Julie Levine could really go for a empty house right about now. (Photo/Flickr-Nathan Sharratt CC BY-SA 2.0)
Julie Levine could really go for a empty house right about now. (Photo/Flickr-Nathan Sharratt CC BY-SA 2.0)

From the precipice of an empty nest to four under one roof

It was kind of fun in the beginning. We played board games. We wore our pajamas all day. We took long walks in the rain. The kids talked to us.

But it’s getting old, and we are tired. The Bay Area has flattened its curve, but we are still sheltering in place (as of this writing) and still feeling cautious — and also worried for our parents and family members, especially those with compromised immune systems, some who live in cities and towns where the virus has spread more than it has here.

Meanwhile, I’ve spent the past year or so writing about helicopter, snowplow and Jewish-mother parenting, about pulling back and letting go. Now what? I’ve got no idea how to be a shelter-in-place mom or how I’m going to handle parenting when some, but not all, restrictions are lifted.

I’m beginning to fray at the edges, and it’s starting to show.

I wonder what kind of role model I’ve been for the kids during the time in isolation. When they were younger, and I thought about the type of mother I wanted to be, I never thought I’d be parenting during a pandemic.

In the meantime, I’m hovering because, well, I’m always around. And so are they.

Our college-age daughter was sitting at the kitchen table in front of her laptop one day last week, speaking to no one in particular, venting out loud. “I have so much work, I can’t get it all done,” she said. She probably forgot I was even there, but I opened my mouth, told her to stop procrastinating, and to stop playing on her phone and to just get her darn assignments done.

She gave me a look, that “leave me alone I’m not talking to you” kind of look. A freshman in college, she has managed the workload pretty well thus far. She’s right. I need to butt out.

And the next afternoon, I asked her why she had decided to bake cookies when she was kvetching the previous day about all her homework.

As soon as I said it, I wanted to take it back.

She rolled her eyes. I grabbed four cookies and left the room.

What will the kids do this summer?

The jobs and internships they applied for most likely have dried up. They are stressed and don’t need me adding to the pressure they already feel. Yet I ask them their summer plans anyway, even though I know not to. They tell me to back off. I remind myself that if either of them brings up anything about summer again, I should leave the house and go for a walk. I need to do better.

We had been starting to prepare ourselves for an empty nest, and now we’ve got a full one, four adults co-existing in the same space.

And, I have to admit, I’ve enjoyed my time with our kids these past eight weeks even though they shouldn’t be here with us. Our daughter is supposed to be living her life at college, and our son should be making plans for college. It’s a confusing time.

While I feel like I haven’t figured out much of anything when it comes to my motherly role right now, there are a few things I have learned during shelter in place that have nothing to do with parenting. I’ve learned that you can freeze yogurt, hummus and a whole chicken. I’ve learned that there is an infinite number of dishes you can make with dried beans, and I’ve probably made most of them. A head of cabbage can last a couple weeks in the fridge, much longer than lettuce, and can carry you more creatively than lettuce and salad.

And I guess I’ve learned that on the home front I’m doing the best I can, and that’s got to be enough. I just wish I was as sure in the parenting realm right now as I am about what I’m making for dinner tonight with all that leftover rice.

Julie Levine

Julie Levine is a writer who lives in San Francisco.