“Dad! Stop touching that!” my 17-year-old daughter yells as her father trails his hand along the purple brick wall running the length of our local beer deli. She pivots towards me, exasperation in her voice. “TBH, raising parents is really hard.” Her father turns back, after touching the surface one more time for good measure. He laughs wickedly. She sighs but not before we hear her mutter under her breath, “Germs.”
Social distancing has led to social isolation, which has shone a blinding light on our joint inadequacies. My child now fears for her parents’ lives, and their sanity. We can hide our failing bodies and minds no longer.
Our youngest continues, “Are you guys going to be like those old people who aren’t lucid anymore but still refuse to admit you can’t take care of — look out, Mom!” she grabs my arm mid-sentence. A car narrowly misses me as I blunder to cross the road, an oblivious, naive, 40-something, incompetent woman.
“I heard it,” I respond, looking sideways at my husband. He appears relieved that I have become the new target, happily sliding his fingers along a store front while my daughter grasps me by the elbow, saving me, barely, from certain death. Still, her eyes narrow as she watches the path of her dad’s thumb.
Last week the two of them had come home from one of our daily walks, AKA virus-induced forced marches, bickering. “You pinched me!” my husband was insisting. She shot back. “You were walking right in front of a car. We didn’t have the cross sign. You’re like a child.”
And it continues.
“Are you sure you washed your hands well? Did you sing the birthday song?” she asks before dinner. “I didn’t hear the water running that long. You can’t just splash some moisture on your skin.”
She turns to me in the middle of my Covid-19 baking frenzy: “Sit down, you’re going to wear yourself out and then you’ll be all cranky. You know how you get.”
“Use your words,” she says patiently, as I stumble over syllables, trying to spit out one coherent thought.
Don’t even get me started on the restrictions she has enforced.
“Mom, we were Snapchatting last night.” (We, being my daughter and her brother.) “You need to stop eating that stuff that’s not good for you. You know it just makes you feel sick. It isn’t healthy. And you have to get more sleep. Stop staying up to watch Netflix when the rest of us go to bed.”
My husband is not let off easily either.
“That show is going to give you more nightmares. I don’t care how fake the blood looks that the vampires are drinking. Turn it off.”
“Dad, tell your friends ‘no.’ This is a pandemic! Dungeons and Dragons will still be here in a month.”
So, we comply. It is her last year home with us. Our son has already made his way in the world, and we know she will be like him, quite able to fend for herself. Then who will boss us around?
The heart aches.
Still, I can’t help but wonder. What unfortunate soul will our offspring get to babysit us in 2021?
Lost in these thoughts, I prepare for a new day of Zoom and online teaching. First, I apply both of my carpal tunnel braces (they’re flashy pink), then a delightfully binding hip-flexor wrap, and finally the clunky, plantar fasciitis boot. All of this crouching over a computer and extra walking to make up for the sedentary lifestyle is taking a physical toll for sure. I have a love-hate relationship with the ice packs in our house. My daughter watches me like a vulture, making sure I use those frozen bags of burning hell on Earth quite liberally, and often.
You know, maybe I really could use a nurse next year.
Perhaps I’ll angle for George Clooney.
Nah, he’ll most likely be in a wheelchair by then.
— Vicki Austin
Vicki Austin, faculty and dorm parent at Wyoming Seminary College Preparatory School, lives with her husband, two children and 80 or so other teenage boys in Kingston, Pennsylvania. Vicki has more than 25 years of experience in many facets of education and is currently shifting her writing focus from persuasive to creative. Vicki’s most recent work has been featured on the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop blog, included in the online journals Projected Letters and Wraparound South and printed in The Walls Between Us: Essays in Search of Truth, a Juncture publication. You can find Vicki on Twitter @VickiAustin02.