Finding benefits in the unforeseen: My family in a pandemic

Vivien Sweet

One thing that I believe has been severely warped for every single person in the United States is the concept of time. Hours pass like days which turn to weeks that suddenly become months. Today is the first day of June. We have now been away from school for 53 days, or over a quarter of the school year, which would have been simply incomprehensible to me a year ago.
It was when I saw my mother setting the dinner table for the eighth Tuesday in a row that I realized that the facade of normalcy I had created for my family had been intruded upon. My parents had split almost a year ago, yet here they were at dinner on Tuesday, discussing the new Michael Jordan documentary and the politics of TikTok. We had not lived like this—me, my parents, and two sisters in one house for weeks on end—since January of 2019. And I, suddenly alone on the road to self-improvement, hadn’t even noticed.
In the midst of immeasurable death, economic failure, and loneliness, it is difficult to find a silver lining when all conventional routines have been turned upside down. Although I sought to return to pre-COVID-19 life in a profoundly changed setting, I found that some of the things I took for granted—namely, school—could not be perfectly replicated. For my split parents living in the same household, it was quite literally impossible to pretend that their lives were back to normal. In nearly all instances when two married adults separate, they do not intend to get back together anytime soon. My parents certainly did not.
But we make it work, and we make it work well. We play Scattergories after dinner and walk the dog together in the afternoon. In the mornings, my father makes twice as much coffee as he usually does to accommodate my mother’s caffeine addiction, and on Sundays, my mother buys more kale than ever at the farmer’s market to make my father’s favorite kale salad. My mother works out in the basement in the morning so that my father can in the afternoon; my father watches English Premier League reruns in his room so that my mother can rewatch Fleabag downstairs at night. And, selfishly, it is nice to have both of my parents living with my sisters and I in one house. Although both our familial situation and the global situation are far from normal, for the first time in a long time, I have felt that everything will be alright.
This does not mean that there is a personal upside to COVID-19 for all families. It would be unfair to those who do not have access to their own personal, private spaces in their home to assert that. In our house in Forest Hills, there are the right amount of rooms so my family and I see each enough so that we’re not incredibly lonely but also are not getting into arguments over stolen leftovers every hour. Not having to sleep in the same room or work in the same space I’m sure makes living together again easier for my parents.
Still, our family life is also far from perfect, similar to most families—divorced or not. I do not mean to sugarcoat the emotional impact that divorce has on both children and their parents. For many children, it may be detrimental to their well-being to live in the same household as their split parents, and it is important for me to acknowledge how fortunate I am to have separated parents who are not constantly fighting. Or, if they are fighting, to not let it outwardly affect their relationships with each other and with their children during the craziness of COVID-19.
During a pandemic, my parents have shown me that it is possible to make the best out of unexpected accommodations, even if the new circumstances go against everything that used to be normal. If you had asked my parents half a year ago if they expected to be living together again, I’m sure they would have had very different responses. But I have come to learn that unforeseen situations elicit unexpected responses that often will be OK in the end. My family and I may be binging Tiger King for 7 hours straight together one day and cooped up alone in our rooms the next because in a pandemic, we have to make the best out of the most unforeseen situations.