Unscripted opportunities

Adding a dash of fun to a daily routine is the key to a stable, happy life during the pandemic

King of the Hill: Chris Hunt’s son, Riley. Photo Credit: Chris Hunt

It’s so dark I can barely see my son. The faint flickering from the streetlamps below barely find their way to our sunken summit, casting gentle shadows along the jagged peaks of ice surrounding us.   

I lose him in the darkness every few seconds, a playful shadow among stoic shades. Across the way is another mountain, well-lit and littered with man-made tunnels and fortifications. My boy will get stuck in one of those tunnels in few moments, but for now, he’s just having fun running around, his laughter ricocheting off the chill in the air.

It’s the first time in days I’ve been able to spend some quality time with him. That it’s happening late in the evening is a testament to how haphazard our new normal has become.

Not long ago, I was certain I’d found the perfect balance of work and fatherhood while still enjoying fragments of personal time on occasion. Then COVID hit, raining horror and chaos over the entire globe. 

I started a new job when the pandemic began.  It promised increased salary and the opportunity to work from home, which was ideal given that Riley was forced to virtual learn during the lockdown.

It was difficult at first.  There were shortened tempers, harsh words and his mother and I were often drunk on the sort of exasperation that stems from being in a confined space with others for too long.

But we figured it out. We developed a routine that saw us plow through work and studies in the morning and then have some playtime in the afternoon when his classes were done.

Having a daily routine was the key to achieving some semblance of a balanced life, as it provided structure and stability during turbulent times.

That routine went out the window when we bought a house this summer. With all the unpacking, touch-ups and acclimatizing, well, there were more than a few days I neglected Riley.

I didn’t realize how much until his birthday party. Everything was fine at first, but without warning, he lashed out at his friends. Horrified, I gave him a timeout and told him if he kept it up, I was sending his friends home.

He burst into tears and squealed the most heartbreaking thing I’d ever heard:

“No! Please! I’m so lonely!”

The isolation bred from COVID had affected him, and the loss of routine didn’t help. I was so caught up with the world around me that I overlooked the most important thing in it.

Since then, we have once again developed a routine of work and school in the morning and playtime in the afternoon, but I’ve also taken as many unscripted opportunities to spend with him as I can.

Which is why I asked him to come for a walk with me to the corner store — which boasts a massive snow hill at the end of its parking lot — this night. My boy’s eyes lit up as soon as he saw it.  How could I say no?

And so here we are, at the summit of an ice mountain on a Thursday night at the height of a pandemic, laughing and playing in the shadows. I haven’t achieved a perfect life balance. I don’t know if such a thing exists, but hearing my son’s laughter makes me feel balanced in my life.

That’s something, right?