Bonded by a Shared Experience

My children have a unique experience in common: the pandemic.

Abstract watercolor of a forest with hearts in the sky
Image created via Midjourney

I am the oldest of three children: two girls and one boy. My sister and I are about two years apart, and my brother is six years younger than me. My own children have a similar pattern: two boys, about two-and-a-half years apart, and then a girl eight years younger than the oldest.

Of the many things I’ve struggled with after losing Nelle and Iris is the age gap between my kids. The gap wasn’t supposed to be so large. I was pregnant with Nelle in 2015 and she would have been six years younger than my older son…. identical to my family of origin. Allowing a bit more space between the older two kids and the youngest gave us a reprieve. We had two fully potty-trained kids, both walking and talking. Having a toddler and an infant was incredibly draining so when we talked about a third kid, we decided to wait a while.

Yet when I was pregnant with Autumn, my rainbow baby, I mourned the fact that she would be so much younger than her brothers. She and her oldest brother will never be in the same school building. Planning family trips are harder because now, at four years old, she doesn’t have the stamina (or the interests) that her 9-year-old and 12-year-old brothers have.

I remember playing with my siblings. My sister and I were often competitive, and I remember a lot of fighting. I didn’t spend as much time with my brother… between the age gap and different interests, it didn’t feel like we had much in common. He always seemed to be “wrecking things” as younger kids are prone to do. With the six-year gap, we were in separate buildings once I went to high school. Then I left for college, putting an even larger space between us.

I was a loner child to begin with, often wrapped up in my own ideas. I wanted to play in an imaginary world of my choosing and wasn’t interested in my siblings if they didn’t want to join me. As a result, by the time I left for college I wasn’t that close to either my brother or my sister. It wasn’t until years later that I found ways to connect with them as adults.

I (idealistically?) wanted something different for my own kids. I made a conscious effort to smooth over competitive friction between my older kids. I encouraged shared toys and lots of family time, hoping that the togetherness would lead to a natural bond. They shared a room for many years. And, either because of my efforts or because of their personalities, it worked. They don’t fight much and choose to spend a lot of time together (or “hang out” as they now like to call it).

Then there’s the 4-year-old…

Autumn can’t play the same board games. She still builds with Duplos whereas they build with Legos. She doesn’t watch the same movies and has a much earlier bedtime.

Yet they have one unique experience in common: the pandemic.

My kids spent more than a year isolated from their friends and their school. They only had each other. And when your choices of playmates are limited, you take what you can get.

Very recently, the Omicron variant changed our lives again. We decided to reduce Autumn’s time at preschool from full days to half days. From about 2:00 pm onward, I watch her—while also juggling work.

Theo is now in middle school and the bus arrives at 3:30 pm. Afternoon screen time in our house starts at 4:00, a routine we’ve had for years. Theo usually takes that half-hour break to go outside or spend time in his room after school. But I noticed that with Autumn home, she was desperate to play with him.

I told Theo that I would pay him to be a “baby-sitter” if he would spend 30 minutes with Autumn every day after school. He willingly agreed.

As soon as she hears the front door open, she yells, “THEO!” and runs to him with her arms outstretched, wanting a hug. Theo takes his role seriously, playing whatever she wants to play. But I think he enjoys it… he never looks bored or irritated by her games.

They’ve bonded in a way that I never could have imagined. They’ll always have that time, forced together by the pandemic. It could have gone very badly, with the three kids fighting and getting sick of each other during confinement. Instead, they’ve grown closer.