We found time for nightly family board games and weekly family hikes and, well, for the month we spent putting together—and rehearsing with—our “family band.”
And, sometimes, we found the positives in things that, a year ago, would have seemed absurd.
“I actually like wearing my mask in the car,” said one of our kids, “because I can sing and no one can tell.” That kid asked that I not name him or her.
It’s been a year in which we celebrated son Henry’s high school graduation—watched him walk across a makeshift stage in the Mayo parking lot—from our minivan. Honked our horn and jammed “Pomp and Circumstance” as loud as one can jam “Pomp and Circumstance” from a Dodge Caravan’s factory-standard speakers.
It’s been a year in which we hiked every state park and state forest in a 100-mile radius. A year in which we played so much ping pong in the garage that we eventually bought $35 paddles and headbands and started calling it “table tennis.”
We watched all 23 Avengers movies in chronological plot order. Binged Tiger King and The Queen’s Gambit and the entire season of the Premier Dart League, in which people play darts competitively.
Watched as our yard slowly turned into the kind of untamed wilderness environment you might hear David Attenborough narrating over.
We rescued a nestling—a baby bird not yet ready to leave the nest—from the yard. Nursed a fledgling—a bird who is almost ready to fly on its own—back to health.
Learned the definitions of “nestling” and “fledgling.”
Saved our dog, Scout, from a bat—on the ground—that was maniacally lunging at our 13-year-old Lab. (Full disclosure: The phrase “saved our dog,” here, roughly translates to doing that thing where you run in place with your hands over your mouth yelling “Ground bat! Scouty, no! Run away from the ground bat!”)
Over these 365 days, we played an estimated 350 nights’ worth of board or card games, from Tripoley to Telestrations to Cut That Out, a board game that I spent months creating and then forced my family to play.
Started that family band and learned “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas and the Papas. Daughter Hadley, 22, played piano. Henry, 19, had his bass drum from marching band. I was forced to sing. Wife Lindy—and I’m embarrassed to admit this—played various shakers she made using dry rice and beans inside tiny Tupperware containers. Daughter Emma, 14, spent hours practicing the song’s extended flute solo. On her tuba.
I learned to solve the Rubik’s Cube. Bought a mixology kit and watched my youngest daughter make the second best whiskey sour I’ve ever had (complete with egg white foam). Ordered from different local restaurants every week for Take-Out Tuesdays.
I gained 10 pounds. Started exercising. Lost 20 pounds.
We taught our old dog, Scout, new tricks. Baked bread from scratch. Finally refinished the downstairs bathroom.
I met my wife and youngest daughter at Paws&Claws, where they showed me an abandoned 13-pound chihuahua/poodle/pit bull/Doberman mix that, when they put a leash on her, did not know how to react, and literally belly-crawled around in the grass. Brought that dog home and named her Finch. Immediately realized Finch was meant to be with us.
We watched a community, hurting, come together.
We drove to see the Plummer Building, bathed in “Mayo” blue. To see the 24-foot, 100-light star—normally reserved for the Christmas season—hoisted to the top of the Charter House. To see the lights on the Hilton Building, hand-switched on nightly to nightly to form a giant heart, 16-stories high. To see the area high school sports fields, empty, still lit at night.
Waved at the parade of first responders downtown as Mayo One symbolically hovered over the St. Marys helipad.
We got misty-eyed at the stories of restaurants, too numerous to mention, who immediately offered food—free of charge, no questions asked—to kids in need (“Kids can simply come in and say, ‘No school for me today’ and we will hand them a free lunch.”).
Got misty-eyed at the story of the 6-year-old girl whose birthday-loving mom died of cancer in January, and whose seventh birthday fell in April, when she couldn’t even have a party. Then, through her neighborhood, came the parade of friends and teachers in their vehicles of ambulances and fire trucks. And cops singing “Happy Birthday” over their loudspeakers.
Got misty-eyed at the story of the two young farm kids from Viola who, after hearing that staffers at a local restaurant had their tip jar stolen, showed up to order take-out. And to donate $200 they’d earned selling sweet corn over the summer.
We performed our one-song concert—”California Dreamin’”—for ourselves. Graduated to overnight hiking trips through state forests. Came home one day to find Scout sleeping on the couch with Finch, our new rescue dog, basically laying on top of her.
Realized that we probably would have done none of that in a normal year.