End of an era
Knees pointed skyward. Head back. Body contorted with jellyfish-like fluidity.
There Cooper, 7, is in his familiar spot at the end of the couch - wrapping himself into a human pretzel. At the center of all his physical twisting sits another book. On this night, he was polishing off his third book of the day.
He consumes books like you and I sit down to a meal. And his very spine-busting pose is one of the familiar and welcome sights in the last year that I have come to love seeing as I work from home.
For one full school year, my wife and I made the decision to homeschool our two sons. It’s a decision not everyone has the capacity to make. My wife has flexibility in her schedule and I have been working from home, allowing me to help at times.
It also doesn’t hurt that we have roughly half a million family members who are either current or retired teachers with enough extra workbooks to make a book publisher blush.
The pandemic forced us into tight quarters. Luckily, tight is exactly what our four-person household has grown to become. And now, as the specter of back-to-school season draws close, it has shined a light on a place and time I may romanticize forever.
There was plenty of learning at this two-bedroom schoolhouse for sure. Cooper’s favorite subject from his time in his home classroom is his foray into history books. He is already a bigger history buff than me. Among his favorite topics are the U.S. presidents and the history of the Titanic.
I do wonder if I dropped the ball here parenting-wise - letting Cooper become intimately enamored with an old ship destined for doom. Maybe, at least, he will grow to have a healthy fear of icebergs if he ever becomes a captain of a ship.
Still, there we stood outside at 10 a.m. on a Thursday about 92.5 feet across from each other on the sidewalk - the width of the actual Titanic. I remember his giddy excitement learning this and understanding part of its size and thinking how in normal times, we would be standing much farther apart.
The office was close, but measured in more than boat widths for sure.
When I started working at home back in March 2020, I had my reservations how everything would work out. Most of them were put to rest early.
That said, with school and work all in the same place, we did have our fair share of challenges. For starters, we converted a small closet upstairs into my office to get work done. During much of the day, I close the door for privacy.
And as you can probably guess, privacy was more of a suggestion. Because nothing is more interesting to a kid than a forbidden room you are not allowed to visit.
At least the people on the video call meeting all tended to have similar interruptions from children and pets alike.
Distractions at home were aplenty as well. Sure my report might be due by the end of the day, but that basket of shirts isn’t going to fold itself, amiright?
I am also very much guilty of converting the water cooler conversations that naturally popup at the office into several “refrigerator conversations” with my wife and the kids. Did I need to walk downstairs to get a third glass of juice to tell them my 11 a.m. meeting got postponed (a meeting they had no idea existed until that very moment)?
Probably not. But I am sure the rush of being part of my office life is exhilarating enough for them to be talking about it the rest of the day.
Or, for them to forget immediately and inquire about watching a show on Netflix.
I think being around my kids more often also made me crave interactions with adults more. When I would have video chats with colleagues or other friends, I felt out of practice - which is probably why many devolved into me raving about an episode of Bluey or waxing poetic about reconnecting with first grade math that Cooper was working on.
The pandemic was brutal. It was (and in some parts of the world and this country, still is) a dark time in society that suffered so much loss and animosity and heartbreak.
With that disclaimer in mind, the extra year I got to work at home feels like bonus moments I got to steal from history. Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t goodbye to my kids. The four of us still live together and nothing is changing, except our schedule.
In the coming years, I will try to remember this past year for the tragedy it was, but also for all the moments I won…
Having lunch with my boys
Hearing them run around with wild inhibition
Noticing the inflection in their voices when they finally understood the school work that was giving them problems
Coming downstairs to see my oldest son wrapping himself around a third book
One thing does make the transition easier. The kids are not the only ones returning to their Monday to Friday place of responsibility. As the kids cross over into the classrooms for the 2021-2022 academic year, so do I begin a new workweek ritual. I am heading back into the office twice a week.
As an extrovert, part of me is celebrating the chance to reconnect with other adults. As someone who had an ideal school and work situation last year, it won’t be the same. But we have the picture. We have the memories. We have the bond that a global emergency only made stronger somehow.
To all those returning to similar setups for work-life normalcy, stay strong and best of luck.
Know this: It will just make those meetings at 92.5 feet apart that much sweeter.
Josh Farnsworth is a husband, father of goofballs Cooper and Milo, goofball himself, and award-winning writer and columnist living in Worcester. He can be reached for column ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.