late or my son's off at baseball practice. Some nights, these dinners didn't look all that different from pre-pandemic meals with us chiding our picky 6-year-old to try a bite of this, or sit down long enough to finish a meal. Other nights we'd share silly stories and uproarious laughter. Every night it was great to reconnect even though we'd never left one another's sides.

Evenings Spent Gaining New Skills Together

Many nights, dinners rolled into family game nights (once chores were done!) My daughter took up chess, matching wits with my son, who in turn honed his skills versus my husband. They're all making progress, and no one is staring at a screen.

I picked up embroidery, an old-school craft that my grandmother taught me. It keeps my hands occupied and empties my mind, probably thanks in part to the fact it keeps me from reaching for my phone and scrolling through an endless barrage of bad news every evening.

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Newfound downtime has led to new hobbies and plenty of artistic creativity.

Endless Creativity

I'm grateful for this bit of creativity and others. I have relished seeing the artwork my daughters have created, which decorates our windows, but I'm also grateful for the creativity of my community. From the artwork popping up and dotting city streets, to the local businesses that have had to reinvent themselves overnight to stay afloat. We joined an ice cream CSA for the first seven weeks of the shutdown—three pints delivered contact-free every Wednesday morning—and there were days when that happy delivery kept everyone going.

Together ... Apart

There's been too much screentime, but it hasn't all been bad. While remote learning is far from ideal or the way I envisioned my daughter finishing her elementary school career—or graduating for that matter—it's been a marvel to see the creativity that remote learning bred in the classroom and beyond. We Doodled with Mo. We've done scavenger hunts and played other games. We watched my niece make her First Communion, and my far-flung family logged on to see my daughter's graduation. Of course, we watched Hamilton, and haven't turned off the soundtrack since.


We've discovered new routines...and exercise.

The Slow-Slow-Slow 

The slowdown has been nice. A bit of a control freak, I get a daily Google agenda emailed to me. Many days there's nothing on my "official" schedule. Gone are sports practices and PTA meetings and any reason to put on anything more than a sports bra and yoga pants. The go-go-go I've come to rely on, and relish, is replaced by slow-slow-slow. I've read three chapter books to my first grader while sharing morning snuggles on the couch. I've had time to play sous chef and chief dishwasher for to my older daughter, whose budding kitchen skills have been a welcome relief from my constant cooking chores.

Avoiding the subway means we've taken a lot of walks. There were weeks when even a stroll around the block felt like a deathwish. Trying to maintain social distancing on a busy urban sidewalk almost demands only stepping out with one kid, which gives us exercise and one-on-one time. My 6-year-old likes to scoot alongside me and proclaimed a "daily scoot" is one of her favorite things and a habit we should keep up. I agree. My son and I have progressed from long neighborhood walks to long neighborhood runs (him) and tackling a Couch-to-5K program (me).

Our Fire Escape

Beyond these walks, our only connection with the outdoors has been our fire escape. Though we've lived in our current apartment for a decade, we rarely stepped foot upon it, but lately, it's been an extra room in our apartment. We'd step out there nightly to join in the cacophony during the 7pm clap celebrating front-line workers. Inspired by the "Front Porch Project" pictures on social media, I made my family dress up for an alfresco Easter Sunday shoot out there. I've shared happy hour drinks both virtual and in-person on the fire escape. My daughter insisted her last Zoom class meeting of first grade have a new background, and out to the fire escape we climbed. We've blown bubbles there and breathed in fresh, mask-free air while watching our neighbors scurry by. In short, it's saved my sanity a few times with a quick change of scenery and little bit of greenery.


The forced closeness of staying home is giving way to reconnections between siblings and parents and kids.

Reconnecting

Relationships have been strengthened. I see my son and middle daughter becoming closer than ever before. My daughters seem to have realized how valuable they are as constant playmates to one another, and I've refereed fewer fights over LOL Dolls and accessories than I expected. I've watched them negotiate their way out of conflicts that might have ended in screaming matches a few months ago. My husband and I have flown through too many nights of "Netflix-and-Chill," usually while sharing a canned margarita. He pulled me out of that funk on the bathroom floor, swooped in to offer more help with household chores and remote learning instruction, and taught me it was OK—and necessary—to suspend my overbearing sense of control.

Thankful

We're lucky that the virus hasn't touched us too closely when some people have lost everything–their parents; their siblings; their livelihoods. Some nights I wonder how that's even possible, given where we live and where our daily lives took us before everything shut down. But, mostly, I am thankful. I'm thankful we've maintained this bubble and strengthened our bonds. I'm thankful for the time with my family. I'm thankful for the conversations we've had and the whispered ones I've overheard my children share.

Our space might be small, but it's full of love and light. This pandemic has magnified so many things, maybe even my sense of optimism. As we scoot ever further down the curve, the things I'll be carrying with me are time with my family, shared meals, games, and laughs. Gratitude for our creativity and that of our community. And, an appreciation for resilience at home and on the city streets outside my window where New Yorkers are emerging and the city is slowly—safely, hopefully—coming back to life.

Photos by author

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