“I wish you weren’t here.”

This is what I hear at least once a day from my 16-year-old daughter. Out of my five children, she’s the one who has the most issues with me staying at my co-parent’s house until the quarantine is over. Especially since I spent an inordinate amount of time there prior to quarantine.

That’s what you do as a co-parent when you have four school-age children and one in college. They need drop-offs and pick-ups from school. They have track and band and choir practice. You take them for weekends and vacations so the other caregiver can rest. 

My co-parent and I have done this since our divorce three years ago. We don’t hate each other. I was simply a man-child who wasn’t willing to grow up. Thus, we’re still good friends. We have to be with five children.

Thus, in these unique times, my co-parent and I made accommodations. I didn’t force her to house me over the last month. We agreed to my stay because some of the kids were and continue to be scared about the goings-on connected to COVID-19. 

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For instance, my 19-year-old, who came home for spring break and never left, was particularly upset about the statewide shutdown. She understands why we’re in quarantine. Now, we need to calm her down because she wants to get out of a house filled with younger siblings.

My teenage son, who is on the autism spectrum, tends to jump to Scenario ZZ when talk of the virus pops up. As people on the spectrum do, he has become obsessed with the hourly updates. From those, he has turned one month quarantines to ones that are three-years long. Or, he tells everyone mankind is doomed. When he starts going, he scares the rest of the kids. Needless to say, my co-parent and I have to bring him down several times a day

The other person I’ve worked with while here is my youngest daughter. Out of all the kids, she’s the one who took the lack of classroom education the hardest. She was really upset when the school district announced they wouldn’t be going back to regular classes for the rest of the year. She’s adjusted, but there are days where she’s more frustrated than normal. 

In the end, the physical and mental safety of my children has me at my co-parent’s house, typing this essay out at the dining room table and sleeping on an old mattress in my son’s room. I was about to move when the calamity started. However, once the state went into lockdown, all showings became virtual. So, my co-parent and I decided to extend my stay until the middle of May.

The other reason for my temporary living arrangement is I’m the go-to person when it comes to keeping my family calm during emergencies. For instance, when my oldest daughter has an epileptic seizure at the house, I keep everyone calm. 

Normally, I deal with depression, severe anxiety, and panic attacks. However, when emergencies arise, another part of my brain activates and pushes those dark thoughts away. Perhaps that’s why I’m still the calming force during this pandemic:  the scenario has previously played out in my head.

Though stuck, staying with my co-parent and children is a good thing. Not only do we have a better understanding on how to work together, but I’ve also started to reconnect with the kids. Something I didn’t do when I was married. 

Many people say there will be a new normal when we all get the green light to leave our houses. For me, I believe my time here will transform into a greater cohesiveness with everyone, particularly my kids, that I can utilize when I find a place of my own. Heck, I may even get a “Thank you” from my 16-year-old at some point in the new future.

Richard Keller is a writer and editor living in Fort Collins.