Who remembers sitting with the whole family and watching a movie together?
It was one of the few activities that everyone seemed to enjoy, bolstered by bags of popcorn and blankets spread out on the floor. It was one of the only times over a couple of decades that the near-constant motion and commotion of raising four children made way for quiet togetherness.
Whether it was one of the Shrek installments or, as they grew more sophisticated, smart comedies like Little Rascals or Matilda, movie nights created warm lifetime memories for parents and kids alike.
As parents, we were probably too frazzled by day-to-day survival to feel the bittersweet awareness that we were experiencing one of those “only now” situations. That freeze-frame would never return.
That is, until the coronavirus pandemic.
A year ago, well before the onset of COVID, when we had two children married, another living and working in Tel Aviv, and a fourth shipping out for his army service, my wife and I were anticipating experiencing our very first empty nest.
It’s a good thing we didn’t decide to downsize.
Instead of all that space and time on our hands, the last few months have unexpectedly witnessed three grown children moving back home. The circumstances varied: one divorced; another divorce of sorts between the IDF and my son due to irreconcilable difference; and – a direct outcome of the corona outbreak in March – the closure of a business that tossed my other son, like so many others, into joblessness.
But the closures, unemployment and contractions of life under corona have helped to stitch together a unique reality: instead of using home as a way station for sleep and food as so many young people do – if they come to visit at all – they are now constantly around.
It’s different than before, when they were growing up and at home all the time. Now, they eat... and they eat a lot.
But they also help out a lot more, too, whether it’s grocery shopping, cooking or cleaning up. Which is a good thing, because it’s a life lesson that you can’t boss your adult children around the same way you could when they were kids.
In between anxiety over their future in the shadow of the pandemic, anxiety over one of them coming into contact with an infected person, and anxiety over them judging me as a person instead of as a father, the enforced time together has produced some unexpected delights.
The other night, after Rosh Hashanah faded into the sunset and with nowhere to go due to the closure, movie night returned. The five of us gathered and watched the delightful Netflix documentary My Octopus Teacher. We sat in rapt silence, too engrossed by the dazzling visuals and gripping story to even make the traditional popcorn.
Someone less steely might have found tears welling up over the poignancy of a family, reunited over corona, revisiting their collective past. This time around, with the hindsight of a couple of decades, the bittersweet awareness that this moment should be savored as the fleeting miracle it was, couldn’t be overlooked.
The last six months have put everyone through some trying tests of nerves, with health and financial challenges around every corner. We long to return to normalcy and the freedom of going where we want, sitting in cafés, traveling.
One day, hopefully soon, this pandemic will fade away, and everyone will head back to their full lives. On that day when we wake up to an empty nest, it will be with the realization that for a short while – thanks to a deadly virus – we were able to experience a treasured moment.
In 2020 amid a world crisis and well into a family’s life cycle, children came back to the nest for a short time... where they found shelter, support and love. And where there’s always a good movie waiting.