9 Things That Parenting During This Pandemic Has Taught Me

I’ve been very fortunate these last few weeks to have an outlet to write about this highly unique time being a parent. Some of these articles have been pretty difficult and cathartic to write and, due to the subject matter at hand, they’ve ended up being pretty heavy reads. Friends and even some strangers have told me they’ve been moved by reading them, and it’s meant the world to me that they’ve resonated with anyone. But a few weeks in, I decided some levity was needed. Yes, life during coronavirus is serious and I will continue to conduct myself in the outside world accordingly, but it’s also important to laugh when we can. So, with this article I share with you some of the more humorous and questionable thoughts about parenting that have popped into my head since this all began. These might not win me any points at the PTA meeting, but we’re not having those anymore anyway, so what the hell?

Without further ado …

1. Kids suck at video chatting, especially in large groups.

Oh my god, I thought adults were bad on Zoom, but then I found myself in the midst of a call with my son, Kieran, and five or six of his classmates that severely hurt my brain –perhaps irrevocably. It was really sweet and everyone was excited, but I assure you that not one meaningful exchange of information happened. Each kid wants to give you a tour of their room, show you their toys, cover the camera with their hand, or talk over each other. It’s a total shitshow. The more people on the call, the harder it gets to manage, just like your work-from-home Zooms. Sometimes Kieran will be using an app called Kids Messenger (it’s like a fun Facetime for Kids) to talk to a friend one-on-one when I’ll come into the room to see that both he and his friend are facing away from their iPads, barely talking, just playing with their toys in each other’s virtual company. It’s actually kinda sweet when you think about it … Ok, so sometimes they don’t suck.

2. Excessive screen time can save lives.

As any responsible parent knows, your child’s screen time needs to be monitored. In our family, we typically use the iPad as a reward for when work gets done, or to pacify on a long trip, but in these trying times when each day is a struggle I think it’s perfectly fine to be a little more generous with it. Think back to when you were a kid, hunkered down for hours of Saturday morning cartoons or whatever terrible sitcoms came on every night. If I think of the wasted hours of my young life watching garbage shows like Small Wonder or Full House, what right do I possibly have to tell my six year old he’s playing too much Mario Kart? I can’t tell him to go outside and play with his friends, and there are only so many magical crafting activities I can pull out of my ass, so yes, I’m being more lenient with screen time. You should be too. I absolve you.

3. Sleeping in will always feel good, but you’ll pay for it later.

In this new pandemic era, when time has become elastic, it’s very easy to get lax about our usual weekday wake up time of 6:30 a.m., especially since most nights we both struggle to fall asleep and there’s no school to physically go to. Before the coronavirus, he’d be out the door by 7:45 a.m. for the walk to school, skipping down the sidewalk like a runaway bouncy ball. But more recently there have been mornings when we didn’t even wake up until 8 a.m. For some of you that may still be early, but I assure you, for most parents, it’s the height of decadence. That said, anytime I allow this to happen, the day just unravels and getting Kieran to sleep those nights usually becomes near impossible. My advice: set multiple alarms and get your ass up. Structure is good.

4. Adding a bandana over a standard face mask gives you a cool desperado look.

I know this isn’t exclusively parenting-related, but I think it’s a fresh fashion tip that anyone can benefit from, including kids and parents. Ideally, you use a black one with skulls on it, or maybe one of those red or blue paisley ones that delineate which gang you’re a part of. I bet you never thought you’d get rad style tips from a parenting column, huh? Don’t judge a book, brah.

5. My kid thinks toy stores should be considered “essential.”

We didn’t even take Kieran to that many toy stores in his life before coronavirus. I mean, how many even are there now? But when he found out toy stores were not deemed essential his ire had no bounds. He was pissed. I specifically remember trying to empathize with him by citing how I felt similarly about record stores, but he had no time for my grievances — this was about him. And I get it: to be told as a kid that toy stores aren’t going to exist, regardless of how temporarily that may be, must be tough. If I were a kid, I’d be rioting in the streets already, but I’m not giving him any ideas. In the meantime, we still have Target to fulfill any desperate toy needs.

6. My kid really hates masks.

Kieran’s aversion to masks, and costumes in general, had already been established as fact over the years. Halloween has been getting harder and harder and, consequently, his costumes have become more simple. Last year he dressed up as a character from a pretty goofy, but surprisingly clever, kids comic book series called The 13th-Story Treehouse. The character happens to look pretty much like Kieran, so the costume just consisted of a patch with the character’s name on it that his mom sewed to his shirt. That’s as costumey as he wants to get these days, so you can imagine how difficult the face masks have been for him. He hasn’t exactly embraced the precaution. In fact, I don’t think one has stayed on him more than 15 seconds. And if my six year old wants to roll the dice on his chances of infection and survival who am I to stand in the way?*

*Just to be clear, that’s a joke. I love my child, so please don’t call Child Protective Services on me. Thanks!

7. Have I mentioned how awesome the teachers and admin are at Kieran’s school?

It’s been pretty amazing to see how quickly our public school (shout out to PS17!!!) has adapted to all this with no existing road map to work from. Can you imagine if our own government demonstrated a fraction of the planning and effort that these teachers have brought to the table? Not to mention, if the schools were running things, we all know there wouldn’t be a lack of testing! Get it? Testing! They love testing, right? Ok sorry, but that was a dad joke opportunity I couldn’t pass up…On a serious note, they’ve had to reinvent their whole system and, along with it, coordinate between parents, teachers, administrators, and the kids. It’s not perfect, and of course it’s hard to substitute the real deal of actually going to school, but they’re trying and it shows. I miss going to school for so many reasons. I miss him being in that building, having those experiences, and how all of those relationships have helped Kieran become the boy he is. And, of course, I also miss it because I’m soooo exhausted.

8. A little existential dread might be good for our kids.

Okay, hear me out on this one. Obviously, I don’t want any child or adult to be sad or freaked out by the pandemic, but unfortunately, this is the hand we’ve been dealt, and we can’t undo that. It’s heartbreaking to think of all these children trying to process all of this in their head, the same way I tried to figure out nuclear war when I was their age. Did it ruin me as a person and debilitate me with anxiety? No, it just kept me on my toes and allowed me to appreciate living life a little bit more. I’d like to think all of these pandemic kids will grow up with a similar energy, inspired by the awareness that life is fragile and our time on this planet is limited. I’m also really looking forward to when they start some bands because you know those tunes are gonna slap and make you think (the perfect combo).

9. Despite it sometimes being stressful, Kieran’s extroverted energy is pretty badass.

Kieran’s autism has never prevented him from being social. In fact, he can be a total chatterbox to complete strangers. During pre-pandemic times, he had a pretty high success rate in most encounters, especially the ones involving a dog being walked. Kieran had these interactions down to a science, with three key questions he’d ask the owner:

  1. ”What’s the name of your dog?”
  2. ”How old is your dog?”
  3. ”Has your dog been trained?”

For non-dog owners, he would still offer a boisterous, “Hey, Guys!!!” whether he knew them or not. Most times, these moments were fun and amusing, but on occasion they could be awkward, as not every person walking down the street wants to make small talk with an autistic six year old. Nowadays, it’s become a little dicier since anyone in your personal space poses a greater threat. Initially, I was trying to curtail Kieran’s impulse in these moments, but then I started to think about it differently. It’s actually pretty encouraging to see his open and bubbly self not get dampened by the world around him. If he wants to say hello to complete strangers and engage them in conversation then I’m gonna let him. If they ignore him or keep walking, I know it won’t keep him from doing it. He’s like an unstoppable little one-man welcoming committee, and it’s actually pretty cool.

I’ve really enjoyed having a platform to share my experiences these last couple of months, but this may end up being my last of these for now. After two months of furlough, I’ve been offered re-employment at my job. It’s bittersweet news as I’ve grown to really enjoy being a full-time dad/teacher, despite coronavirus. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the same kind of opportunity to be there for my son without the distractions of work, and I’ll dearly miss that. At any rate, I’m grateful to have learned from this unusual time in our lives, to have written about it, and most of all, to have shared it with all of you. As quarantine is bound to continue for weeks or months to come, I realize this is far from over, but I do feel certain we will get through it and emerge stronger on the other end. May you and your family stay healthy and safe.

Thank you.