Turn to the classics. Tiptoe cautiously into your spider-riddled garage and locate the box of books you haven’t unpacked for two moves and seven years.
No, not that one. It’s the box inexplicably labeled “lawn care.” It contains your Lit 101 books and memories of a time before Shelter in Place, before Coronavirus, before kids and marriage and anything that resembles the present. You were younger then, more attractive, and felt full of possibility in a way that feels unimaginable now.
The box also contains a casserole dish.
There it is! Under the casserole dish: “The Odyssey” by Homer. You choose it in part because your youngest is enamored with a video game called Super Mario Odyssey. Unfortunately. You aspire to be one of those anti-screen families, the ones with the wood toys and the kids writing sonnets on account of their unfettered creativity, but at some point, you traded sonnets for the promise of a few minutes alone with a strong cup of coffee. And you sure as hell aren’t giving that up during a global pandemic.
Sauntering back into the living room, you tell the kids to turn off whatever god-awful toy-unboxing video they watched while you were in the garage. Are they done with their homework for the week: math, phonics, grammar, etc.? No, but they’re just taking a quick break, they assure you. Fine, you say, during this break you’re going to get a real education.
You sit them down on the couch with juice and Pirate’s Booty snacks and tell them one of humanity’s oldest stories. You describe the brave warrior Odyssesus and his arduous quest to return home after the Trojan War. You paint an especially gory picture of Cyclops eating six sailors (“Awesome,” the boys say) and highlight the concept of Ancient Greek hospitality (“I don’t get it,” they say). With tears in your eyes, you describe Penelope fending off grief and unwanted suitors day after day by weaving on her loom, only to unravel it in the evening.
You are unraveling.
This is a good story, your kids say. But when can we play with our friends?
Exhaustion and despair cloud their eyes when you answer them honestly: I don’t know. I don’t know, you continue, and while we are very lucky to have our health and enough food and money, this whole thing sucks.
They laugh to hear a parent say such a thing in front of them. That gives you an idea. You load them into the Honda for what you have christened a “Cuss Car” ride down the coast. They are allowed to shout whatever obscenities they want in the car, and only in the car.
They are elated. They hurl PG-rated profanities at each other and quickly devolve into scatalogical humor. You teach them a few creative insults you remember from the playground. You discover, hilariously, that your eldest believes the f-word is “freak.” You don’t correct him.
The Honda winds its way back up the coast and into a gas station’s automatic car wash. As the jets of foam clean your vehicle — and, you tell the kids, their mouths — you sense how everyone’s energy has changed, has, in some way, been clarified. Perhaps this was the lesson the children needed today: that there are things in the world that will make them feel angry or sad or bored or a toxic combination of all three, and that they will need to sit with those uncomfortable feelings and process them.
When you get home, the kids run outside to play with chalk and use a walkie-talkie to communicate with their friend next door. You brew a strong cup of coffee and open “The Odyssey” again, only to find an Ancient Greek poet speaking to you directly.
“These nights are endless, and a man can sleep through them, or he can enjoy listening to stories ... But we two, sitting here in the shelter, eating and drinking, shall entertain each other remembering and retelling our sad sorrows. For afterwards a man who has suffered much and wandered much has pleasure out of his sorrows.”
You may be unraveling, but tomorrow you will weave yourself together again.
Marie C. Baca is a journalist and homeschooling parent living on the Coastside.