Parenting During the Coronavirus: An Uneasy New Normal

Brooke Preston
One diversion for the Preston family has been making up games when the playground was closed.

I remember the disorienting feeling of the world dramatically lurching to a stop. On Monday, March 9, I volunteered for the school book fair. Two days later, I ate lunch with my first-grade daughter and attended art night. The next day, it all hit home when Ohio schools announced they would switch to e-learning indefinitely. We staggered through the weekend, getting in one final kids birthday party and one final haircut. 

That Sunday, we gathered in a neighbor’s driveway for a last morsel of social time. Someone took a snapshot of all 14 kids piled together, laughing. It was the last night we hugged anyone outside our immediate family. I think about it every day. In less than a week, our lives and daily rhythms were completely upended.

We were cut off from my elderly parents with pre-existing conditions and anyone who didn’t live in our household. The first weeks of virtual learning were bumpy, to put it charitably. My freelance writing assignments immediately dried up, then came back with a flurry of coronavirus-related projects. My husband, like millions of others, was furloughed. We navigated unemployment forms, endless Zoom invites and Google Classroom assignments, and dutifully wiped down groceries, when there were even wipes to buy. We tried awkward new rituals like car parades and video chat happy hours, which were both a life raft in the middle of the storm and a hollow imitation of the real thing. 

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My daughter is, thankfully, emotionally hale, but even she had an endless string of questions. Will I see my friends again? Will this still be here on my birthday, and if so, will I still have a party? Will I go back to school in the fall? Will my grandparents be OK? We give her extra-fierce hugs and encouragement to make up for all the questions to which we so often lack good answers. For the first few weeks, she’d come to my desk each morning and take my temperature, reporting the results like an overworked doctor making a house call.

Still, we were lucky and privileged. We had all we needed. Though a number of friends and colleagues have had Covid-19, some severely, they’ve survived. And while I was perhaps the only person who didn’t try her hand at sourdough, I did get to spend a lot of quality time with my husband and daughter, trying projects, taking walks, discussing big things like our faith and also many silly things, and learning to enjoy life even when it’s not operating on your terms.

Now we have eased into an uneasy new normal. We (aftermuchdeliberation) expanded our pod to a few other like-minded families on our street. We still don’t touch or hug, and we only gather outside, but this has allowed the children to have an almost normal-feeling summer. A furloughed neighbor leads this rag-tag gang on bikes and scooters to the neighborhood park for what the kids have dubbed “Camp Miller,” which they insist is their favorite camp ever. They even made him a sign for his bike to make it official.

It’s still hard and uneven. I miss hugs and family and going to the movie theater. I miss the world where every interaction didn’t have to be planned and second-guessed. But I look to my daughter’s endless optimism and adaptability, and her ability to just find a way to enjoy life as it comes. Tonight the pod is caravanning to a drive-in movie at Easton. We’ll make the best of this surreal time that will hopefully fade into surreal memories. And in the meantime, we’ll just keep taking it one long summer day at a time.

This story is from the Summer 2020 issue of Columbus Parent.