How are you holding up? Are you okay?
As for us, we’re doing surprisingly well as we head into the third of who-knows-how-many-weeks of being stuck at home together. I feel like our family has spent the past 20 years training for an extended period of social distancing such as this.
Working from home, buying in bulk, going long periods without seeing friends, and living our lives with a constant sense of impending doom? These are already our routine, so the past several weeks have just been an intensification of our normal lives, plus the luxury of not having to drive kids into town and back eleven times a day. I told my therapist (via hygienic telemedicine video chat, of course) that we’re actually kind of living my ideal life, minus the obligatory medical panic.
As you Australians head into your enforced staycations, allow me to share some of the things our family is enjoying or planning to enjoy as we find ourselves alone together:
As you Australians head into your enforced staycations, allow me to share some of the things our family is enjoying
Encourage older kids to teach younger kids what they know, like knitting, baking, drawing, or playing an instrument, or even lifting weights or running. As an older mum, I sometimes fret over how I’ve slacked off in sharing enriching hobbies with my younger kids; but if you can count on the older kids to be reasonably kind and patient, this system is a wonderful twofer: It not only teaches the younger kid something you might not have the time and energy for, but it makes the older kids feel confident and accomplished. Sometimes an older kid who’s abandoned some pleasant hobby will take it up again after teaching it to a sibling.
We have, as I’ve mentioned, started praying the Angelus because everyone’s home in the middle of the day. This is a very short devotion — takes maybe three minutes — and it’s just nice. Pop in to visit your mum every day, and see if it doesn’t cheer everybody up! Our younger kids love taking turns dashing through the house ringing a handbell every day at noon. How often do you get to annoy your siblings and make noise in the name of piety? Every day, that’s how often! Ding ding ding!
Nature journalling. You can download an entire spectacular curriculum for free; or you can just issue everyone a notebook and a decent pencil, kick them out the door for half an hour, and see what they come back with. Challenge them to show you something beautiful or unusual they’ve discovered on your very own property. Just be prepared for your snarkier kids to return with beautifully-rendered sketches of each other’s butts.
Games, games, games. I wrote a whole post about games that need no equipment. We lean toward word and improvisation games, but there’s been an explosion of inventive and hilarious board games and card games lately. I don’t recommend compelling anyone to play, but I do recommend playing in a public part of the house, so cranky family members can see you having fun, and maybe want to join in next time. This is also a great time to get past whatever lingering scrupulous paranoia you might have about role-playing fantasy games like Dungeons and Dragons. What’s the worst case scenario? Your child becomes possessed by the spirit of J.K. Rowling? Snag yourself one of those Eastertide plenary indulgences and you’ll be fine.
Rather than just snapping on the TV and letting it blather on, make up a schedule where each family member gets to choose a movie each night. I feel compelled to add that it will be a lot more fun and special if you make a big batch of popcorn, but as the reigning misophonia queen, I make my family watch movies while slowly starving. It’s cruel, but they do survive. We started out Lent watching a Catholic-themed movie each Friday, but we plan to add general movie night to the evening schedule.
Read aloud. It doesn’t have to be edifying or great literature; it just has to have some reason for existing. Maybe plan to shut off the wifi for a few hours every evening, and make that be read-aloud time. We like the essays of James Thurber and short stories of PG Wodehouse.
For the younger set, try Grimm’s Fairy Tales by Wanda G’ag, or Jack Tales collected by Richard Chase. If you can get your hands on some kind of anthology of myths or fairy tales, those are almost always weird and entertaining. The Hobbit is so good. The Pirates! series by Gideon DeFoe is ridiculous fun (but may require a little censorship on the fly if your audience is young and innocent). Rudyard Kipling is immensely satisfying, and if the only Jungle Book you know is the Disney cartoon, you’re in for a treat. Or try The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, or Robert Nye’s retelling of Beowulf for those who don’t mind some verbal gore. Zlateh the Goat by Isaac Bashevis Singer is a wonderful collection of Jewish folktales; and the anecdotal stories by a country vet by James Herriot are beloved for good reason.
Have a party, whether there’s a birthday or not. One of our kids just realized her birthday will surely fall within the time of social isolation, so she can’t invite any friends. Some people in this situation are organising virtual parties, where kids get together with their friends online and sing karaoke or watch movies together. Others are inviting family and friends to drive by the house holding “happy birthday” signs. Our particular child, soon to be eleven, is mulling over hosting a Cutthroat Kitchen-themed birthday party. She is a natural saboteur, and since some pantry staples have been hard to find anyway, it’s a natural time to turn cooking into a competition. You can do something like this even if there’s no birthday in sight.
Let them do something that’s normally off-limits, like writing on the walls of their bedroom, digging a giant hole in the yard, dyeing their hair stupid colours, or whatever it is they’ve been begging you to do, and you previously just couldn’t bear the thought of disrupting the routine that much. The routine is already disrupted, so why the heck not?
These are extraordinary times; so make an effort for some of the “extra” to be fun and memorable, not just something to endure. It’s all too easy for the anxiety of the situation to creep into everyday life and cover everything with a blanket of doom. To combat this, think over what you can let the kids get away with without losing your own mind, and let them at it. At very least, they’ll remember this time as something other than the time they couldn’t do stuff.