It was last winter, before most people had heard the word coronavirus, that I had the realization: we were run ragged. Run ragged, with no end in sight. In fact, I had made myself accept the cold, hard truth that this was what life was going to look like for the foreseeable future. With three kids from preschool to middle school at three different schools, the next decade was going to be running. Running from the second we got up to get kids to school, running to accomplish a couple of tasks while my youngest was at preschool, running to fetch all the kids from all the schools, running to get homework done and to get to piano lessons or sports practices, running to make dinner, running to get the kids in bed at a reasonable time, running to get the house straightened up and prep for the next day. Summer was a short reprieve, then it all started again.

Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been perfection since the pandemic hit. There’ve been more than a few moments where I found a dark corner of the house and hid from my family. (Pro tip: if you tiptoe away while the kids are distracted, enter a dark bedroom leaving the door casually ajar, and park it in a corner of the room shielded from obvious sight, you can nab 10-15 minutes of peace and quiet.)

Since the March lockdown began, we’ve started eating dinner together at the dining room table every night. (The kids and I usually ate dinner together on kitchen barstools, but my husband was rarely home in time to join us during the week.) Sitting at an actual table across from one another is an entirely different experience. Like many, we’ve been walking and biking and riding scooters throughout the neighborhood to a degree we were never able to before. We play card games and board games and the hubs has Nerf battles and roughhouses with the kids … on weeknights!

I’m a stickler about bedtime but busy evenings and early mornings on schooldays led to a fairly constant, low-level exhaustion. Now I feel rested. Rested. More rested than I’ve felt in years. I’m a night owl so early mornings were always hard for me. Rolling out of bed at 8:30 or 9:00 a.m. most mornings now, when the youngest requires me…it’s a revelation. The kids are more rested too, and I can see positive benefits in their behavior and mood. They even look healthier to me.

My husband and I have so much more time to talk—about the news, about the kids, about The Great British Baking Show. More often than not during the school year, we collapsed on the couch on weeknights after a cursory catch-up. I feel like we’ve rekindled a best friendship that was always there, but had faded a bit during the intensity of the childrearing years.

My teenager misses his friends, but the pandemic has provided a break from the harsh proving ground of middle school. He’s been acting like a kid again with his younger siblings. It seemed he had turned the corner on childhood this year, deciding it was no longer acceptable to be into Legos and making iMovie trailers and pretend play. Last week I overheard all three of my kids playing an elaborate game where my oldest was the sergeant guarding his preschool sister from attack by her villainous brother. My teenager has gotten a few more months of childhood, a stolen season.

We’re off the hamster wheel. We’re lucky to have access to a large, uncrowded pool for the summer, where my kids get some (arguably, relatively safe) interaction with other kids. And I see Fortnite and other team-play video games in a new light, now that it’s the primary vehicle for my sons to socialize with school friends.

Not a chance in hell I could homeschool my kids. I lack the right temperament, and my youngest and I have a rather “intense” mother-daughter bond. And I know the kids need to be back in regular school at some point. Middle school is a necessary hell, I suppose, part of the journey from childhood to early adulthood. But I wonder…is there a way to keep the good parts of this? Might schools consider hybrid virtual/in-person models going forward? Maybe a shorter school day or a shorter school week? Perhaps a fresh look at all aspects of education and extracurricular life for our kids, and work-life balance for parents? Dare we dream?

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