“I’m Trapped in a House of Geeks”

One very dramatic year in quarantine with three parents and two teens.

Illustration of a mom yelling out the window of a house, a teen girl sneaking out wearing a mask and looking at her phone, and a teen boy inside sleeping
Natalie Matthews-Ramo

Kerry, 42, and her daughter Lily, 14, and son Sam, 17 live in Maryland. They share a house with Kerry’s wife and ex-husband—the kids’ dad—who is also gay and lives in the basement. Kerry teaches writing as a local university. All five of them have been quarantined together since last March.

This is part of “I Miss You. I’m Worried About You. Get Out of My House.,” a series of conversations between parents and their children about how their relationship has changed since the beginning of lockdown.


Kerry: Lily, one of your biggest complaints about having three parents in the house is that if you get in trouble, there are three people all talking to you. And I know it’s been hard, especially in quarantine, that there are more adults than children.


Lily: You guys sit me down like it’s a business meeting and you’re about to fire me. It makes me so anxious. You’re like, “So we’ve talked.” And then you each take turns and then are all like, “So we’ve concluded that all of us can agree that you did that wrong.”

Sam: Typically people don’t have biological parents who are a lesbian woman and a gay man, so our living situation this year has definitely been unique.


Kerry: My ex-husband and I were Mormon and then we got divorced, but we still live together because we’re all very good friends. And my wife moved in with us about four years ago.

Sam: Before the pandemic, it did bring a lot of opportunities to ask adults for something, like “Hey can you give me a ride somewhere?” The only part of it that was kind of difficult for me was just explaining it to people.

Kerry: When lockdown began, and the school shut down and all the parents began working remotely—my wife is in HR and my ex-husband does sales management—all five of us were suddenly in the house together all the time.


At first, we did a lot more things as a family, like, OK, we’re going to have dinner together every day. And it was kind of nice for a little bit. Then after a little while we were like, OK, we miss people, we miss going places. Sam, you were the most introverted before the pandemic, but even you are like, “I would like to see my friends now.” But I know it’s been particularly rough for you, Lily.

Lily: I am a very social person, so I did really enjoy school when it was still in person. It took a big, crazy, unexpected toll on me when the pandemic started.

Sam: Also, in general, I’m not as much of a rule-breaker as you, Lily. I just sleep.


Kerry: Lily, before all of this, I’d say you and I had a chill relationship. You do get mad when people point out we look alike.

Lily: Because I’m my own person. I’m way cuter than my mom, my mom is old. No, I’m just kidding. We were pretty chill.

Kerry: You’re giving me a look right now that’s impossible to interpret.


Lily: Mom, you do this thing where you’re like, “Facts over feelings.” So you’ll say, “The rate of spread of the new coronavirus is increasing by 50 percent, and if you go outside and hang out with that one friend this one time, then the whole world is going to collapse because of you.” And my stepmom agrees. Then Dad’s like, “I understand where you’re coming from but I think you should listen to your moms.” That’s how he always is.


Kerry: That’s a little more dramatic than what I actually said, but yeah, that’s how it feels.

Lily: I remember one time during the summer I was invited to go hang out with my friends down by a creek nearby. I said, “Hey, Mom, can I go hang out at the creek because it’s 90 degrees out and I miss my friends?” You said, “Yeah, but you can’t get in the water, you have to wear a mask, you have to stay 6 feet apart from them, and you can’t take off your mask.” And I’m like, “Are you serious?” And I got so mad. Then you said they would have to wear masks too. It’s embarrassing to tell your friends, “Hey, can you wear a mask the entire time while we’re there? While we’re hanging out?” This was maybe June, before wearing a mask was more normal.


Kerry: We exchanged a lot of passive-aggressive texts on the family group chat.

Lily: You would ask me, “Send me a picture of what you’re doing right now.” And then I would just leave you on read.

Kerry: I would be like, “If you don’t send me a picture, you have to come home.” And then you’d send me some picture that was all fuzzy. The family group chat has become more active, surprisingly, in the pandemic. We live in the same house, we could talk. We don’t. We text each other in the same room sometimes. I think we don’t want to hear each other talk anymore.

Lily: Anyway, that day when we had the fight about the creek, I was like, “OK, fine.” And then I went, and I didn’t wear my mask.


Kerry: I’m not sure if I knew that until this moment. Isn’t there some GIF that’s, like, disappointed but not surprised? That’s how I feel right now.

Lily: I miss going to friends’ houses and just escaping for a little. I used to go over someone’s house and say, “Oh, only your mom’s home? Only one parent? So we can just go hang out in the basement and watch TV? If I go upstairs, will I get questioned by four adults?” “No.” “Oh, sick.”


Kerry: Over the past year, I think we’ve all learned each other’s limits. We used to have a tent in our front yard, remember the tent? I miss the tent. We would have a timeout tent in the yard that we would go and sit in. Just to escape from each other. We had to take it down when it got too cold.


Sam: Mom, I think I’m able to talk to you a lot more now than I used to. I feel like you and I have a relationship that’s a lot more casual than you and Lily. Because I can just talk to you without anything behind it. I can say, “Hey, what’s up, man?” And it feels a bit less like a parent-child situation.

Kerry: We’ve had more mundane conversations than we used to. We used to have dinner conversations with rhetoric from the 18th century or something.

Sam: Now I don’t feel like I have to impress you as much, which is nice. I can see my parents more as real people who are going through the same experiences that I’m going through. I see you as more complex. I don’t feel like I have to try to develop you in my mind or develop myself in your mind because you’ve been developed just by the experiences we’ve been having as a family.


Lily: Mom, I would say our relationship has gone from pavement to gravel, kind of. I’m trying my best to one-up Sam with that metaphor because he’s like a poet.

This is another part of our dynamic—one that has felt particularly intense with all the family dinners we’ve been having, and because we aren’t seeing other people. My whole family is super smart, using big words and reading straight from the dictionary. It makes me feel inferior. Sam is always impressing the heck out of you guys. He’s like, “Yeah, I’m in AP physics, AP bio, I get straight A’s, and I’m like Shakespeare.” Now I’m trapped in this little egghead house, this house of geeks.


Kerry: You’re not a geek at all. I don’t know where you came from. You’re ontologically cool, and the rest of us are just very not.

Lily: This is what I’m talking about. You can’t just say “cool”—you say this big word that I don’t know.

Kerry: It means “cool down to your very essence of being.”

Lily: Just say “cool from head to toe.”

Kerry: Fourteen is a hard age to be during a pandemic.

Lily: I can tell you feel bad for me. I feel your empathy. But I’m like, if you feel bad, then just let me live.