Social Distancing With My Boomer Parents Has Turned Me Back Into A Teenager
When I flew back to LA in mid-March, I was planning to be home only for a week or two. Tensions around coronavirus were starting to percolate, and the desire to see my family outweighed my fears of getting sick (or getting them sick). Three days after I landed, California issued a statewide shelter-in-place order, and then the real panic set in — and not just because schools were closing and my regular café pivoted to take-out only. My internal freak out grew in the knowledge I’d be living at home, indefinitely, for the first time since my senior year of high school.
I was a parent’s dream in high school — studious, introspective, pretty predictable. As an adult (and a freelancer in New York, no less), I leaned hard into my independence. Now stuck in my old bedroom, I’ve felt just as emo, trapped, and friendless as I did in 10th grade. I’m relying on old iTunes playlists that were once the soundtrack to my late-night drives (think Mac Miller’s Macadelic mixtape). In a fit of boredom one night, I flipped through books left over from English III Honors for entertainment. I only brought a week’s worth of clothes home, so my outfits have been a humbling, desperate mix of baggy sweatpants, track and field hoodies, and my mom’s slippers — a sad sequel to the American Eagle denim of my teens.
My family of five — my parents, my two younger siblings, and me — was never the kind to sit around the dinner table together every night, but now, there’s not much to do but cook and hang out (it’s not like anyone has track practice to go to). The bonding has been truly something to witness. On day one of our official shelter-in-place, I started humming “The Love You Save” by the Jackson 5 while washing dishes, and my sister joined in at “I'm the one who loves you, I'm the one you need!” Without missing a beat, my family broke out into a five-part harmony for the chorus. (This wasn’t the first time this has happened, but it was among the cheesiest.)
Motivated by this spontaneous burst of togetherness, my mom sought new ways to celebrate having everyone under one roof. On day two, she texted us her plans for a group fitness night.
“Hello Family,” it reads. “This evening will be our first CoronaCareWorkoutSession. Please be prepared to meet in the foyer of the house at 5:30 p.m. No excuses. We will begin with some minor stretching, then walk a few blocks in the neighborhood. Good stuff. #selfcare See you then!”
My 19-year-old brother, ever the Taurus, bemoaned pausing Animal Crossing; my 22-year-old sister didn’t bother to text back. Still, at 5:30, we laced up our shoes and went outside. Our pajama-clad neighbors were also out, looking just as electrified to see other faces as we were. Eye contact was thrilling.
Some days at home have been harder than others. The night after our mild workout session, my mom chose Babe (yes, Babe) for our family movie night. My parents teased me for falling asleep immediately, blaming the two glasses of red wine I’d had. But talking pigs weren’t enough to override my anxiety-induced exhaustion.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I’d sprung for that plane ticket to come home 48 hours before my flight because deep down, I knew my family might need me for more than a group workout session. The time and space I’d put between us when I left home brought the possibility that they might get sick into crystal-clear focus. No matter how much we spoke on the phone pre-coronavirus, I wanted to be present through this crisis to play all the roles I used to before moving away.
Flying home for the holidays is undeniably different from buying a one-way ticket during a once-in-a-century public health crisis. But in a time that feels so uncertain, letting myself be a teen again has been a balm. I’ll eventually settle back into my Brooklyn apartment — cook my own meals, buy my own shampoo — but for now, self-care means embracing the old me.