Beating Down the Door: Working While Quarantining with Kids
Updated: Apr 2, 2020
We had been doing well. Daily walks outside, eating healthy, even spending time each evening saying what we were grateful for. We had noted how well-behaved our children had been. How creatively they had been using their time. How sweet they had been to each other. There was a moment--which lasted no more than a second--one evening over dinner where I actually had the thought: Do I want to homeschool the kids after all this is over?
Then came Monday.
Jim was on a virtual meeting at the dining room table. His colleagues were--at least I hope they were--admiring our yellow velvet curtains behind him. Were they curious where I bought them? How I was able to get them pressed so well? I'm certain they were. At the same time, I was in our home office on my own virtual call, where my conversational partner was, I am certain, wondering what type of flooring we had, since it wasn't visible through the piles of toys and blankets strewn in every direction. No matter. Our business was being handled, our children were being fed, we were on top of the (virtual) world!
And then came the scream. The blood curdling scream that a novice parent might interpret as a broken bone, or a nasty fall down the stairs. Ah, but we aren't novices. We knew that scream. That scream of siblings fighting over something so petty that our rage would only amplify upon our children as they worked desperately to explain its importance. Up we both jumped from our respective work stations and ascended the stairs with such swiftness I think it surprised us all.
As best we could tell, the fight was over a Barbie shoe. But also maybe a mean face was made? There was something in there about the collapse of the economy, but that could have been what Jim and I were screaming--though we weren't truly screaming; we were doing that really effective whisper screaming parents invented where what you lack in volume you make up for with finger jabs in the air. After all, we hadn't muted our mics downstairs.
We eventually got both girls into their rooms to sit and think about what they had done. Come to think of it, I need to circle back to see if they actually did think about what they had done. And back down the stairs we went--maybe a minute and a half of time elapsed--to join our respective meetings out of breath, red faced, hearts pumping, beads of sweat on our foreheads, and desperately trying to maintain some semblance of professionalism. As professional as one can be in a work shirt and sweatpants.
That was just a fluke. We talked about it after our meetings as we huddled near the bathroom away from the girls (are we scared of them?). They just got twisted up in their emotions. This is hard on them. We can't expect too much. And we reconfirmed our commitment not to traumatize our kids during this. Although that underestimates how much trauma comes from eating PB&Js every day without an end in sight.
I had to jump on another call. Jim did, too. Things would be better. Jim would move his call to the bedroom. Would his colleagues notice and admire our art work on the wall? What would they think of the framing I chose? Anyway, we'd set the girls up in the dining room with markers and coloring sheets. We would stress that our next round of meetings were important--though not more important than them!--and once we got off our computers, we could take them for a walk. You know, that super fun and exciting activity we do every other hour on the hour?
So off I went across the house to my meeting. I was thrilled that in the background I heard no screaming, no begging for snacks, no whining about boredom. As far as I knew, our children were sitting up straight and coloring a picture of our house with a big heart around it. Maybe they would even write on the top, "I love you Mommy!" Or something to that effect. Whatever feels right to them.
But it was only when I logged off and walked back across the house that I saw what had actually transpired during the past hour. Jim was kneeling in front of the bedroom door, which was closed. The metal plate around the knob was bent back in a distorted flower shape. There were three bent plastic cards--one gift card, one Disney Cruise Ship card from last year, and one library card, stuck in random spots along the door jamb. The tool box was out and open on the floor beside him, and various sized screwdrivers formed a semi circle around his feet.
"Um...." I muttered.
Jim turned around to see me standing there. In a terse and panicked voice he grumbled, "London turned the lock and then closed the door behind her."
"Ok...?" Trying to piece together his panic. "Is she in there?"
"No." He looked at me funny. "If she were, I would have just had her unlock the door."
"Oh, right." I waved a hand. "Do we have a key for that door?"
He pointed at the floor where more than two dozen different keys were piled.
"Ok, well...what's in there that you need?"
"My phone. My computer. My notes," he sighed. "And my shoes."
"Shit, Jim!" I said, rushing to the door and doing super helpful things like turning the knob, turning it again, and then, inexplicably, knocking on it. "Where are the girls now?"
"They are outside. I sent them out there."
I looked at him with what I hoped wasn't judgment, but it must have been because he was quick to respond: "Don't worry, I didn't yell at London. This isn't her fault. I gave them each an apple and told them to go swing."
I'd like to think that over the next hour, our montage could have been scored with the Mission Impossible soundtrack. But it could have just as easily been the "It Must Have Been Love" song from Pretty Woman.
Jim continued trying to unscrew the door knob while I looked up websites that help you break into your home. Or, I suppose, the homes of others. I was surprised to learn that locks are really just a way to keep honest people honest. And that 17 YouTube videos showed me how easy it is to unlock a lock. "Just slide your credit card like so and pop! It will come right open." I guess, Jeff, but we now have four broken cards wedged into the door frame.
I googled how to pick a lock with a paper clip. "So easy!" the tutorials mused. "Just stick it in like so, wiggle like this, and then pop! Open! Any idiot could do it!"
This idiot could not.
Now, what's interesting about married people is they--perhaps unconsciously--go to the opposite end of how their spouse is reacting and behaving in an attempt to strike a balance. During the past 12 years of marriage, more often than not, I am the one trying to hit the gas pedal while Jim has worked to be a steady hand on the wheel. But not this day, friends. This day, Jim was ready to drive us off a cliff and I was the one saying, "Hang on, let me spend some time with this map."
The more we tried, the more the lock remained, well, locked. After watching a video of a soldier showing how to kick in a door (things got dark, people), I told Jim it was our only option.
"To kick in the door?" Jim asked.
"Yeah, it says here to kick just above the lock--it's where the door is weakest." I looked up from the video long enough to ask, "You don't happen to have a pair of combat boots do you?"
Let me pause here. Because what I imagine is going through your head is a series of things we should have tried. Locksmith numbers you can rattle off by memory. Some trick your grandfather taught you that involves a power drill and olive oil (I'll stop you right there; we tried that one). A fifth attempt at the credit card trick. But this isn't about what the right way to handle it was. This isn't about how we could have easily saved the door, the jamb, the lock, and even an endangered species, if we would have just done X.
This was about what panic does to people. What panic did to us.
Because here's what it did. It had me convincing Jim to get our large rubber mallet and beat down the door. This was after I looked up what new interior doors cost at Lowe's, and determining if the kind of idiots who couldn't open a door could be the same geniuses who could install one.
And, because panic isn't logical--or useful--I held a tea towel up over the place Jim was going to swing the mallet because at the same time we were trying to beat down the door, we were also trying to protect its finish.
So there we were, two grown adults quarantined with our young children who were playing hide-and-seek happily outside, their two apples cores thrown on the ground, unaware their parents were inside, panicked about missing an important meeting, or phone call, or email, whisper screaming at each other despite there being no mics on, banging a rubber hammer against a bedroom door over and over and over, as the light fixture above us shook with the rhythm.
As he hammered, we were both quiet. As if going through birth, or detonating a bomb, this moment felt heavy; the outcome could only be success because there was really no option for us if it were failure. His pounding was fierce and beautiful, as if perhaps the man had been carrying around some tension he was finally getting to release. His muscles shook, his hair glistened with sweat, and his jaw locked in tension. I turned to see the girls with their noses pressed to the window, their mouths agape. Their mother holding up an embroidered green tea towel while their father was angrily swinging something against it. And I did the only thing I could think to do when they locked eyes with me.
And they smiled back. And then waved. Then shrugged and ran back off to delight in their childhood.
And as I turned back to the hammering, I realized Jim had changed his method and was now hammering downward on the door knob. I stepped back and folded the tea towel. A few more hard whacks and the knob fell from the door and banged loudly onto the hardwood below. A few more grunts and pushes and a weird maneuver with a screwdriver and the door finally popped open.
Jim rushed to his phone, looked at it for a beat, then looked at me and laughed a sad laugh. "Didn't miss a thing. Not a call, not an email, not a text."
"Does that make it better or worse?" I asked, inspecting the paint chips, splinters and the knob that had been manipulated into a small, deformed wrinkle of metal.
"It makes me feel ridiculous," he sighed, sitting on the edge of the bed. "I'm sorry. I just don't do well in a panic."
"Who does?" I asked, examining the door jamb, which was miraculous unscathed.
"I dunno. The stress is getting to me. And I need to take this opportunity to practice better stress management."
"Meh," I shrugged. "Maybe it all just sucks and all you can do is admit that and move on."
I walked over to him, put my hands on his shoulders and studied his tired face. He looked up at me and was quiet for a beat. "This is all really overwhelming, and I keep focusing on the wrong things. I was so worried about getting through this door. And for what?"
"Oh, that's clear to me, babe."
"Oh?" he said, curiously.
"Yep. You were only worried about what was behind the door because of what's outside our window."
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