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Making the Best of Too Much Family Togetherness

During quarantine, my children and I have amassed an enviable collection. Our collection isn’t worth anything—it is, after all, comprised entirely of rocks. But it is emblematic of everything good we can hold on to from this strange, unprecedented time.

As all great epics begin in which tweens are restricted to the same quarters as their parents, the overall quarantine vibe was homicidal. The tweens, our daughter and son, were sullen at mealtimes, resistant to suggestion that homework be completed in the meantime, and were behind closed doors at all other times. They were only reachable by FaceTime if your name was anything other than Mom or Dad.

We attempted to practice radical compassion toward our offspring. That feeling of goodwill lasted a full twelve minutes until it was met with, “Mom, why does your face keep doing that?” So few parental customs are acceptable in Tweentopia, and that feeling is only magnified when sheltering-in-place. The diversions, like camps and workshops that are meant to keep children from burning down said shelters, though, were cancelled this past summer and very few have resumed in their same iteration.

What is a family to do with what children’s author Patrick McDonnell calls The Gift of Nothing? As anyone acquainted with the story of friends Mooch and Earl who receive this gift, their tale ends with their arms around each other, enjoying nothing—“And everything.”

Sigh.

The gift of nothing—and everything—in our little world has been an abundance of time and togetherness with very little tolerance for each other.

So I looked for ways I could exercise more tolerance in the midst of an already intolerant world. Perhaps I could begin with yogic breathing and become a full-blown Zen artist of meditation by the time a vaccine for COVID-19 was available.

Combatting Too Much Family Togetherness

True to form, the tweens provided all the opportunities for spiritual refinement we could ever hope to find. Early in quarantine, our daughter expressed that she had serious doubts about the faith in which we had raised her. She was putting her faith in the things of nature, where miracles abounded. She spoke of energy derived from crystals, burned incense, and drew herself Epsom salt-infused ritual baths. She even drew one for me and explained that I should imagine all of my negative thoughts and self-doubt emptying down the drain. It was the nicest, and possibly most passive-aggressive, thing anyone has ever done for me.

The religion of rocks, although not my faith tradition, is one I could afford to nurture in her. Fortunately, her church was still open, even in quarantine. Junkets around Boston area beaches became the highlights of our weeks and filled our pockets with rocks. We reached into tide pools and gathered an abundance of white and marbled stones. We collected smooth pebbles fit for use as “worry stones,” the rosary beads of anxious parents who fear COVID-19 is all part of a Minecraft simulation.

Our daughter led us in and out of metaphysical shops in Provincetown in search of Black Tourmaline and Rose Quartz. She consulted books on crystals and geodes. She educated us about the healing powers of certain rocks and the ring of protection others could offer. In possibly the only non-combative exchange between siblings of the year, I watched as my son complimented my daughter on her ability to ferret out “cool rocks and, like, shark’s teeth or whatever.”

As a family, we meditatively stacked tiny totems, known as rock cairn sculptures, at every beach we visited. Our washing machine often laundered the accidental remnants of a good day’s collecting. We were living in the state known for perhaps the country’s most famous rock, and we were doing our best to rock the least rockin’ summer of our lives.

While the difficulty of huddling and hunkering down has been ineffable, the joy of finding stone after beautiful skipping stone became a shared language with our tweens.

Like the many layers of earth matter that form sedimentary rocks, our children contain multitudes: hormones and mood swings and TikTok dance routines. We would not have the beauty of fine-grained basalt or multi-flecked granite without the shape-shifting and rising temperature of the earth. I believe we all have metamorphosed similarly in this quarantine. I am thankful for this time, allowing me better proximity to watch my ever-evolving children grow. We’re holding them, at turns tightly and lightly, until it is time to see how far they can skip.

Kendra Stanton Lee

Kendra Stanton Lee teaches writing at a technical institute in Boston. She lives with husband and their tween children at a boarding academy where her husband is a counselor. Find more of her writing online @Kendraspondence and at www.kendrastantonlee.com

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