Lord Jesus, Hear our pleas, our good shepherd and divine physician. We implore your mercy…
Despite hardships, family life blossoms during the pandemic
At the beginning of March 2020, our life was full and our calendar was even more so. My family of 10 was looking forward to sports seasons, a cross-country book tour and a first Communion when we began to hear of a rising crisis around the world. My husband and I sat glued to the news as death tolls related to the COVID-19 virus rose across the ocean. I cancelled my speaking engagements and settled into distance learning as our state shut down for two weeks to flatten the curve.
As the lockdown lengthened, my husband and I realized we needed to take advantage of the time we had. Our youngest is still in diapers, but our oldest is about to enter her teenage years, and it will be a blink of an eye before she is out of our home. Right now, our children want to spend time with us; they want to learn from us, and even hard work is doable when we are doing it with them. We knew we were foolish to not act on the opportunity that was being given to us.
For the first time in a long time, we had the chance to live slowly. We chose to learn things with our children, to build skills together. So we plowed the biggest garden we’ve ever had. The kids pulled worms from the soil, saving them for fishing bait. We pushed in seeds, watered, weeded and checked for invading bugs. We harvested, baked and cooked. We mastered homemade pie crusts, learning that we are partial to a butter/lard mix and using ice-cold vodka in place of the water. My 10-year-old son even grew and processed his own pumpkins, using them to make pies completely from scratch.
But it wasn’t just in the garden and kitchen that we worked together. My husband taught our older kids how to use basic power tools. As a family, we chopped and stacked firewood. And at the end of the long days, we’d sit together and play epic games of Uno, Spoons, Monopoly and Clue. Family movie night was a regular occurrence, with all 10 of us gathering in our living room with multiple bowls of popcorn. The laughter seemed to swell the house at its seams.
My husband and I were grateful. We were doing the types of things we had dreamed of doing, that we always talked about doing, but we never did. We had wanted to be the kind of people whose kids smelled like dirt and fresh air, who had the skills to survive the zombie apocalypse, who played and laughed together. We just didn’t know how to make it happen until we were forced into figuring it out by a global pandemic and boredom.
Of course, the year also offered plenty of opportunities to have hard discussions in our home, not only because so many issues boiled to the surface, but also because we had proper time to sit as a family and discuss. We held our kids and let them share the heaviness of their hearts. We talked about death and suffering. We talked about anger and disappointment. Together we mourned swimming at the public pool, birthday parties and attending Mass. These conversations helped us to be more compassionate and to be creative in dealing with our anger, resentment and sadness. They also offered us the opportunity to pray. We could not go to church, but we could turn to Our Lord at any time — and the whole family made an effort to do so.
This was also a year for taking a hard look at my own heart, home and history to see if or how biases or racism had taken root. As the news featured the Black Lives Matter movement, my family was also talking about the dignity of every human life. The extra time afforded by lockdowns and social distancing meant we were able to look at our founding fathers, slavery and when heroes do horrible things. We learned about redlining and researched which Indigenous tribes lived where our ancestors settled. We borrowed books from the library and did a lot of Googling so that we can better understand cultures that are different from ours. We guided our kids through discussions where we disagreed with presidential candidates, hopefully growing in all of us the ability to have nuanced conversations about hard things. And we prayed for unity, peace, the souls of the departed and those who mourn.
This past year was hard on so many levels, but God brought great beauty, healing and growth out of our suffering and pain. This was a time to shore up the foundation of our family with prayer, teamwork and honest conversations. I hope and pray that, after this time of pruning, we will bear fruit. At this one-year anniversary of the coronavirus, our calendar is not nearly as full, but our life is full to overflowing. Thanks be to God.
Bonnie Engstrom writes from Illinois. Her book “61 Minutes to a Miracle: Fulton Sheen and a True Story of the Impossible” (OSV, $13.95) tells the story of her son’s miraculous healing through the intercession of Archbishop Fulton Sheen.