Being expat

Staying home with teens in times of COVID19 #2 Breakfast and dinner conversations

In the past few weeks we have tried to maintain some kind of routines and one of them is to all have two meals per day together: breakfast and dinner.

As my husband and I tend to have meetings during lunch hours, we have either an early or a late lunch these days. This allows our three teenagers to make their own (very inventive!) lunches and spend some time among peers, have a chat (or a fight), share their thoughts etc..

Since we all started learning and working from home a few weeks ago, the conversations during breakfasts and dinners changed.

In the first week it was all about what restrictions we would follow. As we were following very closely the news from Italy, we had long discussions about how the situations differed in China, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, France, Spain, Belgium… and the Netherlands. We ended up agreeing to opt for a stricter rule than the one recommended by the Dutch prime minister, and follow a combination of the Italian and Belgium one , with the sole exception of the 200m rule. – It was not a gesture of solidarity, it was rather the result of our family-common sense or gesunder Menschenverstand .


Since our children are on a term break right now and school topics are not first priority during our breakfast and dinner conversations, I notice a great range of topics among which we shift back and forth, quite fast (…too fast sometimes!).

So, one morning, after talking about a movie he saw on Netflix that involves some discoveries at CERN (Lausanne), my son decided to explain Quantum entanglement to his sisters. He mentioned the gloves hidden in two boxes, one sent to the north pole, the other to the south pole… – All this was quite clear and made sense, until one of my daughters said that if the gloves were rubber gloves, that you can wear on both hands, this example would not work… They agreed that the situation in which these gloves are put into the boxes and the kind of gloves needed to be specified.

We all went on, imagining possible other scenarios that made the explanation of quantum entanglement surreal.

The general tone of these breakfast conversations is quite light and we all notice how the current situation is transforming our view on the whole “flatten the curve” approach too. What does “average” even mean? If we compare the calculations that are made in the different countries – we follow news from Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherland, but also form all other countries… – it changes depending on the numbers collected – the official ones – and parameters, and this all differs from country to country, which makes it difficult and sometimes impossible to compare them at all…

Breakfast is the moment where we talk about the current situation.

The other day, one of my daughters said “what if what we are actually living right now, were a dream… and we would wake up one day, but nobody would believe us?” – The next 20 minutes were filled with colorful images, where the children would meet their friends in capsules, hovering over the town, meeting with their classmates in a virtual – but parallel-virtual –room… I guess this was a fantasy over how the remote learning could have been done more realistically, if we had the technology. Face time and synchronous learning are not what they meant. It was more like learning and meeting in VR…

What I found interesting and important to explore was that this whole surreal situation we are thrown in, feels like living in a parallel world, in another dimension.

I understand that our children need time to process, to define for themselves (!) what is “real” and what could be “normal” in the future, they have to find out what makes sense and what not. It’s not for us parents to tell them, it’s for them to explore.

It is difficult for us adults already, even those who have experienced war or similar situations where they had to adjust to a situation that was out of their personal control in the past. – The fact though, that the whole world is affected, gives it a whole new dimension. I would say it is much more bearable because we know that everyone else in the world is going through the same.

Our dinner conversations tend to be quieter than those in the morning. We talk about what we did during the day, what topics we read about. We cook together, share the meal and let the day “sink in”.
I actively stopped conversations to spin around the current situation during evening hours because I noticed that it affected our mood and my personal sleep. I had days where I could hardly sleep. My thoughts spin around the “why’s” and “if’s” at the end of the days and I need something soothing and distracting, like reading books or watching a Netflix series…

It surely didn’t help that my mother in law fell, broke her wrist and had to undergo surgery in the midst of all this. She is fine now, but there were moments where the communication was lost and my husband was very worried. We tried to not make a big deal out of it in front of our children, but they “read the air”, i.e. sense what is going on, so we had a long talk about this. We explained that we can’t just take the car and go to Oma and Opa in Munich or to Grosi and Grospapi in Switzerland, we can’t just go and meet my sister in Ticino, our friends in Italy, France, Spain… These kind of discussions took place in the evenings, until I decided that these are too heavy for evening conversations.

They feel much “lighter” in the morning, when the sun shines and we have a whole day in front of us to talk about it, process the feelings and find ways to make sense of what happens.

What I learned during these days is that we have to have conversations about all that we think, what worries us, what makes us happy, our experience and fear during this time, but all this can’t be randomly shared.

We have to respect each others’ mood and psychological state and avoid a topic if we see that one can’t take it at the moment. We shared tears, we fought, and we shared silence, relaxed and exhausted silence: the whole spectrum of emotions is on our daily menu plan. It can sound scary and overwhelming, but it is important to at least acknowledge it because it helps us to connect and stay connected as a family.

At some point we talked about a series of books and movies about the topics that we tend to talk about and books like The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, or A la Recherche du Temps perdu, and movies like the Matrix etc. (the list was very long…!)

Independence Day comes to mind: although we all are spending 24/7 together, we have to make sure that we don’t disconnect with each other. We have to work on our communication every day

What kind of conversations are you having with your teenagers these days?
What are they – and you – reading at the moment?

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