“Are you in your bathroom?” my boss asked me as we began our Google Hangout meeting last month at the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) quarantine. The pink art-deco tile of my one-bedroom apartment rental gave me away. “Yes,” I sheepishly responded. I explained to her that my infant son was napping in the bedroom and my husband was on a conference call in our living room.
“This is the only square footage left,” I sighed.
By now I know that I’m far from the only parent juggling professional responsibilities, deadlines, housework, and child rearing. The grass actually feels pretty green on my side of the street when I’m reminded that “teaching” is added to that list for so many relatives and friends with school-age kids. Then there are those with older children, navigating their own set of challenges with penned-in teens and tweens.
And this is to say nothing of the parents around the world facing unthinkable challenges: moms and dads in India who cannot shelter-in-place; parents in Venezuela who were already facing a scarcity of resources before the outbreak; Syrian parents whose children are witnessing a humanitarian crisis on top of this horror.
Parenting during a pandemic, wherever one finds oneself, is nothing short of disruptive. It has dismantled schedules, norms, plans, rules, and order.
But if it’s going to be chaos, I say we try to find a way to make it holy chaos: a mess made better by openness to grace. “Blessed are hearts that bend, for they shall never be broken,” wrote St. Francis de Sales. This is from a man who spent hours counseling laypeople. Surely they spoke to him of domestic chaos.
In a recent interview with his biographer, Austen Ivereigh, Pope Francis described the mission, as he sees it, for all of us in lockdown:
“We have to respond to our confinement with all our creativity. We can either get depressed and alienated ... or we can get creative. At home we need an apostolic creativity, a creativity shorn of so many useless things, but with a yearning to express our faith in community, as the people of God.”
It was a theme he also touched on in his video message ahead of Holy Week: “Even if we are isolated, thought and spirit can go far with the creativity of love. This is what we need today: the creativity of love.”
I have been inspired by the creativity that parents have demonstrated for the sake of their children in these strange times. It is hard to convey the seriousness of the pandemic without making it seem frightening.
Providing answers to questions about separation from loved ones and when we’ll return to “normal” is hard. But moms and dad are persevering and finding ways to cooperate with the Lord to “make all things new.”
This week, a college friend published an essay in The New York Times chronicling how he built a makeshift church in the backyard of his Virginia countryside home. Since our apartments and houses are now functioning as literal “domestic churches,” he thought it only right to give his children the familiar feel of their parish so they do not forget the experience of going to church. Of his ambition he wrote:
“I’m a writer ... with little to no carpentry or construction skills. I own one saw, specifically used for cutting bathroom pipes, and a few rusty rake and clipper heirlooms from the 1980s. Perhaps my sharpest tool, though, is a strong will as a dad — to, at the very least, remind my kids of sacred spaces even if our usual one is off limits; to make this forced ordinary time in our spiritual lives just a bit more extraordinary.”
The creativity of love.
Another friend delivered her fourth baby this month in one of the coronavirus “hot spots.” Unlike her three previous experiences, she did it without her husband by her side due to hospital protocol barring support persons from delivery rooms.
On the one hand, she was fortunate to approach her due date with knowledge about what labor entails. On the other hand, she was approaching her due date with knowledge about what labor entails.
In an attempt to quell her anxiety ahead of the birth, to give her baby the best possible outcome, and to bear extra fruit during a time of uncertainty, she reached out to friends and asked for our prayer intentions. Each contraction would be offered for a specific request. Though she would be unaccompanied in her time of need, she and her newborn son would accompany us in ours.
The creativity of love.
Another friend’s creativity was more modest but no less important. She posted on social media that having been unable to get to the grocery store for several weeks, she made a game for her six children: Using all of the remaining ingredients in the pantry, they were to come up with a lunch for Good Friday.
What a great way to introduce the concept of “going without” to children who are not obligated to fast on that day and a chance to be in solidarity with those who face food insecurity and hunger.
The creativity of love.
As we approach Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, perhaps this year still in quarantine, let’s pray for all parents who have turned a situation that is wholly chaotic into something holy. May we look back on the absurdities of this time with laughter, and may we have cultivated new, lasting habits: like making our homes into sacred spaces, praying for one another in all circumstances, consuming what we have before buying more, and keeping our bathrooms clean and camera-ready at all times.