Staying safe and sane with 5 kids at home

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I know that these are seriously looking like the end of times, what with the plagues and pandemic and bushfires and floods and now – why not?  Fresh confirmation from the Pentagon that UFOs are a thing.

But I have to admit that, bunkered here in the suburbs with my husband and five kids aged 7-16, I’ve been enjoying this time of widespread lockdown much more than I would ever have expected or hoped.

Practically overnight, all those deprivations that I’ve got used to over the years and only occasionally feel self-pitying about became the new normal for everyone.

Isaac and Jacob Rodrigues preparing their dinner. PHOTO: Marilyn Rodrigues

Feel like going to dinner? Tough. Maybe take a little trip somewhere? Forget it. See a movie at the cinema? Nope.

And there is the huge bonus of not having to spend 100 hours a week commuting or driving to ALL THE THINGS. I haven’t even driven to my hairdressers’ which is weirdly one of the few non-essential things we can do.

How many times in recent years have I wished the world would just stop for a bit so I could take a breath? Now that it has it seems churlish to complain about the circumstances in which that came about. (Isn’t that the old adage: “Be careful what you wish for…”?)

The kids are happier too. They miss their weekly sport, but didn’t miss going to school and mostly have managed to keep in touch with their friends.

Even the closing of churches hasn’t distressed us too much – we trust they will reopen soon. I’m been deeply impressed by what the Jewish convert Edith Stein (who became the Carmelite nun St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) wrote in a letter she smuggled out after she was arrested and taken to a transit point enroute to Auschwitz during WWII:

“Of course, so far there has been no Mass and Communion; maybe that will come later. Now we have a chance to experience a little how to live purely from within.”

Like Simcha Fisher I find that life in some ways is a lot nicer right now – it’s just a pity about the underlying sense of impending doom.

Peter and Marilyn Rodrigues gathered ready for Sunday Mass with their kids Isaac,7, Jacob 9 and Joachim, 12, Hannah, 14 and Naomi 16 PHOTO: Marilyn Rodrigues.

I watch in real time thanks to social media and constant news updates with strangely beautiful illustrative graphs the horror rebounding across the world. I write articles about advocacy groups pleading for the Government to prevent catastrophic disaster to the most vulnerable communites – the elderly, people with disabilities, international students, refugees and asylum seekers.

Isaac, Jacob and Joachim Rodrigues enjoying a cool autumn morning at home. PHOTO: Marilyn Rodrigues

So I know that while I’m loving these glorious, slow autumn days, I’m also distressed about the terrible suffering we are all seeing and maybe experiencing – along with some guilt about having quite a nice time.

In addition, my family is not without risk. My parents and in-laws do not consider themselves to be elderly but are distinctly over 70. I have an autoimmune disease, apparently a risk factor too.

And then there are the niggling worries that are always there, COVID or not. Over our BBQ lunch last Sunday my nine-near-old was shocked to suddenly realise how old I am. “Mum, you’ve got SO MUCH grey hair!”

I told him I’m don’t care about my hair.  But I am stressed about their teeth. And who knows when I can get them to the dentist again?

10 TIPS FOR SURVIVING SOCIAL ISOLATION WITH LOTS OF KIDS

 


1.
Be honest about expectations. With the whole world on red alert and us stuck together 24/7 this isn’t really a time to put extra pressure on ourselves or our families to create epic memories or launch new ventures or adopt 10 new pets if we don’t need to. For me, if everyone has been fed and watered and is going to bed feeling ok about tomorrow, that’s enough right now (actually, usually). I’m convinced that if expectations are reasonable, then opportunities that everyone can embrace somehow have room to open up.

2. Having more than one bathroom definitely helps to make living with a crowd a lot nicer.

3. Have decent internet speed and a movie streaming service or lots of DVDs, books and magazines.

4. Relax the usual screen time rules but also dig out the board games. Teach the kids a card game or trick or how to sew a button or cut up a chicken or something your parents of grandparents showed you that you haven’t got around to passing on.

5. Expect more fights. (See #1)

6. In between the fights, leave out old photo albums or delegate someone to make a slideshow of digital photos of past holidays, birthdays, funny memories etc. to remind you all that you actually do like each other at least sometimes.

7. Encourage the kids who are more introverted to keep in touch with their friends.

8. Decide one or two things to do that will make you will feel the day was ok. My minimum sanity level during these restrictions needs a bit of time alone in the quiet of the early morning to mentally recharge and pray. And I get outside at least once a day – often with one or more of the family with me or I’ll call someone else to chat while walking.

9. Tell everyone one thing you need them all to do. For me if everyone puts their stuff in the bin and dishwasher after eating I can deal with a lot of other things not being as nice as I’d like.

10. Ask them what’s one thing you can help them with today. I get asked to do things like get them some time away from a sibling/s, to watch a movie of their choice with them, look over a school assignment or get takeaway food for a treat for lunch.