Too much togetherness: Thoughts on treating cabin fever

Why is being trapped indoors with your family so dang hard? You love them, yes?

Photo by: massdistraction

A few weeks ago, Heaven’s Dandruff fell on the River City, and non-homeschooling parents and guardians were faced with the daunting task of spending entire days with our children. There’s a reason that parents start tweeting sad face emoji at the school systems’ weather-related closings, because we’re used to the children being gone for a large part of the day.

On one hand, this is ridiculous. My family is made up of my favorite people. I like spending time with them. So little of my day is actually spent with them: 1/3 of my day I’m asleep, 1/3 I’m at work, and a good chunk of the rest is spent getting the children ready for school or bed. On a good day, I get to spend maybe two hours of hangout time with my favorite people. This isn’t to say that time spent driving my kids to school or helping them brush their teeth isn’t valuable and rewarding (it is) but my time to just be with my kids is so limited, then why is a foot of snow a bad thing?

Because sometimes my kids are the worst. They fight over LEGO hair. They demand to eat food. They want me to tell them how not to be bored. They get tired and cranky at the same time I wanted to be tired and cranky. It’s not fair. How dare my favorite people want to spend time with me!

Snow is exciting enough that the children can spend time outside. The five-year-old can be out there for hours exploring, but the nine-year-old is more like her dad, the resident Snow Grump. She’s excited at first, goes outside to play, then realizes that she doesn’t like being cold, wet, and tired. She attempts to calculate the minimum amount of time she can spent outside that will earn her a cup of hot chocolate (15 minutes) so she can come in and read.

Thank goodness the internet and power stayed on. Even though it resulted in relatively higher crankiness afterwards, we were able to say yes to extended iPad binging and watching of Glitter Force on Netflix. We got to play every board game in the house and color every piece of paper. I know the best thing I can do is just to say “yes” to every reasonable thing, but sometimes I don’t want to. “Can I do face-painting?” Yes you can, but I don’t want to help clean you up later. Sometimes, just sometimes, I’ll get away with “after this chapter” and hope they forget.

Unlike my stalwart spouse, I do get a reprieve. I’m a remote employee, and while I normally work at a co-working space, there’s no obligation for me to leave the house to work when the roads are a mess. I lock myself in the office and send email, write documents, and chat on conference calls while the family does its thing. Headphones shield me from any sibling fights, and sometimes I’ll hear a knock on the door and it’s one of my offspring delivering a mug of coffee.

But, spending the entire day in the house is not rejuvenating for me. The need to not be in the same space all the time is one of the main reasons I normally frequent a co-working space. So, I have to catch myself lest I come “home” from work grumpier than I should be.

Being around your children all the time takes practice. Spending as much time as possible with my family takes actual effort. The idea that doing your favorite thing should just come naturally and not require work is false. My default is to hide under a blanket from the world and escape into fiction. It feels great in the moment, is fine in moderation, but I can count on one hand the number of years I’ve got left where my kids will want me to play “Mouse Trap” with them, or want me to read to them, or want me to play in the snow with them.

I’m not good with moderation. Why read to myself for 30 minutes when I can do it for five hours? Why watch one episode of TV of Netflix when I can watch all three seasons? These things are easier for my brain to fall into, but they aren’t the best things for it. The best things are playing “Star Wars” with my kids. But that requires getting out of this blanket cave, which I need to build the habit of doing more often.

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Sam Davies

Sam Davies is the father of two daughters (ages five and eight) who lives in Northside Richmond. He and his wife Kat are trying their best to not raise sociopaths.

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