Last November, Lance Gross, an actor known for his roles on various Tyler Perry productions including “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne,” had to say goodbye to his family for four weeks as he embarked on his first movie project since the coronavirus lockdown began.
As this film project began to ramp up, it did so with one major change from the prepandemic times: No one could leave the studio until filming wrapped. Once the cast and crew arrived on set in Atlanta, with negative Covid-19 tests, it essentially became a production bubble.
For Mr. Gross, 39, it was the longest he had ever spent away from his wife, Rebecca Gross, 35, a stylist, and their two children, a daughter, Berkeley, 6, and a son, Lennon, 2.
It was a shock to the daily routine for all four of them, who spent every day together for nine months. But it offered something meaningful to Mr. Gross’s psyche. “I absolutely love what I do,” he said. “To bring characters to life is a creative pursuit that fulfills me.”
Like many families, everything changed for the Grosses during quarantine. Not only did Mr. Gross’s filming schedule shut down, Ms. Gross’s personal styling business was also put on pause.
Instead, the couple, who live in Los Angeles, jumped into home-schooling their daughter and managing an active toddler, 18 months at the time. While they had always been very present parents, they had balanced parenting with their busy careers and rich social lives, allowing them to feel fulfilled personally and in their relationship with each other. Now, it became parenting, and only parenting, 24/7.
“As parents, you just do what you have to do — it doesn’t matter if it’s hard or challenging,” Ms. Gross said. “But when you put yourself on the back burner, you will get burned out. It was a journey, but we realized it’s important to carve out time to be your best partner, your best parent and your best self.”
Filling Their Love Tanks
A few months ago, though, Ms. Gross said they found the trick that helped them through it all: creating “me” time. She believes all parents need a moment to refill their own “love tanks” both individually and together.
“When your tank gets really low, it’s harder to cope with everyday challenges,” Ms. Gross said. “Before quarantine, we were able to build those tanks without really thinking about it, having personal time, traveling, working, even small moments in the car playing music. All of that was robbed.”
She recalled a day when Mr. Gross walked around the house in a “grumpy” mood. She realized that he had not been alone nor did he have a creative pursuit at the moment, no space to fill his love tank. She told him that he needed to go take some time for himself. Mr. Gross agreed, and he began to include screenwriting into his daily routine.
Similarly, Ms. Gross noticed that she missed her girlfriends. Last fall, she organized a tailgate, where she and a few other women parked in a socially distant circle in a nearby lot. They sat by their vehicles with takeout food, going over the high and low points of pandemic life.
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Prioritizing Date Nights
Together, Mr. and Ms. Gross thrive on being a team in the household. Although they enjoy their roles as parents, they still needed time to nurture their partnership. They sneaked out for a date night twice a month to a drive-in movie theater, without their children (they have a nanny that comes regularly, with proper safety measures put in place). Going to the movies has long been an integral part of their relationship and gave them some semblance of normalcy and a chance to bond.
Going back to work also provided a welcome shift in their schedule and increased the energy they each brought to the family. Both Mr. and Ms. Gross are creative people and find their respective jobs to be immensely fulfilling.
Despite the unpredictable nature of their careers — the long hours and hectic travel schedules — they have always supported each other’s endeavors. It may have required more logistics to do so during the pandemic, but they made sure to tag-team parenting and household duties to allow each other to take advantage of professional opportunities.
Ms. Gross said the first photo shoot she conducted after mandatory lockdown felt like a true mood booster. She has easily adapted to strict Covid-19 safety protocols. She often sources clothing through photographs and Zoom meetings, and books solo appointments at showrooms. Mr. Gross often handles bath time so she can check emails and respond to clients.
While Mr. Gross was away filming in November, Ms. Gross said it was difficult juggling the needs of two children. It helped that Mr. Gross called daily via FaceTime to laugh with their children and offer her emotional support. It felt like a team, even while they were apart.
Staying Positive During Hard Times
The couple give off a refreshing air of optimism. Ms. Gross tries not to dwell on the disappointments, even though the family has faced some major ones over the last year. In addition to having their industries shut down, they canceled their annual holiday gathering with extended family at Big Bear Lake, Calif., for the first time ever.
They struggled daily with attempts to have their daughter adapt to a virtual classroom setting; sitting in front of a screen all day is a challenge for a 5-year-old. (“It was a learning curve for all of us,” Ms. Gross said.)
Through it all, Mr. and Ms. Gross chose to inhabit the happy end of the spectrum. Mr. Gross relishes how he has been there for Lennon’s milestones, releasing the anxiety that often haunted him on prepandemic travels and film sets.
Mr. Gross wrote a screenplay, a goal he said he never would have achieved because of his schedule before the pandemic. “I looked at it as a positive, because it was a time to reset,” he said. “To be with my children and my wife for this extended period of time was such a blessing to me.”
Ms. Gross developed new ways to connect with their daughter, Berkeley, including Friday treats like sushi takeout for lunch or a movie, with no little brother in tow.
As husband and wife, they have devoted time to themselves and each other, too. “Life isn’t going to open up a moment for you to distance yourself from the hustle and bustle of the day to day,” Ms. Gross said. “You have to be deliberate about it.”
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