COVID-19 has ruined one of my favorite excuses — lack of time.
Lately, I have too much time. I am bored. Fortunately, I am retired without serious economic losses from the pandemic. My kids are grown so I don’t have to worry about childcare, keeping them entertained or trying to supervise their online learning (seriously, 2020’s parents and teachers deserve medals).
I can’t imagine what it is like to be a parent today, as I still have lurid memories of trying to make my recalcitrant teenagers do their homework, their chores, practice their instruments — do anything other than play video games.
One exasperating homework conversation is burned into my memory. My son was sitting in front of his beloved gaming computer telling me, “No one ever does anything they don’t want to do.” Well, that lit my fuse!
I remember answering that I don’t want to clean the toilets, but I do. I don’t like vacuuming the stairs, but it is a necessity. I didn’t want to work on Saturday, but it was required.
This was in April, back in the dinosaur years before TurboTax. I truly hated amassing all the paperwork and spending hours with my solar calculator doing our taxes, but I did it. My son calmly explained, “Well, that is because you want to do them more than the result of not doing them.”
Not so, I argued. I wasn’t worried about going to jail for not paying my taxes. I did my taxes because I was a responsible adult. Citizens pay their taxes since it is the price of living in a civilized society and... (insert other meaningful, or meaningless, parental explanations that go in one ear and out the other).
He got snarkier, “You only want a clean house so you aren’t embarrassed by the mess.” Mostly true. “No one is going to die from a dirty toilet.” Again, true. But then, his “your generation sucks” attitude led him astray. “I don’t need to do homework because I don’t want to finish school and I am not going to college. I don’t need money. I don’t want...” as his eyes roam around the room, “...stuff. I’d be happy living in a cardboard box.”
Aha! The naïve idealism of youth. I had him now! As I pointed towards his high-speed computer with the custom video card and the elite boomerang shaped gaming controller with shift paddles and a joystick, “But what about a computer, electricity, and an fast internet connection?” Yes! Ding, ding, ding. The referee raises my arm. TKO for Mom! I won that bout, but the battle continued for years.
Decades later, as I am vacuuming the stairs (still hate it, and not done very often), cleaning the toilets (not really that bad, but it was an appropriately gross image to use with a teenager) or filing receipts for this year’s taxes (so much easier now with software), my son’s words still haunt me. Do we really do anything we don’t want to do?
Now, thanks to COVID-19, I’ve been inadvertently testing my son’s theory. I could vacuum more often, cook healthy meals, take an online class or exercise with those brightly colored barbells that have become modern art sculptures on the coffee table, but I really don’t want to.
Sure, I’ve done some good stuff. I cleaned out the store room, refinished some furniture, read some great books, expanded the perennial garden and ate a lot of chocolate. I found various degrees of pleasure in those things.
However, I didn’t grow any vegetables, study French, practice the piano, lose ten pounds, lower my cholesterol or finish reading that stack of good-for-you nonfiction books which are gathering dust on my nightstand.
The instant reward of eating a foil wrapped Hershey’s kiss has been replicated by the convenience of Amazon Prime shopping. Need new socks? Click, they’re on their way without risking a trip to the store. That tricky jigsaw puzzle a Facebook friend mentioned? Ordered it immediately. The movie my neighbor recommended? Watched it on demand this afternoon. That new novel coming out next month? Already pre-ordered. Some recipe for an exotic dessert I saw on-line? The ingredients are waiting in my online shopping cart at HyVee.
But that healthy, surprisingly tasty looking, vegetarian recipe reappearing in my newsfeed? I’ll think about that one until I can’t find it anymore.
You see, my son was right. I’m not really doing anything I don’t want to do. I’m wasting my pandemic time. At a minimum, I should quit eating so much chocolate. But as Mark Twain said, “To promise not to do a thing is the surest way in the world to make a body want to go and do that very thing.”
I’m an adult. I know how to change my behavior if I really want to. But good grief, it is the pandemic of 2020. For now, I’ll get another cup of coffee, grab some chocolate and find a movie on Netflix. This year we’re all entitled to cut ourselves some slack and act like petulant teenagers — if we want to.