Saturday, May 2, 2020

Things I Notice About My Family

We are now in week 8 of quarantine which means our family has spent a previously unimaginable amount of time together as we have been working and learning from home. It has been a big adjustment, especially the first couple of weeks, but we have now settled into a nice routine and it’s almost feeling normal. I’ve also come to gain some deep insights into my family’s behavior I never previously noticed or considered.

First, in the land of flexible schedules, some huge differences have become apparent. My natural schedule is to wake up early, eat breakfast, and then get to work when my brain is most productive. My day begins around 6am and I get a couple of hours of work in before my regular work start time of 8:30. I then have breakfast, get showered, and am back on until around noon, at which point I take a long break to go for a walk, eat lunch, goof around, and then work 2 or 3 more hours in the afternoon. By 9:30 I can barely keep my eyes open so I either fall asleep on the couch or I stand up to watch a show with Ana, as that’s the only way I can maintain consciousness.

The girls like to sleep in and generally don’t appear until 8:30 or 9. Magnus usually does the same, but some days he is up shortly after me. But none of them eat breakfast in the morning! They start their work and then will wander into the kitchen at 10 or 11 looking for something to eat, which means nobody is hungry at noon when I am starving. Then they all eat again around 2 or 3, or sometimes they don’t really eat a meal and instead pick away at fruit, toast, or fridge findings in small doses throughout the day. Fortunately we all gather for a proper evening meal around 6 or so, and we talk about the day and the things we worked on or learned.

I believe I have inherited my sleeping and eating schedule from my grandpa Edgar. He was always an early riser, and only stayed up late when he was out dancing with his beautiful wife. Whenever you asked him if he was hungry, he would say “What time is it?” If it was 7am, he would eat. If it was noon he would eat. If it was 5:30pm he would eat. Outside of that, forget it. My wife and kids have inherited their eating schedule from feral cats. They eat whenever they feel like it, and only if there’s something good available.

Everybody seems to be more productive when they can fall back on their body’s natural schedule and rhythm. I now realize the only reason the kids eat breakfast at 7am during normal times is because they have to in order to get to school on time. They are not even hungry. And I think they are much more productive with the current schedule as they can focus on getting their school work and learning done when their brains are most receptive, not according to a schedule. Then just eat whenever.

Stella loves to ask random questions. But I think she is running out of material. During dinner the other night, she said “I’m going to give you guys a quiz on Stella to see how well you know me. First question, what is my favourite utensil?”

“Fork!” I said.

“Spatula!” Magnus yelled.

“Mixer!” said Ana.

“Nope, it’s a spoon. Next question. What is my favourite font...and size.”

“Helvitica 12!”

“Arial 16!”

“Cambria 14!”

The fact that we all actually knew the names of fonts is an indication of how the world has changed since the proliferation of computers.

“Nope. It’s Times New Roman 12. Last question. What’s my favourite food cap colour?”

“What?” Ana asked.

“Food caps. Caps on the bottles and jars. Look at the table,” she replied as she pointed.

Yes, the bottles of orange juice, tartar sauce, carbonated water, salad dressing, olives, and so on all had caps of different colours. Not that anybody had ever actually noticed.

“Uhh, white?” I guessed.

“Red, “ said Magnus confidently.

“Yellow?” tried Ana.

“Nope,” she said triumphantly. “It’s orange. You guys don’t know me very well.”

Magnus is now in grade 10 and has a newfound fondness for arguing with everybody about everything. It’s a normal part of growing up but annoying as hell because he doesn’t listen to reason, just like I didn’t when I got into epic battles with my father when I was his age. The other day he argued me into right into a corner, and everybody witnessed it. But first, the backstory. When the kids were younger, we used to pick up after them when they left crap lying all over the house. But after a certain age I decided that if I kept doing that then they would never learn how to pick up after themselves and do things properly. So I make them clean up after themselves. For example, the kids are playing outside and leave a tennis ball lying on the grass because they didn’t feel like picking it up, and know that if they leave it long enough either Ana or I will grab it. So when I see the tennis ball lying there, I will go inside the house, call them down, make them put their shoes on and go pick up the ball, instead of doing it myself which would take about 10 seconds. I do this to them all the time and it drives them crazy. Here’s another one. Stella will get home, hang up her jacket in the closet, then leave the closet doors wide open. Yes, I could shut them, but instead I call her down and make her do it. Magnus complains about my behavior and says things like, “Dad, what’s the big deal? Why can’t you just do me a favour??” I just tell him it’s more efficient and way faster to do things properly in the first place instead of being lazy and having to do it later or wait for somebody else to do it. It’s a good lesson to learn. Saying that, I do sometimes clean up after them if I just don’t have the energy to track them down, but I try to stick to my guns most of the time. Ana is much more forgiving and efficient – she will just clean up after them and forget about it…until it happens too many times in one day then she unloads on them and goes Portuguese-crazy.

So the other day Magnus was washing up his breakfast dishes in the kitchen and there was a dirty bowl and spoon there that Stella had used and abandoned. Magnus left those ones and was walking out of the kitchen when I said, “Magnus, why don’t you just clean those other dishes too so the kitchen is tidy?”

“They are Stella’s, she has to do her own,” he said.

“OK, but why not do them anyway since you are there.”

“What? You always say we need to clean up our own mess. Why would I do her dishes? She has to do it herself.”

I could sense I was digging myself into a hole, but I foolishly kept going. “Right, but sometimes you can pitch in and do a little extra to keep the house clean.”

“I can’t believe you’re saying that! That’s not the rule!”

Then Ana chimed in, “He’s got you there. You always make the kids clean up after themselves. You can’t have it both ways.”

“Yeah Dad, you’re a hypocrite.”

I fought them for a bit until I realized the logic just didn’t hold, so I admitted I was wrong. But of course the next day, I came up to the kitchen and there was a nice pile of breakfast dishes left there by both the kids, perhaps set as a trap. Instead of taking the bait, I cleaned them and kept my trap shut. I don’t know. Sometimes peace trumps lesson delivery.

I’ve also recently noticed something very strange about the way Ana butters toast. It is really bizarre and I think this is a recent change, because I would have noticed it before, but I can’t be sure. When I make toast for her, I toast the bread, take it out when it is piping hot, then gently extract thin coils of butter off the top of the stick and tenderly spread it across surface of the toast being careful not to damage or puncture it, producing a photo-worthy toast that stands high and proud. If the butter is extra hard I will sometimes get the butter on the knife and hold it over the toaster to slowly soften it, making it easier to spread. When Ana butters toast, she carves a gigantic wad of butter off the hard stick and mashes it into the bread, totally destroying the surface and flattening it into the plate so that when she’s done it looks like a mini swimming pool with the high sides and a low bottom holding the pool of butter. It’s like a mini steam-roller prepped the toast for asphalt, or Marmite (nearly the same).

Another change is Ana and I have had much more elaborate arguments since quarantine began. Usually we’re so busy that when we argue it’s a rather short affair and over and forgotten even before we even figure who won. Now since we don’t leave the house it provides the time for well thought out and intricate verbal sparring. An argument we had the other day went something like this.

“The outside garden hose is leaking? When did that start?” I ask.

“I told you about that two weeks ago,” Ana replies.

“What? No you didn’t.”

“Yes I did.”

“Oh no you didn’t.”

“Yes I did.”


“You just forgot.”

“No I didn’t. If you had told me I would have gone outside, looked at it, and check to see if we had something in the shed to fix it. That didn’t happen.”

“Well I told you.”

“Did you maybe tell me when I was unconscious and sleeping on the couch?”

“I can’t remember.”

“Ah ha! Well I do – that’s exactly when you told me. Which is why I didn’t remember. So there.”

“Could you just fix the stupid hose?”

I know, the complex arguments and structure of the logic is hard to follow, but with time on our hands we’ve taken our verbal sparring to a much higher level.

What have I noticed about myself? Well, I sure like the extended quiet time I get to myself in the morning. I usually have about 45 minutes to myself in the morning before having to wake the kids up and ride their asses to get them ready in time to leave by 7:30. It is exhausting and stressful and half the time we leave the house in a huff slinging accusations at each other over who made us late again this time. Now I have hours to myself since they kids don’t have to get up. I friggin’ love it. It’s the best. The longer they sleep the happier I am.

I’ve also realized I need a two-hour lunch. These lunches where you cram a sandwich in your face at your desk between emails is terribly unhealthy and just wrong. Now at home with my early starts, I can afford to take a nice long lunch break. My lunches have regularly consisted of not just eating a nice meal, but doing a variety of things such as taking a long walk, doing yoga or a core workout, taking on a bit of yard work, playing some guitar or banging on the drums, helping the kids with projects, and so on. When I get back to work for a few hours in the afternoon, it feels like a new day and I am fresh and ready. I’ve heard that many workers in France take two-hour lunches. Geniuses.

I know this quarantine will not last much longer, but I do hope that people and organizations have the vision to learn from this pandemic and perhaps adjust the way we do things. And maybe, just maybe, we will come out of this thing happier, stronger, and definitely more resilient.

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