A published poet and father of three offers a humorous take on how life in his house has changed.

I had other jobs before this one. I was a writer working on the edits of his 14th book. I had two master’s degrees, and that qualified me to work part time in customer service at a library. I dreamed about working full time there some day, maybe even becoming a librarian, but I knew in the old economy it would take time before I could expect that sort of thing. I loved writing and I loved the library, but we all do fantastic things for our children when they need us to. We are all most amenable to the world that gives our families the best shot at actual joy.

That’s why, when the world began to change, I took it upon myself to change with the world. That was why I took our large but simple brick house and turned it into the ultimate attraction.

Now, Quarantineland wasn’t intended to bring crowds of people to our front door or to find a way in this new economy to help us make a little bit more money. Nobody is making more money right now. Well, that’s not exactly true. Our toddler, Kathryn (aka Katie Queen), has upped her net worth more than a hundredfold since we locked the doors. More on that later. Anyway, Quarantineland was intended to keep the people already in the house happy and excited about each of the four floors of this 100-year-old house that still features a coal-depository room that is not at all haunted, and is closed up completely and forever because of the “draft” that might get us.

I wanted them to have fun here each day, and since it was (and remains to be) unwise for them to aimlessly wander around the neighborhood like they would normally do on a nice spring day, I knew this endeavor would completely take over my existence. So, I put the writing and the library work out of my mind, and began in earnest to transform our lives one room at a time.

I started in the basement on the opposite side of the room from the coal-depository door that has three layers of tape sealing it shut for no important reason. There we created a gymnastics/casino setup that included a full complement of mats, a low beam, a trampoline and seven different sets of playing cards that when combined somehow still didn’t produce a complete 52-card deck. Isabelle (aka Belle or Belarus) eventually set up a small play kitchen on the outskirts of the mat so that she could distribute lemonade and cookies she baked. She has never asked us to pay for those refreshments, but at strange unprompted moments she has required signatures from each of us on what look like blank pieces of paper. This room has been one of the main evening attractions.

When we get tired of watching Disney+ in the theater room or from adding one piece to the 1,000-piece puzzle located in the rarely visited homework/puzzle complex, we work our way through the cold spots on the stairs and into the basement for Olympic-level competition and games of chance.

Above the basement, in the room across from the aching puzzles, used to be the kitchen. Well, it still sort of is, but the stainless-steel stove we had installed no longer heats to the temperature needed to crisp up a lovely flatbread or apple and cranberry pies. Now, it stays on at a constant minimum heat to accommodate the dinosaur chicken nuggets we serve multiple times a day. I really thought that if I ever “owned” my own place, we would specialize in paella (my old show-off meal), but the crudely shaped processed chicken seems to roar just enough for all three of the kids.

Thomas (aka Tommy Bacon), our middle child, seems to have stolen and hidden all of the ketchup we bought before Quarantineland got underway. My wife and I are using up what remains of the mustard, and Belle and Katie Queen have been utilizing the soy sauce packets left over from Lucky Dragon. He always seems to have ketchup somehow, and even though there are no more hiding places (they discovered all of them during the brief time my wife and I tried to start a “hide-and-seek and nobody look for mommy and daddy" hour), he’s got a stash of it hidden somewhere.

The theater room is really just my phone constantly plugged into a charger next to a television. I don’t really get phone calls anymore anyway, and if it should die with 30 minutes left in “Big Hero 6” or “Onward” or “Frozen II,” I’m not certain the structural integrity of the house could take another riot. The first one cost us a coffee table and $40 in popcorn kernels. We just can’t take losses like that and keep this thing afloat, so my phone stays plugged in at all times. I like to think there are emails from publishers just waiting to keep in touch with me about new projects on that phone, but those are the dreams of a man that might no longer exist. Besides, the computer I would use to make the edits on a new book was hidden during the decision not to adopt a new puppy as our third dog in week two of Quarantineland.

The bedrooms are still the bedrooms, but they’re also functioning as storefronts for bartering or straight cash purchasing of items that have been deemed “vital” to that particular person’s happiness. Katie Queen has all of the diapers locked in her closet. How she installed a lock on that door (I think she paid my wife to do it), I still do not know, but I have to pay her $1 every time I need a diaper to change her. She can take the diapers off by herself, but she’s refused any potty-training overtures on my part, and for the health and safety of us all I made the decision to pay this black-market rate whenever she needs a new Pull-Up.

Tommy Bacon won’t sell me any ketchup, but as the wild card in the bunch he takes three frozen pancakes from me every morning as a bribe to no longer toilet paper his older sister’s room. I wouldn’t mind the act, but he wets and ruins the toilet paper whenever he does it, and some things take precedence.

Belle has the top floor all to herself right now. My office was up there before all of this, but the stairs are covered completely in dirty and clean clothes and I can’t tell the difference between the two anymore. She won’t move them, because if we can’t get up the stairs then she has power over our entire book collection. One book will cost you 15 minutes of FaceTime with her best friend. Three books will cost you a sleeve of Girl Scout cookies (“Not the Trefoils, dad!”). I asked for the A-F shelf of my poetry collection a week ago, and I had to buy a trampoline for the backyard to get it.

The trampoline has been the most popular new attraction of Quarantineland. Really, other than my phone being used as a portal to all three “Descendants” movies (I’m not complaining, those songs are all bangers), the trampoline has taken up most of the activity time during the day. It’s quieter in the house for long periods of time. I still spend most of my time adjusting the breading level on the dinosaur chicken nuggets and selling signed copies of my books through social media so I can buy diapers from my own toddler, but things are good here.

Parenting in Quarantineland is no longer really about being the master of ceremonies from room to room, always avoiding the sounds that sneak out from under the coal-depository room (I don’t know anybody named Eleanor, and why the hushed and gravelly voice would assume I would is crazy). Now, it’s about care and love and unboxing the new furniture that my wife keeps ordering from Ikea with what I assume is kickback money from Katie Queen. We have our health. We have each other. We have a trampoline with a 10-year warranty. Belle claims she’s legally emancipated herself from us and has changed her name to Mal. I’m not sure I would ask for anything else.

Darren C. Demaree is an award-winning poet, stay-at-home father and a member of the Columbus Parent Advisory Board. He has published 13 poetry collections. The Ohio Arts Council awarded him a 2018 Individual Excellence Award in Poetry. He lives with his wife and three children in Clintonville. Find him online at darrencdemaree.com.

***

Subscribe to Columbus Parent’s weekly e-newsletter, The Bulletin, for feature stories, top reads, event recommendations, guides, parenting trends and lots more ideas for family fun.