Today is usually a travel day for my family, like many of yours. Every Thanksgiving for nearly a dozen years, we’ve packed up and flown south to Birmingham, Alabama, where my husband’s father and stepmother live. This is their holiday in our version of the unofficial family custody calendar so many of us are bound by, and we all go to them — starting as couples and adding children through the years. My sister-in-law and her two girls, now in college, come from Virginia; my husband’s stepbrother and his family come from Minnesota, and we (me, Scott and our daughter, now 8) make the trip from Baltimore.
But this year, we’re staying put — also like many of you. We, too, have a Zoom call scheduled for Thanksgiving morning to preserve the tradition of gathering, and I’m grateful for it (though I know it will be awkward). And in the afternoon, I’m hosting an outdoor meal on our back deck with my parents, who are driving up from Georgia, and Scott’s mom, who recently moved to Baltimore to be near us.
It’s a guest list that wouldn’t be possible on this particular holiday, but for the pandemic. My sister, in Florida, usually gets to see my parents on Thanksgiving (that’s out this year, given Florida’s lax approach to COVID-19), and my mother-in-law has previously had a standing invitation with friends in another state. I have to admit, much as I’ll miss the Alabama crew, I’m glad for the opportunity to gather with this group for a change.
That got me thinking, at this time of year, when we take stock of all that we have to give thanks for: What other good has come from the way we live now, among the novel coronavirus? Many of us have long lists of legitimate and heartbreaking grievances, but I was pleased to realize that my list of things to appreciate is not short.
At the top is days spent with my child. For the first time, I know exactly what she’s studying when, because I now work from home and sit in the same room with her while she’s in virtual third grade. I hear how she answers questions when called upon — the nervousness and pride in her voice. And I have a better sense of her strengths and challenge areas, as well as a better idea of how to help her succeed. Pre-pandemic, she spent most of every weekday at school, in class from 8 a.m. to 2:40 p.m., then in aftercare for another three hours. I try to remember that on the days when my patience is thin and I just want some quiet to focus.
Working from home, and the fact that I have a job and Wi-Fi connection that can support it, is another circumstance I’m deeply grateful for. I’ve long wished for it, to use the time spent primping and prepping and commuting for actual work — or laundry. Some practical purpose. But remote collaboration was generally discouraged in my business in favor of face to face. The pandemic flipped that in industries that can operate virtually, and now that we know it works, I hope it continues to be an option once it’s safe to gather in large numbers indoors again. (Either way, I’m not going back to blow drying my hair.)
The ways we’ve embraced and used technology during the pandemic overall has been a revelation. Under no other circumstance would I have allowed my daughter access to a cellphone at this age or given her a computer of her own, but those two pieces of equipment have kept the world open to her amid the pandemic. My parents were able to attend Grandparents Day at her school last week via Zoom, and FaceTime has been a social lifeline to her, making playdates possible with far-flung friends. She’s taken art classes and piano lessons online, joined after-school cooking and science clubs, and is developing multiple business ideas with her buddies on Google Docs (homemade slime, anyone?).
With production of my favorite shows on hold, I’ve discovered new ones (“Schitt’s Creek” is a binge-watching pleasure). I’m reading more books, because I finally signed up for the e-version of a library card, and it makes borrowing so easy. And my entire family is getting outside every day in all kinds of weather, because the pandemic made it a priority (and we, like some of you, got a pandemic puppy who needs regular walks).
There’s no denying that these times are difficult for most of us and tragic for many — economically, academically, socially and physically. The recognition of that keeps me living in the moment and on the lookout for small joys. That’s, perhaps, the pandemic’s biggest gift: not taking so much for granted anymore.
Tricia Bishop (email@example.com) is The Sun’s editorial page editor. Her column runs every third Wednesday.