crowded nest? (quarantine: week 5)


When I wake, my husband is already showered and dressed, at work in his home office. The rest of the house is quiet. I’m pretty sure I can ninja downstairs in my pajamas and not worry about being seen braless. But halfway down the stairs I hear the clink of a spoon on a cereal bowl, so I pivot, turn back for a robe, then re-descend to the kitchen to make myself a coffee.


The tide is high and the wind is pushing the rain at the windows sideways. Ben, who is fourteen, is seated at a stool at the counter eating cereal, attending to something on his laptop. It could be a game, but at this hour it’s more likely an assignment; school has recently resumed online. I say good morning, make my coffee and head back upstairs, past where my older children, Sam, Ivy and Will, are still asleep.

Halfway through our fifth week of quarantine, the question is this:

How do two parents, three young adults and a teenager occupy the same house for months on end without driving one another insane? We seem to have rather organically developed a sort of “time share” system to cope. By adopting different sleep schedules, we all manage to get some critical privacy and alone time.

Ben, Tom and I get up early. Tom heads to his home office, and Ben mostly stays in his room for online school, popping out only occasionally for snacks or runs to the printer. This gives me the delicious run of the house for the entire morning, because Sam, Ivy and Will all sleep in. I can clean the kitchen, do the laundry, write, read, exercise, garden, and piddle around pretty much to my heart's content, and here’s the key—without having to speak to anyone, or to respond to the endless things mothers are required to endlessly respond to:


Mom, I have swollen glands. Mom, the internet is too slow. Mom, we’re out of catsup. Mom, the dog is trying to wipe his butt on the carpet. Mom, Mom, Mom.

It will kill you, all the mom-ing, even if you are a regular, sturdy person. But if you are an artist, a writer say, and need to live for a certain number of hours each day quietly in your head, then the constant momi-ng can drive you mad.

So for me, these morning hours alone are lifesaving. And when the older kids do get up, by noon, or even sometimes, really astonishingly, by 2pm, I am ready for them. I’ve had enough solo time, and am available to give over the rest of the day to community and caregiving. We co- habitate through the long afternoon. I make dinner. We eat together, clean up, maybe take a walk, and talk together into the early evening.

But before too long, Tom and I cede the house to the older kids, because just as we can’t stand to be around them 24/7, we're pretty sure the reverse is also true. There’s only so much grown up talk my young adults want to participate in. When we say goodnight, and go upstairs to watch the news in our bedroom, they can finally stop the exhausting work of translation, and return to speaking in their native tongue. From above, we hear the thrum of their excited chatter, punctuated by peals of laughter. When we go to sleep, they move to a part of the house where we can’t hear them. They stay up till I don’t know when, doing I don’t know what, which, I suppose, is precisely how it ought to be.

And so the hours spin around the clock face, and the days peel off the calendar, and we go around and around, six souls, sharing one house, together and apart.

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© 2020 Sarah Balsley 

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