The list is the answer (sort of)

By Marissa Marangoni

I believe that one of the most—if not the most—difficult parts about our current collective situation is the whole no-end-date aspect. We don’t know when we get to go back to the movies, when we can see people’s faces guilt-free, or when we’ll drink a beer at a bar elbow-to-elbow with people we don’t know. I realize that it is impossible for anyone to give us a date for the return to normalcy—despite the fact that yesterday I watched a TikTok psychic claim quarantine will be over in December. 

Not having even the smallest glimpse of the finish line makes the day-to-day extremely challenging. And if it is challenging for us as adults, I think we can conclude that our children, who are pretty certain that a 20-minute car ride takes “for a hundred million years,” are having a similar experience. It’s just that for a lot of them, the feelings of being cooped up, angry, confused, and upset over the way we are living are not easily expressed. Hell, I don’t really express them—mostly because it feels like hoping for a return to life as we knew it may be futile, and I don’t want to deal with that. Most of the time, I try to avoid thinking about it. Is this effective? At times. Healthy? Probably not exactly.

It’s difficult for someone like me to hope during something like this. It isn’t because I don’t think there is a reason to do so, it’s just that I know how hard disappointment is for me, and it often isn’t worth going through. However, a big part of me believes that our children will get to return (mostly) to the life they remember, and I think it is important to offer that option of hope to them.

As the months roll on, it has been increasingly more difficult to explain to J how long it will be before he can play with the toys at the library again, but I know that telling him “never” isn’t satisfactory even though it’s what I want to say. I try to explain as best I can, as best I know, when and how he might be able to do the things he misses. In some instances, we’ve even been able to do a few of the things he’s asked about—just with increased caution and compromise. We visited the library last week and went inside for the first time since February, but there were no toys to play with. I took him to the zoo the other week, and he was ecstatic. So much so that even when it started pouring before we left the house, I put him in a raincoat and boots and packed up umbrellas instead of canceling the trip. 

Is the zoo immensely fun when it is pouring out and every animal is now only able to be viewed outside? Not exactly. But this did make the visitor population at the zoo pretty small, and J loves carrying his umbrella and stomping around in the rain. Plus, when it stopped raining, it wasn’t 95 degrees outside anymore and we got to enjoy a nice walk in cooler air without constantly dodging people (if there had been a lot of them, I’d have taken us home—and I know you know how that would have gone over with my little friend).

Though I can’t make compromises on everything he wants to do, I’ve made a list of the things he misses. Every time he mentions something he wants to do that we aren’t about to do, we write it on a list I have on the refrigerator. 

This isn’t totally my idea. I read something somewhere on the internet that suggested when kids ask for gifts for Christmas or see things they want in a store, you make a list of the things, and it leads to much fewer tantrums and less drama. I was pretty happy when the list idea worked for us, and so I figured it might be of use in these COVID times. The wants were the problem—not necessarily the not getting of them—and the list was the solution.

In quarantine, the desire to do things is the problem, and the list is (kind of) the solution. It keeps a nice record of what we’re not doing. Some of the desires on it include J’s desire to go back to Urban Air (we haven’t done it yet) and his idea to give anyone who doesn’t have stickers some stickers (we kind of did this—sorry, grown-ups, for sending you that chain letter thing—it didn’t start with me). J wants to go watch Megasaurus crush cars (pretty sure this isn’t happening for a long time); he wants to go to storytime at the library again, and the list goes on.

What the list does, I’ve noticed, is it takes the want—which is a question—and documents it, basically. When J asks if he can go to Great Wolf Lodge, I put it on his list as he scrutinizes my handwriting, and then he runs off to blow as hard as he possibly can into my old recorder from second grade (I regret giving this item to him about 75% of the time). The “After Quarantine” list gets his idea out of his head, records it on paper, and gives him, I think, hope that he will get to do the thing at some point. It also seems to let his brain release the idea (consequently releasing me of the whining) because there is now a little bit of a promise of the thing in the future (plus, he knows his scatterbrained mother won’t be able to forget it).

To date, we’ve done just a few of the things on his list, but because of that, because a few of the things he put on there were in reach after a while, he can hope for the other things, and I don’t have to tell him “probably not for a long time” or feed him some other shitty answer. 

The list has worked well for J. Maybe it will work well for your kids, too. Honestly, maybe it would work all of us adults, too. Maybe the old refrigerator list of wants and hopes and dreams for the future is the solution to all of this unsurety and gloom and doom right now.  Probably not, but it could be a stepping stone to getting there.

Marissa is the co-author of Urine Luck, but sometimes she writes about things other than bathrooms. Marissa has been writing for the Devil Strip since August of 2015.