It’s been 12 weeks since my family began sheltering in place, only venturing out for groceries, nature walks, and socially distant visits to Grandma’s backyard.
12 weeks. Nearly 3 months. A quarter of a year. It occurs to me that a full one-seventh of Violet’s life has been spent in lockdown.
The quarantine has tested the patience of every person in the country, whether they live all alone or with a romantic partner or in the company of children, be they small or large. No matter what your living arrangements are, you have likely considered those arrangements to be a burden at some point since the pandemic pressed pause on your ability to travel freely, and breathe freely, and live freely.
But there is one person I know who has somehow remained unscathed by the cumbersome constraints of quarantine living. One person who has not complained about it a single time. Oh don’t get me wrong, this person has fussed. Sometimes at high volumes and for durations longer than I’m comfortable to publicly admit. But never about being stuck at home or unable to visit his favorite places. Never about being tired of playing with the same toys or reading the same books.
His name is Greyson Francis Wingert, and he is one weird, wonderful 3-year-old anomaly.
When we talked to Greyson in the pre-COVID era about his favorite places, other than nature, there was a clear top 3 — the Dillsburg Library (toys! books!), Oakes Museum (animals! animals! even more animals!), and Grandma’s house (all of the above! plus Grandma and Grandpa!). We have not been able to visit any of these places since March, other than Grandma’s backyard a few times in the last month. So it would be reasonable to expect that Greyson would be baffled or saddened by this development, right?
But he hasn’t said a thing about it. Not one word.
For the last 85 days (well, up until yesterday), we’ve had the same 85 books checked out of the library. I’ve read them to Greyson over and over and over. I’ve grown weary of at least 57 of them. But Greyson hasn’t blinked. He still loves them all and happily, snugly sits next to me every morning and evening for storytime. He hasn’t mentioned the library once, even though playing in its kids’ area was one of his central pleasures every week for multiple years.
I mean, what is that? I truly don’t understand it. I’m deeply grateful, and I’m utterly mystified.
And how is it that Greyson hasn’t staged a coup over his lack of access to Grandma’s house, that magical wonderland of books and tiny animals and comfy carpet and comfy storytime snuggles? We’ve had to explain social distancing to him, but we’ve somehow never had to explain not being able to go inside Grandma’s house. Because he’s been content to just go with the flow.
And here’s the thing. It’s not like Greyson is simply unflappable. This is a boy who can fall to pieces with the best of ‘em when certain things aren’t to his liking. And it’s difficult to talk him off the ledge when he decides he’s not happy. He can be inconsolable.
But for some bizarre reason, as far as we can tell, the severe limitations of quarantine have caused none of those fussing jags. So is Greyson internalizing it all? Does he simply not know how to express his confusion about the radical changes to our weekly routine? Or does he truly not mind any of it?
I do know that the way of life we have embraced from the first day of his life has certainly helped a bit. Raising our kids with almost no screen time seems to have quarantine-proofed them. And having many of our family adventures be low-budget (or no-budget) nature-based excursions has helped us a great deal, now that those are the only sources of out-of-the-house excitement we have available to us.
But there also seems to be something about Greyson that I can’t quite put my finger on. Something that makes him able to live contentedly in the moment, rather than thinking about the places he used to enjoy going that he hasn’t been able to visit for months.
It’s as if he doesn’t have any inclination to compare his life with any other life, or even with previous iterations of his own life. He doesn’t even compare one day with another. As long as he has his sister to pal around with, and his books to read, and his letters to arrange, and his animals to play with, he’s generally happy. He doesn’t demand grander adventures than that, despite the fact that our grander pre-quarantine adventures always succeeded in thrilling him.
Hmm. You know what? I just now, in this moment, remembered one small moment. It was early in the lockdown, and we stopped at my parents’ house while Danielle picked up some groceries for them. I kept the kids in the minivan but rolled down the windows so they could talk to Grandma and Grandpa. At some point during that exchange, Greyson mentioned something about going inside. Both my mom and I, with our hearts aching, explained as gently as possible that he couldn’t do that. I didn’t have a good angle from where I was sitting in the driver’s seat, but it wasn’t until later that my mom told me Greyson’s lower lip had pooched out a little and he seemed to be fighting back the urge to cry. To my mom’s credit, she managed to keep from bawling herself. Greyson contained his emotion and somehow didn’t bring up the subject again as we drove home.
Is it possible that in that single moment he realized that something had changed? Something that he would simply have to accept, even though it made no sense at all? Could that moment possibly explain the ensuing 10 weeks of his sweet, unquestioning acceptance of our new quarantine reality?
It’s truly hard to say. We have been content to leave a good bit unspoken, given how comfortable our kids seem to be in this new (temporary) reality. I’m sure there are plenty of parents who speak a whole lot more bluntly with their almost-4-year-old children about the pandemic than we have with Greyson. I can see benefits and risks to doing so. But we have done everything in our power to keep our children innocent so that they’re not afflicted by fears of unsettling things that, at their ages, they couldn’t possibly understand.
All I know is that my heart is grateful, and my heart is warmed, by Greyson’s quarantine resilience. I will forever remember this moment in his life as one in which his sweet innocence somehow drowned out the turbulent, terrifying world around him. A world he has virtually no idea even exists.
Because the world he knows is a happy, self-contained, wonder-filled place. A world that is packed, floor to ceiling, with books and animals and nature walks. And a mama who fills every day with light and levity and love. And a proud-as-can-be papa trying to savor all the extra nature time yielded by working remotely.
Someday we will revisit all of Greyson’s favorite places. And he will be blown away to rediscover each of them. I bet it will be like visiting each one for the first time. I can almost get choked up imagining his unrestrained glee the next time we walk into a library. Or into the Oakes Museum of Natural History. Or into Grandma’s magical living room.
God grant me the serenity to wait for that moment of normalcy to finally arrive.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.
God grant me the serenity of my 3-year-old son.