From a 1948 issue of The Ladies' Home Journal (WIKIMEDIA)
From a 1948 issue of The Ladies' Home Journal (WIKIMEDIA)

Our isolation has rekindled my motherly ways — and I like it

I have regressed.

I make my son breakfast during the week and bring it to him in his room, where he starts his virtual school day at his desk.

I make lunch — usually leftovers from the night before. I shred last night’s chicken into a salad, and another day, the beans and tortilla chips from taco night get made into hearty lunch nachos.

I put out snacks at 3 p.m.

I see the kids a lot, every day, all day (when they aren’t in a virtual school). I ask them how they are. I ask them if they are hungry. I look at them and wonder when they last showered, if they are getting enough air and exercise. I wonder whether I should clean their rooms, or do I even want to see their rooms?

There are a lot of dishes. I do many loads of laundry. I hang dry my daughter’s jeans because she likes them to air dry. When it’s finished, I make neat piles for each member of my family.

I clean fingerprints on the fridge, on the stove, on the oven and kitchen cabinets and from seemingly everywhere. And though we’ve been isolating, and no one has been in our home for a month but us, I still wipe everything down every day.

I am not taking care of children anymore. I am taking care of young-adult teenagers who do not need me to take care of them, but here I am. It’s an easy fallback in an uneasy time. And I need to do something helpful because, well, I feel helpless.

We have come back together after a year of separation, of learning to adjust to a family of three instead of four.

Our daughter ventured off on her own on the other side of the country, a freshman at college. Now she’s back home with us, unable to see her friends or move in the world as she likes, or it is used to.

And our son, a junior in high school, a year full of possibility, has been studying for the ACT; his April test date has been moved to June, and it might be moved again. Then there’s the college trip for him that we had to postpone.

I worry about them both, and then feel guilty because these are, I know, such privileged worries. We have plenty of food to eat, a roof over our heads and, so far, we are healthy. We are OK. We are more than OK.

I had gotten used to the quiet, and now there is activity — constant activity — and I am drawn to it and drawn to them.

I stop my writing to decorate the cupcakes that our daughter made. I gladly converse with our son whenever he wants to engage me no matter what I’m doing.  I leave an email midsentence to walk when my hubby or the kids want to walk. I drop everything for a game of Boggle.

Time is different now. I am not late for anything.

The car sits in the driveway. I have been rushing and driving and living according to the kids’ schedule for a long time. Now there is no one to pick up; no kid is texting me “where are you” or “how much longer.” Instead, I have been making challah on Shabbat, a throwback to when the kids were little. I spend long evenings lingering at dinner, which rolls into rounds of backgammon. I feel bad for enjoying these evenings so much.

I wipe the crumbs off the kids’ desks, and I sort their socks, I sit on the floor with them and play cards. I am mothering them and spending time with them like I used to. I think it’s OK to regress a little, to want to take care of them again, to want to hold them close and to try, as best as I can, to keep them well and safe.

Julie Levine

Julie Levine is a writer who lives in San Francisco.