gratitude-a-thon day 2015: getting to know my own kids

When Jake, my oldest kid left for college, I mourned for a year prior, crying at every major occasion, as “the last.” When he finally boarded the plane for his first semester in Barcelona (a January admit to USC, he chose a program in fab Spain to spend his initiation into college life), I had my final sob session and went home to get used to a new life without him in the house. (When he came back and we had to pack and bring him out to sunny L.A., I had to go through the whole thing again!)

When Ally left for college in Connecticut, it made me an official empty nester (unless you count Riley, who is not allowed to go to college, and besides he’s smart enough and knows everything that’s important about life without a higher education), but she was also playing soccer, so we saw her every week of the fall, and her school was close enough for us to drive to and back from in a day if we felt the need to see her cute face (unlike Spain and California, which were a much more difficult story).

With the house all emptied out, I began to hunt for the good in the situation (that’s what we do here at the gratitude-a-thon, find the sunny side of the street). No more 17 pairs of shoes in the hallway. Less laundry. When I left something clean, it would be clean when I came back to it (how novel!) And of course, the best part–if I didn’t get to the grocery store for food, or I was too busy to cook, and we had to have cheese and crackers for dinner, or take out, it was just fine. You honestly, no exaggeration, could serve my husband a piece of rug with a side of curtains and he’d tell you how absolutely delicious it was. My kids, not so much.

Picture by the AMAZING Rania Matar!

Jake and Ally would come back and visit, and that was always fun, but the house was now mainly ours and the benefits of our freedom and having a whole lot less responsibility, and of course, re-bonding with one another, was nice. It was fun. It was good. We traveled. A lot. We were leaning in to it.

All of which is to say, I never thought we’d all live together again, in this house, like before. But guess what, Covid 19 had other plans for us (and maybe you, too). And here we are, the four of us, all cohabitating once again, but this time, everybody is an adult! (Well, everyone but my husband, who can still be a bit of a child sometimes!)

And it’s, well, unexpectedly interesting! And definitely the silver lining of this truly bizarre moment in history.

With Jake living in LA, I’m not so sure that we’d ever get to spend this much time with him unless we were having something like a pandemic. Having not lived with him in more than six years, I’m getting to know him in a way I haven’t been able to do, despite visits, Facetime, texting, Instagram messaging and phone calls. It’s fun to see how he handles his his job as an assistant account executive at an ad agency (especially in the later hours of his work day, which with the time difference, make it 9:00 here). I admire his ambition and work ethic. He loves to cook and has a way with the grill. He’s got a great sense of humor and continues to be a thoughtful guy, like he was when he was little. He’s very self aware and is always up for constructive criticism that will make him a better person. On the down side, he’s not any neater than he was when he was a teenager (ugh) and GOD FORBID HE SHOULD PUT A DISH IN THE DISHWASHER, or do something the first time you ask him to, but he’s always happy to walk the dog, or run to the grocery store for a quick shop.

Although we’ve spent a good amount of time with Ally during college, I’ve learned a lot about her, too, since she’s been home, after we unceremoniously said goodbye to her senior year by piling her stuff hastily into the car, on March 13. She, too, is as messy as she was when she was younger, she has more laundry than the rest of us put together, and at least 16 of those 17 shoes in the hallway are hers, but she’s actually attending law school during this total shit show! And she’s killing it! She had her apartment in Hartford, and was excited to be starting law school at UConn last August, but then, like so many schools, the whole shebang went virtual. I couldn’t quite imagine how it was going to work out for her, but I have to hand it to her, she’s doing incredibly well, super engaged, going big on class particpaion and making friends. She is constantly schooling us in all she’s learning and I am half thinking the four of us could probably pass her exams in December! She’s also been our go-to on all things social justice, as it’s one of her interests and something she focused on in college. She’s become very self-aware and is actually realizing she can be wrong sometimes (!) And she keeps us laughing our heads off. If law doesn’t work out for her, she has a career in comedy as a back-up. The girl is funny.

Have we fought? Yup. Do we sometimes want to clobber each other? Uh huh. But the truth is, I keep thinking what an extraordinary thing this is to be able to spend not just a visit, but actual day-to-day time with these two adult people who used to be little in this very same house. And really, given the circumstances, we’re doing damn well together. We have celebrated Ally’s at-home, online graduation, fended off a rat infestation in our backyard, survived the twice broken downstairs bathroom door, acted as co-workers as the four of us working in unison, laptops going in different rooms, looking like the Apple store, had a blast during a socially distanced week on the Cape, sang happy birthday three times at dinners in outside restaurants in varying degrees of cold (ok, one was on the edge of a patio), grieved Peter’s dad, “G-dad, who died of Covid, stopped making fun of my hoarding of toilet paper and paper towels, rallied around Peter finding out he has to have a shoulder replacement, lived through an election season that was like no other, with incessant news watching and accompanying anxiety, one absentee ballot and three MA voters, and a Joe & Kamala victory, in which I actually banged pots, old school, in the street, and nursed the dog through anesthesia for a teeth cleaning in which he had a tooth pulled and had 7 growths removed with 20 stitches. No, we’re not singing Kumbya on the daily, but we love and adore each other and it’s very clear we’d do anything for one another (unless of course it has to do with cleaning or laundry). I mean, this is a stressful time for all of us, but being together has been a bright spot in an otherwise, masked, socially distanced and surreal period of time.

Ally’s birthday dinner at Scampo, on the edge of the patio.

What are you doing that you wouldn’t be doing if it weren’t for the pandemic mucking up your life? I’m getting to know my adult kids in a way I’m quite sure I’d never get to do otherwise. And gratitude, so much gratitude, for that.

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