"Great!" I responded cheerfully before I could catch myself after someone asked how I was doing. My wife, Janet, had said I should not sound so upbeat when asked this question how I am doing because people might perceive me as insensitive to those who are suffering during the pandemic.

Nothing could be further from the truth, of course. I am distressed by the hardship inflicted on those who are sick or out of work, have high risk jobs, can't visit loved ones or are home with small children.

The fact is, though, sheltering in place has a big upside for me. I am less lonely.

I have been a stay-at-home dad for almost 20 years. Once our kids reached school age, I began teaching part-time and did some writing. These pursuits connect me with others, but only a little. For the most part, I live a rather solitary life.

The quarantine has provided me some much-needed company. Janet, our teenage daughter and I all work away in different parts of the house, have lunch and dinner together, watch movies and take a walk or play a game far more often than we ever did before.

Hence, I am doing "great!" Well, I was until recently.

When the shutdown order came, our daughter's school quickly set up an online curriculum. She checked her assignments in the morning, worked away in consultation with classmates and attended occasional Zoom meetings with her teachers and fellow students. I was impressed with her diligence. After eight years of packing her school lunch and shepherding her around to after-school activities, I was enjoying the break. Home schooling is a breeze! Or so I thought.

At first, our little extrovert spent much of the school day FaceTiming with her friends about assignments. There was some goofing around, which is understandable. They were no longer riding the bus together, eating lunch, walking between classes and attending practices. So I was glad they were able to chat about personal things and share a laugh. I was impressed that much of the day they stayed focused on schoolwork. And after “school,” there was time for the three of us to spend time together. Freed from worry about grades, I relaxed my vigilant daily review of the school homework portal.

It was the best of both worlds for me. I went about my day much as I did before, but I also had companionship.

But there was trouble in paradise. The balance between discussing homework and just chatting on those FaceTime calls gradually shifted until there was more talk of "Animal Crossing" than there was of school. With each passing day, she finished her schoolwork more quickly and was spending more time playing games or watching YouTube. She ate lunch sporadically, claiming she just wasn't hungry. The crumpled-up chip bags and empty cookie packages everywhere suggested why. And then, my world came crashing down when I signed onto the school portal and saw just how much schoolwork was being left undone.

And so I returned to full-time parenting. The middle school member of our family stormed away when I took control of the Nintendo console and went over the study schedule for the day. Substituting a plate of sliced apples for a bag of chips at her side added insult to injury. She seethed the rest of the morning while I tiptoed around in the background. Under protest, she agreed to join me for lunch. Sitting silently across from one another for the first few minutes, we began to talk and eventually reached an agreement — I can help her manage her day as long as I don't expect her to always be happy about it.

Sadly, there will be no return for any of us to those carefree early days of the quarantine. Still, there is an upside to the greater parental involvement. Now when I am asked how I am doing, I respond without hesitation: "OK, considering."

***

An Omaha native and graduate of the University of Nebraska, Jeffrey Seitzer now teaches at Roosevelt University in Chicago and has written a memoir about his experiences as a stay-at-home parent. Essays based on the memoir have appeared in the Brevity Nonfiction Blog, Hippocampus, The Write Launch, and Pulse Magazine. He is also a regular contributor to the CMTA Report.

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