For 12 weeks this spring, our family of seven sheltered together in two houses. I don’t know where else but Akron could I have purchased a house on land contract with a mortgage of less than $600 a month, which I did in 2014.
In 2015, my partner, Max, started his solo law practice on the ground floor of the home, which we call “Cressler House” after the artist who’d lived there for 60-plus years. The living room became Max’s conference room, the dining room his office.
We also made our first two sons, Claude and Hugo, start staying at this house whenever they were home from college. And after he graduated from the University of Michigan in 2016, Claude moved into Cressler House and began paying rent.
During the lockdown, the seven of us flowed between Cressler House and the “main house,” where Max and I have lived for nearly 10 years. Many weekday mornings our two young children, Leif and Lyra, accompanied Max to his office to do school work.
At the same time each morning, I’d swing by for Hugo and his pandemic puppy. Hugo rescued Rutabaga in the middle of March when she was just 8 weeks old and, along with my three dogs, we’d all walk for an hour or more at the BARC dog park.
During these roughly 90 walks, Hugo and I had long talks. Granted, most of our conversations were about dog training. Hugo’s a natural and Ruti quickly learned several commands. She’s incredibly smart (maybe the smartest dog I’ve known), friendly and stinkin’ cute.
Jules, who just finished his freshman year at Ohio State University, stayed at the main house where he has a sweet suite over the attached garage. But multiple times a week, the three big boys had “bro night” and all stayed at Cressler House, made dinner together, watched movies or played games. Leif, who’s 10, joined them once a week.
My three oldest boys had not spent more than two weeks together at a time since Claude graduated from high school in 2012 and went to northern Michigan for a full-time summer job before his freshman year at UM. Since then, they’ve all had turns going away for college and summer jobs in other states.
A Rabbi once said, “If children don’t share a room, how will they be able to do so when they get married?” While I suppose married couples generally figure that out, I believe sharing a room can make children grow closer. I even put then-18-month-old Leif’s crib into Jules’ bedroom when we moved to the main house.
I did this and other things, because I wanted my children to remain companions as adults. And it worked. They have each other’s backs, but don’t hesitate to get into each other’s faces. They know and understand one another like few people ever do. It’s an enviable relationship.
During three months of lockdown, these brothers built gardens, recorded music, made home improvements and just hung out together, cementing their relationship even further.
Then the doorway to the next phase opened, and we all walked through, calculating, as I’m sure most have, which risks to take. We all wear masks in public, socially distance and wash and sanitize our hands like surgeons. But there are other, grayer areas, of risk.
Hugo and his girlfriend, Claudia, had again been hired to work at Tanglewood Music Center, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. That, of course, was canceled, and instead they received unemployment.
Last month, they packed Claudia’s car with camping gear and Rutabaga (and the dog’s rather ridiculous amount of possessions) and left on a cross-country road trip. They arrived at the Pacific Ocean on June 29, just when COVID-19 cases began re-spiking.
Meanwhile, my three younger children and I spent the last three weeks with family in northern Michigan. All adults tested negative for COVID-19 before we joined the grandparents in their tiny home near Lake Michigan.
Not since the ’80s, when I worked there during my summer breaks from OSU (which Jules is doing this summer) have I stayed so long with my family in Michigan. When life fully resumes, I want to keep summers more flexible and less booked than I have for three decades.
Before Jules returns to Akron later this summer, Claude will have left for graduate school. Claude’s first choice, OSU, lost assistantships due to a hiring freeze related to COVID-19. Meanwhile, Texas A&M’s Bush School of Government and Public Service gave him a sweetheart package, so west he’ll go, wagons ho! To College Station, Texas — a small town surrounded by hot spot cities.
Uncertainty is the new normal. I’m concerned that a month after schools resume in the fall, lockdowns will again be necessary to control this pandemic. It’s possible Claude and Jules will shelter in their college apartments.
But if they return to Akron, we know we’ll be OK because we are incredibly lucky. Lucky to have space and lucky to have each other.
Please stay safe.
This was first published in Akron Beacon Journal on July 12, 2020.