Life is Beautiful

If you’re roughly in my age group and reading this, then it’s likely you’re at home right now, with children, doing your best to be a mom or a dad, as well as a homeschool teacher, while simultaneously trying to manage a business, be a remote employee or figure out your next gig for when this all blows over.

This is the situation we find ourselves in.

It’s easier for some of us than it is for others, depending on personal finances, the careers we have and the status of our health, or the health of our family members. But no one really has it easy right now. Everything is on a scale. Some of us are facing hard financial choices right now, as incomes dry up and the bills keep coming. Some of us have loved ones who are geographically distant from us. Some of us have friends and family who have already gotten sick. Some of us are medical professionals on the front line, or know people who have been transformed into heroes overnight because of the circumstances of the current crisis.

One of the biggest struggles we have right now is giving our children a sense of normalcy. Structure. Keeping them on a schedule and eating right. Making sure they get exercise, with the cancelation of all organized sports and outdoor activities. Explaining to them what’s happening while not giving them too much exposure to the worst case scenarios being debated on cable news channels each night.

In my opinion, this event will be with all of our children forever. They will never forget it. It is shaping their subconscious in ways we won’t fully appreciate until their generation comes of age.

But it’s not all bad. Our children are watching us to see how we handle a crisis situation. They’re learning to appreciate what it takes for all of us to hang onto our careers and get things done under maximum duress. Our daily activities may not amount to much by bedtime each evening, but in the aggregate, they are adding up. We are impressing our resilience upon their developing minds and giving them an example that they may not appreciate right away, but will most surely be emulating in their own adulthood many years from now.

The first week of Work From Home was a struggle in my house. Everyone hadn’t fallen into their respective rhythms yet – who uses what room at what time of day for what activity. There was fighting. There was fear. Boundaries had to be established for a family that, under ordinary circumstances, was accustomed to always having its members running around, from the baseball field to the basketball court, from train stations to cheerleading practice, from house parties to Saturday night dinners.

Now we’re all here. Together. Almost all the time. This was forced upon us. We didn’t ask for it. But it will be a time that the four of us will never forget, and a closeness we would never have been able to orchestrate were it not mandatory. So I keep reminding myself that I have to be at my best right now, regardless of the stress of the situation and the perils of the now forbidden outside world.

The kids are getting by with technology. My fifth grade son and his friends, when they’re done with their Zoom classes and school work, flock to Fortnite each day – a game they had stopped playing this fall, but which is now back with a vengeance. For my daughter, it’s somewhat harder. When you’re fourteen, your social life is everything. The focal point of all your days and nights. Not being able to be with other teenagers other than on Snap, Instagram and in text chat has been wearing her down. I take her for bike rides and my wife takes her for walks. This helps pass the time but it’s certainly not a substitute. The longer this goes on for, the more I’ll worry about the toll it’s taking on both of them, as it steals a chunk of their childhood that will never be reclaimed.

But we are healthy. We are getting along. We are doing what we have to do. My wife and I reorganized and deep-cleaned every room in the house, including the garage. The children are turning in their assignments and learning independence. They’re getting great at biking and my son’s free throw shooting is now downright Curry-esque. For as long as this takes, we will fight through it. Many families are struggling more than ours is at the moment. Many are making real life and death sacrifices, putting everything on the line for their patients, their communities and their country. I have to keep reminding my family of this. I have to keep reminding myself.

The childhoods I am presiding over will emerge intact. People have lived through significantly worse.

In the 1997 film¬† ‘Life is Beautiful’, Italian writer, director and actor Roberto Benigni plays a bookshop owner who ends up in a concentration camp during the Holocaust with his young son. He is determined to keep the boy from losing his childhood innocence or falling prey to fear or hopelessness. The father convinces his son that everything happening around them in the camp is part of an elaborate game, and that they can earn points by hiding, keeping out of trouble and getting through various challenges. The boy becomes convinced that he is playing to win, and listens intently to his father’s playful instructions, not realizing that his compliance is actually essential for their real-life survival.

It’s an incredible film to experience and you cannot watch it without crying. I dare you to try. ‘Life is Beautiful’ won three Academy Awards, including for Best Foreign Film and Best Actor. Its themes are universal; it could have been written in any language and anyone who has ever been a child or a parent would be sucked into the story.

As parents, we’ve all been put in a position to live out our own version of this tale, although under significantly better circumstances and with much less on the line. The closing scene of the film, despite its subject matter, ends with a child’s beaming smile before the credits begin to roll.

Life is beautiful.