My spouse and I recently picked up our son from his first year at college to bring him home for our family Thanksgiving. It reminded me yet again how quickly time flies.
A year ago, we didn’t even know which college, if any, he would be going to. We had also just cancelled our Thanksgiving dinner for the first time in years, in deference to the pandemic. Turkey Day is our family’s biggest annual gathering, and not something we abandoned lightly. We didn’t know when a vaccine against COVID-19 would be available or how much longer COVID restrictions would remain. A year ago, too, we were only cautiously hopeful about the results of the 2020 election, which the Electoral College had not yet finally certified. It was a time of deep uncertainty.
I don’t think there was any special trick to how we managed, although I like to think there’s an analogy in the board games we like to play. Not only are they a fun family distraction, but many require players to make the best of the cards they’re dealt or the dice they roll. Rather than dwell too much on the “what-ifs” of our lives as we navigated a year of change, we tried to work with what we knew at the moment. We discussed various possibilities, like remote classes still being in place for our son’s first year of college, but tried not to get too worked up about what we could not control. We took each step based on the best information we had at the time.
We also tried to enjoy the time we had together as all three of us were working or studying at home. Each of us had individual tasks we needed to do and hobbies that we didn’t share, but we also made time to do things as a family — going on walks, cooking and eating together, and yes, playing lots of board games.
I know we were lucky in having an older child who was mostly self-sufficient. Families with younger children were in general much harder hit by the tradeoffs that had to be made in the face of the pandemic, such as one spouse/partner needing to stop or reduce paid employment in order to take care of children at home. I can only hope that our society, and all levels of government, can take to heart some of the lessons learned from this — the need for more support for caregivers, for flexible work arrangements, and for policies and protocols that enable us to act more quickly and decisively against pandemics.
As the year unfolded, though, we saw reasons for hope. Vaccines were approved. Our preferred presidential candidate took office, despite the threat of an insurrection. Schools and stores began to open up again, albeit with caution. Our son got into college, successfully finished high school, and has taken his first steps into adulthood. Our family convened again this Thanksgiving for turkey and pie. (So much pie!) We found joy in family happenings — a new baby, an engagement — even as we mourned family lives lost to COVID and other ills.
My spouse and I are now learning how to be empty nesters. We’re vaccinated and trying to go on with our lives in this world that has been irrevocably marked by COVID. We’re continuing to practice some of the lessons learned during the past year of semi-quarantine with our son, such as making time both for our individual pursuits and for mutual activities. We’ve renewed our lifelong enjoyment of the great outdoors, going on hikes that let us enjoy nature while also social distancing. We try not to bother our son too much while he’s at college, though I have sent him innumerable silly online memes and several care packages of cookies. Having him home for the few days of his Thanksgiving break has been a blessing, and I’m already looking forward to seeing him again for the winter holidays.
The new year will bring new challenges, for us, for other LGBTQ families, and for families and people of all types. The pandemic is not over and is showing worrisome new variants. LGBTQ rights and reproductive rights are still under threat. Racism continues to cast a pall over our country. Every family has its own particular challenges, too, of financial security, health, interpersonal relations, or otherwise.
While we cannot predict the future, we can take heart in knowing we’ve survived the past, and we can remember to be present for those who depend on us. Whatever the next 12 months may bring, may we all work towards a world of justice and peace and be surrounded by love and joy.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory, with a searchable database of 800+ LGBTQ family books, media, and more.