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Pritchett: For parents in a pandemic, it’s more an open nest than an empty one

The foundation for real adult relationships with children has been established during the duress and anxiety that COVID brought

 My two college-age children live 10 minutes away from me, a distance we uniformly agree is pretty ideal, being that we sincerely like and love each other — and want to keep it that way.

Parenting was the best and most satisfying creative endeavor of my life, and launching them has been rife with the usual range of emotions, intensified because it more-or-less coincided with this Great Upheaval. 

Now they’re safely ensconced in a condo, as roommates, cooking their own meals and paying their own bills. One thing I’ve discovered, though, is that humans — or at least these humans — are not able to flap their wings and soar suddenly across great distances.

Laura Pritchett

Gannets or albatrosses, they are not. This is no empty nest — it’s an open nest — to which they return frequently for pieces of advice or to sing-song about the difficulties of adulting in general or with COVID in particular.

Rightly so — none of this is easy. Nearly daily, they drive along the foothills of Colorado to come see me to report sightings of new adulting encounters, or with questions related to survival in modern society, and/or just for basic nourishment, such as turkey sandwiches. They have always called me “Mamabird” and I have affixed “bird” to their names too, and those terms of endearment have now taken new meaning as this open nest relationship takes root. 

I was looking forward to being an empty nester. Who doesn’t want to have the space and time to move about a day as we please? They, too, were looking forward to exploring life without being pestered about towels and dishes’ proper resting spots. But the parenting has not been as interruption-free as I imagined.

Case in point: This past year, my brain has felt as tired as it did when they were three, and I have answered more questions in the past year than I did even during that infamous time in parenting life, when all exhausted parents, everywhere, have to form age-appropriate answers to questions such as: Mamabird, why is the moon round? Why do cars break? Why do teeth fall out? Why is the moon round again?

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Now, I receive texts such as: Mamabird, how do you change the furnace filter? Should it be changed more because of COVID? What should I say to the dentist to reschedule? Should I even go to the dentist, or will I get COVID? Do I just call AAA and they tow my car? What do you think is wrong with my car? Can you help me get on the vaccine wait list? Mamabird, this is too hard — can we go live on the moon?

And my mamabird self — the one who looked forward to peace — finds herself filled with more dread and anxiety than even toddler-parenting years, when children seem prone to running in streets or falling off cliffs.

I check in far more often than I otherwise would have, worried about their anxiety, mental health, physical health, basic life enjoyment, the state of their being, whether they’re going out too much or isolating too much, are their friends wearing masks, are vaccinated, are planning to get vaccinated, and, yes, whether they want a turkey sandwich? 

So many questions! So few answers! 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Which is why, on the surface, it looks like tough times for a launch — but then I think, no, this was a great gift, a great fortune. Because if they did not live close by, had they not picked a local college and decided to be roommates, had we not been living under the duress of COVID, it’s true that perhaps they would have launched more confidently into the world that seemed familiar, which would have been fine if the world stayed familiar, but it did not, and it may not. 

A different foundation to our relationship has been established — one more resilient for the change I believe is coming — climate change and the drought and refugees (though I hope that I am wrong about that, of course). 

Had COVID not happened, they would not have returned to the nest so frequently nor so sincerely in need of companionship and help. Their need of a mamabird is real, and my need to see them safely through this is equally so. Our relationship has been deepened, truly. And what greater gift is there than that? 

This launch could have gone a different way, one that was more free from interruption, sure, but also free of daily shared experience. How sad that would be. The foundation for real adult relationship in an uncertain time has been established in these past months.

Last night, my daughter texted: could she come over to process a hard day of work busing tables? When she got here, I could see her despair was real. We sat on the couch, and I picked up her feet and a bottle of lotion and gave her a foot massage and listened to stories of rude customers who didn’t want to wear masks and other rude customers who ranted about the liberals taking away their lack of freedom. But the worst was customers who arrived with reservations only to find no empty tables because others were lingering.

“The thing is,” my daughter said, “is that it’s hard to gauge how long people will stay. You don’t really know when they’re going to leave, and you don’t really want to kick them out.” I laughed and considered my luck and got up to make her a turkey sandwich.


Laura Pritchett is the author of five novels and winner of the PEN USA Award for Fiction, the WILLA Award, the Milkweed National Fiction Prize, the High Plains Book Award, and several Colorado Book Awards. She directs the MFA in Nature Writing at Western Colorado University. More at www.laurapritchett.com.


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