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Unprecedented Dad Life

Well folks, it’s been a year.

A year of quarantine with my wife and two children. A year of school at home, work at home, everything at home. It’s been the year of reframing take-out as a civic service, and the year we finally got the kids to dig Indian food. It’s been a year of my teen excitedly telling me all the details about their favorite anime with none of the context necessary for me to comprehend it. It’s been a year of too few surfaces for too many keyboards. It’s been a year of playing video games ourselves and watching other people play them on Twitch. It’s been a year paused and a year on fast-forward, a year of reckoning and a year of having to mourn without ritual. It’s been a year together, apart. 

As the endless March of 2020 laps its younger brother, it seems as good a time as any to reflect on the past year.

We’ve been doing what we can as parents. We’re all here, all the time. Sometimes that looks like dinner together or a friendly melee in Super Smash Bros., and sometimes it’s the four of us on separate screens in separate corners of the house all wearing headphones. In the spring and summer, walks were more frequent, and you might have found us playing Uno at our picnic table outside. As winter settled in, we were more compressed – rotating from couch to dinner table or from desk to kitchen island was all the change in scenery we were gonna get.

My older child, now fourteen, has been able to find their people virtually. They seem to have more activities now than they ever did in The Before Times. They always seem to have something going on: from Anime Club and different youth groups to playing Among Us with schoolmates at lunchtime (it’s not uncommon for my work Zoom calls to overhear loud accusations of someone who is clearly being “sus” and needs to be “ejected from the airlock”).

My younger child, who will be eleven soon, is baking her way through the cookbooks she received as gifts for the holidays. She’s made delicious custard-filled goodies, different types of cookies, and has promised me pizza rolls. She’d also want you to know that she loves playing Animal Crossing on her Nintendo Switch and has built amazing things in Minecraft and Roblox.

Managing virtual school for both kids has been an adjustment to say the least. We’re fortunate that our kids are at ages where they can largely take care of themselves throughout the day. They can sit with their Chromebooks with minimal supervision, so Kat and I can do our work with only ever being interrupted in minor ways. The harder thing is finding the right balance after they’ve spent that entire school day on a screen, of wanting them to not immediately grab an iPad the second school is over. But some days, that’s just how they need to unwind.

The bigger adjustments have been around making sure the assigned asynchronous work gets done. Asynchronous work is all the normal homework, combined with those in-class activities that round out each school period that are done individually at their own pace. I didn’t fully appreciate how educators model and reinforce those executive function skills throughout school days until Kat and I were suddenly tasked with sharing that responsibility. It’s much, much easier to ignore the email from Google Classroom saying that work is overdue than it is to face a teacher every morning who’s going to give you a look when you don’t physically hand your homework to them. It’s easy to find oneself in a pretty deep hole of overdue schoolwork, and Kat and I had to step up our game and pay more attention after a winter break spent playing catch-up.

Our kids are also in the final grades in each of their schools. I’m sad that my fifth grader lost her last chance to be just a kid on a playground at recess before having to be a pre-teen in middle school trying to figure out how to seem older than she is. I’m sad that my eighth grader will have spent over half of their time at their wonderful middle school community, not physically being present in that community every day. Their next time on a school campus will be as a freshman in high school.

High school. That’s another Richmond-area parenting milestone we had to go through during a pandemic: applying to high schools. There are so many great high school opportunities available to students in the region, and it was difficult not being able to actually visit any of these campuses. For two weeks this fall, during our dinners a laptop was open to a webinar led by a principal extolling the virtues of his or her program. We did practice interviews, prepared for adjudication, and added admissions essays to the list of things we’re helping our eighth grader keep track of at home. 

It all gets done, but I never thought I’d feel so busy never actually leaving my house.

We’re extremely lucky and privileged in so many ways. No one is hungry or cold. None of us have gotten sick yet. We have luxury and comfort other families lack. Our jobs allow remote work and our kids go to great city schools. But humans are social animals and we’re lonely. We love each other more than anything, and we’re sick of each other at the same time. We’ve learned so much about ourselves and our kids this year that it’d be nice to have a chance to miss each other sometime in the near future. If just for a little while. 

Sam Davies lives in Northside Richmond with his wife and two school-age children. He enjoys writing about being a father in the DadZone. Follow him on Twitter @MrBeefy.
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