Thunk! Thud, thud, THUD. AAAAAAAGH!
Not the sounds I am used to hearing at work. The grey cube-farm, elevator dependent environment I normally work in has much less screaming, couch jumping, and crying over stolen dolls. Only three miles from my downtown Minneapolis tower, I am a world away from the work-land of coffee shops, courthouse bustle, and corporate Target employees. No more desk-side chats, hunting down conference rooms, or awkward restroom encounters. Maybe that last one still happens. We are a family of six sharing one bathroom.
I am huddled in a half-finished basement bedroom. One north facing window at the ceiling looks up towards the walkway and fence at the side of our house. The dog wisps by the window and shoots a shadow across the room every half-hour or so. She’s barking at a guilty squirrel or an innocent pedestrian again.
My family is sheltering-in-place eight feet above me in our one-thousand square foot first floor unit. Four kids and my superhero wife make the sounds of living that I can hear so acutely in my new office space. The picture I am painting is not quite Bob Cratchit. It is cold down here, but I am not shivering at a tiny desk hoping Scrooge will put another piece of coal in the stove. It is a picture of improvisation, of working from home surrounded by the beauty, chaos, love and war of a growing family.
Embracing My Place
Positive outlook warning. Stop reading if you are looking for a vitriol-filled Coronavirus rant listing all my frustrations. Maybe I’ll get there eventually. Not now. I want to take the time today to document the good, the simple, and the gifts I can take from a world on lock-down.
The best gift has been the time I have at home. Parts of working from home are not ideal, but I am here to talk about the good.
I start each work day at our dining room table. I have about an hour to myself. As I ease into the workday with my coffee and granola, I hear the sounds of the household slowly waking up. My oldest, August, is the first to rise. He climbs down from his top bunk and runs and dives onto the couch. I take a minute to sit with him and hold him close. Shortly after, one of the twins emerges. I get little snuggles as each child emerges into the new day. Laura, my wife, gets the kiddo breakfast train moving. As the morning peace fades or when a morning meeting calls, I commute downstairs to join Bob Cratchit.
Pre-Coronavirus I would be out the door of the dark house. My family sleeping peacefully as I made my way downtown. Quiet mornings and watching the kids wake up were reserved for the weekends. I am so thankful for these mornings at home. I have been given several weeks now of extra time with my wife and children. Without getting too “Cat’s in the Cradle” on you, I realize that my kids will never again be the ages they are now. During the workday, I can pop upstairs to read a quick story to my five-year-old twins, comfort my sensitive six-year-old Eliza, or chat about airplanes with eight-year-old Augie. Lunch with the family, short walks with the dog, or a few minutes playing in the yard are all perks that are not available in normal times.
I have the self-awareness to recognize that I can’t always pop-in and be the “fun” dad blowing up the routine and structure of the day. Admittedly, my wife, Wonder Woman, does the heavy lifting. I get to swoop in and take moments with the kids. While all day long she is homeschooling, refereeing, comforting, feeding, and keeping four human beings alive and well. Pretty much working magic. Meanwhile, I’m in the basement sipping coffee, leisurely chatting with colleagues about inclusive design or the social model of disability. It does balance out though. Laura is not always knee-deep in kid crust and tear-stained math books. Later in the day, I’ll be trying to negotiate a truce between a cranky professor and a frustrated student while Laura and the kids are out in the woods building forts.
I am truly grateful for this time of being on the periphery of the daily family routine. Instead of a complete remove with an occasional text message update, I get to see the kids in the morning, steal quiet moments and quick hugs throughout the day, and of course, hear the thunder of little feet on the ceiling above me. I will take this gift and be thankful for it.
Make no mistake. The cause here is devastating. The impact real and tragic for so many. I take no joy in that. Nonetheless, here I am. Regardless of the cause, I am in this place. I find myself in a position, and I will live in it, be in it, and take all the joy I can from it.
Thank you for your patience as I deviated from the usual finance related posts. I wanted to recognize this unexpected dividend of time that has been paid to me. My brother Joe shared part of the life dividends he is experiencing in Hello, Neighbor. I invite you to share any of the positives or negatives you are experiencing in all of this. Maybe it is complicated and doesn’t fit neatly in either category. Either way, thanks for taking the time and energy to participate and to listen to my experience.