I first heard (and read) the phrase “mind the gap” back in college, when I was lucky enough to study abroad in London. It was written on the subway platforms to warn riders to be careful as they step over the small gap between the edge of the platform and the floor of the train.
That “gap” is an apt metaphor for the unavoidable (dis)location we’ve all fallen into now. Even for the still healthy and employed, the COVID-19 pandemic is a gap writ large, more like a canyon between our “before” lives on the platform and whatever comes “after” we arrive in a post-pandemic world. As we continue to hike around our houses through this not-so-grand canyon of quarantines and cancellations, my mind drifts to a memory from the actual Grand Canyon.
Many years ago, my wife and I visited the South Rim as part of our honeymoon. We had walked about halfway down the main trail, and we were losing energy as we hiked back to the top. On the way, we passed a father and his young son who were also heading up. The boy was obviously exhausted. Shortly after we passed them, we turned a corner that looked to be near the end of our ascent, but then a whole new vista of uphill climb appeared before us. Our hearts sank, but we slogged on.
About three minutes later, we heard from behind us the boy’s anguished yelp echo across the canyon walls: “AW, MAAAN!” Our thoughts exactly, we mused, as we knew he had just discovered the ongoing trail.
As the pandemic rages on, it can sometimes release tension to curse the universe like that boy. But then what? Especially as parents, how can we mind the gap if it is this ongoing and all-consuming? One idea occurred to me recently as I was yet again trying to make more room in our basement for all the activities we used to do elsewhere. To save space, I decided to reframe some of my two daughters’ artwork from their younger years.
That’s when it hit me: “Reframing” is a key part of parenting. When children come to parents with problems, especially large ones that are hard or impossible to solve, we often help first by listening empathetically and validating disappointment. But then it can benefit children immensely if parents help them reframe a problem to make it more manageable.
Fill in family gaps to become closer
Granted, there is no frame big enough to encompass the pandemic. But rather than succumb to the emptiness, parents can remind children how some gaps are being filled in good ways. For example, through increased conversations around the dinner table, we have been filling in the gaps of our family history. Specifically, my daughters thoroughly enjoyed learning about my head-gear braces in middle school, which helped reframe their own orthodontic struggles. In the process of such conversations, the gaps between us continue to shrink.
One of the best things about having teenagers is learning how they start to fill in family gaps as well. A recent example involved my tirade as I struggled with a gap in my knowledge — how to set up an outdoor film projector.
Like many parents, I am getting tired of navigating all the tech overloads and Zoom glitches in our home during the pandemic. For some reason, the film projector was my limit. I could not figure it out, even as I watched a young girl on YouTube set up her projector as she cheerfully explained “you just plug this cord into this cord and this cord into this cord.” All I could yell at my laptop was “you’re going too fast!” So in a (now comical) fit of rage, I packed up the supplies and announced to the family there would be no outdoor films this summer.
Later that day, I went grocery shopping. Upon my return, my older daughter had the projector set up and working. She helped me get over my “aw, maaan” moment. I did not hide my joy.
So how can parents continue coping with this pandemic? What we thought was a short hike has become a long trek through a seemingly bottomless gap that is certainly not half-full. But as you navigate the canyon as a family, keep reframing, adjusting, and improvising. Keep trying to fill as many gaps in your family life as possible by reminding children of larger, grander perspectives. Remember that we will, one day, emerge from this massive underground station between the past and the future.
Until then, don’t let the gap overwhelm your family.