During early quarantine, it was trendy to have a family portrait taken on your front steps. A photographer would come, stand 6+ feet away, and send you an edited shot free of charge, with the request that you would make a donation to the food bank or another charity. It was popularized in our area by local photographers Jenna Stern and Michelle Gurner. But I saw friends getting their photos taken for “The Porch Project” all the way down in Texas.
Another thing that I saw a few families do was a FaceTime photo session. I wasn’t really sold on the idea until I saw Jordan Ashleigh‘s work. I loved how her vintage vibe worked with the quality of the FaceTime photos, rather than against it. I had to have some of her work!
We scheduled the shoot on Memorial Day, and that afternoon we had our first visit with another family since the quarantine began months before. It was the beginning of a new era–reintegrating with friends. These pictures are extra special to me, as they represent the end of the strictest of this (first wave?? hopefully only) quarantine and the ways that our little fam spent our individual quarantine time.
Day 42. I feel surprisingly good. I have a thing about limbo. I love the game (I’m under 5 feet tall, I always win) but I can’t stand the feeling. Can’t stand the in-between. It was a huge struggle for me when we moved across the country. I wasn’t sure if we were moving, where we would move to, when our first house would sell. It was similarly difficult when we had sold our second house and were waiting to move into the home we’re in now. I’m adaptable. I can handle what is thrown at me. But waiting for the pitch, I get impatient.
I wanted to get in on the covid quarantine rainbow hunt, like I described yesterday in my post about messages of hope during the pandemic, but my 20-month-old son isn’t quite old enough to draw a rainbow and my tween is a little too old to be interested.
I’ve seen a lot of Eric Carle inspired tutorials on Pinterest, but most people don’t get his steps all the way correct.
He did an interview with Mr. Rogers on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood many years ago where he showed his exact process.
What people frequently get wrong when emulating Eric Carle is that he didn’t use traditional paper for his creations. He used tissue paper. You know, like the gift wrap kind.
This makes the medium harder to work with for toddlers, causing tears. But it also allows more dimension and light to filter through.
After the little guy painted sheets of different colors (we used finger paint, though Eric Carle uses acrylics) I cut the sheets into arched strips, then taped them together on our window.
There’s a lot of imagery that defines this strange, restless, panicked time. Major monuments, tourist destinations and airports without crowds. People queuing outside with gloved hands on their shopping carts, face masks covering their nose and mouth, waiting their turn to shop in Trader Joe’s. Masks on face after face. That look of fear as someone is walking on the same side of the road in the opposite direction as another and they don’t know how they’ll keep six feet as they near.
Those are the images of social distancing. I realize that the imagery is far more grim in the hospitals, but those experiences are not mine to share.
As I near the end of week five of social distancing, I have more hope than I did throughout the first month, like when I posted on day 10, day 14, and day 25.
The home front has its challenges as well. We’ve been baking bread and eating non-perishables for weeks as we make our groceries stretch as far as they can. With this stretching, though, last week we found ourselves stressing. My husband and I were bickering about what our tween was eating almost every day. Catching him sneaking snacks became a really big deal. We were forgetting that being extra safe was a choice, not a sentence.
On top of that, a tween doing what a tween does: complain. A toddler doing what toddlers do: tantrum.
If you’re thinking, ‘where’s the hope in that?!’ I get it. I think it’s primarily that we’re settling into routine, and that we had a lot of sunshine this past week. It’s a few hours my husband’s blocked off from meetings during my toddler’s nap time so I’ve gotten alone time walking around my town–time to BREATHE that I hadn’t had quite enough of before. It’s back to being a collaborative couple, looking for ways to take care of one another. More time playing catch & frisbee outside, more hands in the dirt gardening, more sword fights with sticks against the little guy. It’s getting a brand new book in the mail after suffering through a couple of low-quality thrifted ones I never got around to reading before (I see now why). Those little moments I decided I would seek out in my last post about the quarantine.
Sometimes those little moments of light are ignited by messages of hope I’ve seen on my walks, or people have shared on our county’s rainbow hunt Facebook page. Little reminders of the beauty after the storm. Sometimes it’s seeing a fully bloomed tree, a splash of color that reminds me that nothing lasts forever.
These are the images I want to focus on. Individual people and families taking time out to uplift a stranger in a time of crisis and despair. A reminder that even if our government is failing us, the American people are still good hearted and deserving. That we’re surrounded by heroes, big, small, willing and many who didn’t sign up for this, but are fighting anyway.
Times are hard, but the best I can do right now is to share a bit of the beauty, gratitude and kindness that I’ve come across during these times.
Spent week three of social distancing trying not to succumb to despair. Hope feels like a distant memory, but I have to remember that any moment in time is just as fleeting as spring-it comes, it blooms, it withers, and new things are on the horizon.
I don’t have a lot of hope for what’s happening, what will happen next or after that. Dark times are here and more are following. But in dark times there are still bright moments. You find something someone else planted, years before you, in your own backyard. For brief moments, your home feels just like home, not the fortress from fear of what surrounds us. There is still sunshine, flowers, food in the pantry, and love even in a world full of sickness, death, greed and corruption.
Positive thinking and self care won’t cure the hurt I feel for the outside world, but as I go through this fourth week of #quarantine, I’ll try to shift my focus to the moments right in front of me.
It’s day fourteen now. Two weeks in. Friends and family that live back in Texas are just starting their social distancing journey; Houston’s stay at home order started at midnight Tuesday. Homeschooling began Monday for them. On social media, they’ve started talking about how much they love being at home, how they were made for this.
The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the world, and local governments are pushing to slow the virus’ spread by encouraging social distancing and enforcing shutdowns of schools and nonessential businesses. People have been told repeatedly that they must stay home. In teens’ terms: everyone is grounded.
I’ve come across a lot of suggestions for activities to do with your young children while we stay at home during social distancing. But what about our older children? This necessary step of slowing spread of the virus during trying times looks exactly like their worst kind of punishment, but they did nothing wrong.
School is more than academics. It’s where young people explore new topics, an experimental zone of learning what interests you. It’s about finding a love of learning and socializing with people who laugh at the same things you do and who you can tell things you’re starting to not want to tell your parents. Middle school and high school are about exploring your identity outside of your nuclear family, and most of this is done through the way a tween or teen interacts with their peers. How are our children going to navigate this complicated time in their lives without traditional social interaction? Even if our kids stay caught up with their academic lessons, what of life lessons?
Maintain Screen Time Rules. Yes, even thoughthere’s a pandemic going on.
Screen time is a hot topic in parenting circles. Most parents feel like they’re allowing too much screen time, even if they know that their child is allotted significantly less than their peers. If you’re concerned about screen time at all and its effects on the developing brain, it always feels like the kids are getting too much.
Right now, I kind of wish someone would limit my screen time. I’m having a hard time pulling away from the constant news cycle warning us of what is to come and bringing awareness to our failed systems. Less screen time for your teen means less opportunity to consume information about devastation and doom. Boundaries are gifts to your children, as it’ll help them create their own boundaries as they grow older.
If you’re overwhelmed by caring for your young children for far more hours a day than you’re used to, I get wanting to flip the TV on. But a teen or tween has already had years to get used to the screen time rules you have in place and is well aware of alternatives. Let them do the alternatives, and stay in line with your values and standards. They’re already in front of a screen through the duration of their school day, do you really want older children vegging out in front of the TV all evening while the adults make three meals and clean up after them? Speaking of, you should probably…
Assign More Chores During Coronavirus Quarantine
Okay, I know I sound like THE WORST right now. No additional screen time AND more chores? You may be thinking, ‘I thought we weren’t supposed to be punishing them when they’ve done nothing wrong?’
You’re not. Do you punish yourself every night for making dinner by doing the dishes? Is your husband punishing himself for wearing too many clothes whenever he does the laundry? No! Chores and responsibilities are not punishments, they are a part of living. The more time spent at the house, the more tasks that become necessary for someone to do. That should not be shifted only to the parents.
It’s not just a matter of needing more help. For well being, people need a balance of activities that give them feelings of pleasure, closeness and achievement. Without extra curricular activities, the most opportunity your teen (or tween) has for feeling accomplished is by finishing another day of mounds of classwork without the added social benefit. Think of giving more chores to your quaran-teen as a gift to both parents and kids alike.
Emphasize the Need for Collaboration during the COVID-19 Pandemic
The only way that your teen won’t feel like they’re being punished in this process is by having a conversation about collaboration.
Talk to them about individuals doing what’s best for the team. Is that something they value? Can they think of ways that they’ve experienced this at school, in sports, or in their friend group? What about choices that were made within your community?
Once they’ve acknowledged the importance of collaboration, bring it home. Everyone is making sacrifices right now. People are losing their jobs, people are getting sick, and people are missing out. So it’s more important now than ever to work as a team.
Connect with your Teen
Teens have a reputation for holing themselves up in their room and ignoring the family. Because they have less access to their friends, it’s more important than ever to bridge the gap between you and your teen.
Think of things to do together. Let their interest be your guide. Watch a movie they’ve been wanting to see this weekend, play a game they like, or cook a favorite dish with them.
Think about your child’s love language. Have you been nourishing that in a way that makes them feel connected? Now is the time.
Acknowledge Feelings and Practice Gratitude with your Teen During the Pandemic
Teenagers also have a reputation for selfishness. Their brains are working differently than adults, so it definitely may look like a character flaw, but it’s not outside of the norm. When you discuss the negatives of this scary time, you find some hope and gratitude. If you’re reading this, you both are alive. That’s a start, build off of that.
Encourage Frequent Video Chats with Friends During Social Distancing
This is where I’m willing to make adjustments for screen time. I don’t need to tell you why relationships are important, or how essential connection is for mental health, but I did have to remind my middle schooler MANY times to download a platform he could use to stay in touch with his friends. If your child did most of their socializing at the school and less-so on the phone, you might have to push it for a while to make it happen.
I don’t generally allow social media or games on the phone for my middle schooler, but there’s a video chat app called Houseparty that I approved for him to get yesterday. Not only does it do video chat in groups, there are also game prompts for them to play with their friends during the conversation.
Send the Kids Outside While you Can
We need as much sunshine as possible. It’s good for the brain! With my ankle sprained, I’ve been telling my son to get in the backyard. But for those of you without pain who don’t have a yard, go for a walk, bike ride, or look for another way to spend time outdoors.
Encourage your Teen to Make a Goal to Pursue During Social Distancing
This is (hopefully) a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence where you have no pressure whatsoever the leave the house. No pressure to achieve anything grand or push productivity. I’ve seen a lot of suggestions from people to spend this time slowing down, meditating, and relishing being out of the rat race. I’ve also seen people who want to reorganize it all, do a bunch of projects they’ve been meaning to do, and set their sites on goals they’ve been wanting to achieve.
Setting a goal during the pandemic isn’t about achievement as much as it is about intention. Encourage your child to consider what their intention will be during this unique time. Even if it’s rest, what does rest look like? Is it tuning things out? Is it more sleep, earlier times in bed?
If they do want to achieve something bigger, like pursuing an interest, what are resources you can use to facilitate that? YouTube has tutorials on just about anything, but there are more specialized websites that may be of more value.
Getting intentional about this time provides another opportunity for achievement in a time which that is limited.
Be Cautious of What Can be Overheard
I was on a video call this morning with a friend talking about the virus, fuming about our country’s leadership and sharing concern for what the future looks like, knowing the financial repercussions for this on such a massive scale without the right policies to protect the people. In the midst of this doomsday discussion, my middle schooler walked in the room, though his office space is on the other side of our house.
He surely heard the murmur of me talking to someone other than a baby, so curiosity caused him to head my way. He said he was “stretching.” Mhmm.
But in that moment I was really aware of how sheltered I can let him be when we’re in the midst of this. How much information is just enough? How can I straddle informing him and not scaring him?
Take it Easy
Sure, I seemingly just gave you a list of guidelines to follow to protect your child’s mental health during our current global health crisis. But really, this list was also a reminder for me. These are stressful times for everyone (though I acknowledge that they are far more stressful for those who get sick, their families, the medical professionals and grocers on the front line and those that are un- or underemployed) and we’re all just trying to keep the peace in our homes.
Raising a teen or tween is hard. Their prefrontal cortex isn’t fully formed, they’re hormonal, impulsive, and still very unaware of how the world works. It’s much harder in times when you’re figuring out how the world will work after a catastrophe. There’s only so much we have control over in times like these. You won’t always be able to keep your patience with them, but you can make attempts to connect with them, encourage them to connect with others, keep them active, in the sunshine, and as safe as possible.
It’s my day ten of social distancing. I don’t know how many days it’s been since you’ve seen friends outside of a screen or run an errand that was deemed non-essential. Maybe it’s been five days since you hit the gym, or maybe you waited until they shut down the bars in your city before you stopped going out. Maybe you’re a medical professional or you work somewhere that supplies essentials and you’re still more vulnerable than those who can or must follow through with the recommended guidelines. Everyone has their individual reality during this pandemic. Historians and friends alike are saying ‘write it all down!’ so I’m here, in my often-defunct, rarely-resurrected blog to share what my family’s reality is during the COVID-19 world health crisis.
For us, everything changed on Thursday, March 13. I went to the gym that morning, reassured by the owner’s Facebook posts about deep cleaning and preventative measures to decrease the likelihood of spreading of the virus. As we were doing our cool down stretching, she received an alert on her iWatch: the district’s schools were closing that afternoon for an unforeseeable amount of time.
My friends at the gym and I had a feeling we might not see each other in a while. We exchanged goodbyes with a curious feeling about when there would be another hello, while most days it’s a ‘see you tomorrow!’; knowing our gym routine is ingrained.
Nothing feels ingrained anymore. I went with my toddler to the store directly after the gym, as we did most weekdays for the last year. It didn’t look the same. It was frantic, things were flying off of the shelves. The clerks who we know by name were already harried, and it was still early. Very early.
Those of us who had been paying attention during the days prior weren’t terribly surprised. The neighboring Town of Westport had announced that their schools were closing the day prior. A recent international visitor had received a positive coronavirus test result from their home country after attending an event in Westport, and several other attendees had begun to experience symptoms. We still felt secure in knowing that there weren’t yet any cases in Fairfield, but at the same time we were well aware of how intermingled our towns are.
The school officials were aware of this as well, and decided to make the call. Thursday, March 13, 2020 was the last day for students for the foreseeable future, while teachers were to report to school the following day, March 14, to make a plan and familiarize themselves with the resources for a distance learning program. By Friday evening, parents of the 10,000 children in the school system were given a quick run through via email about the distance learning program, and gave us a start date of Tuesday, March 17. It gave the district time to get approval of the distance learning program from the state so that the days the kids missed would not have to be made up at the end of the school year like snow days.
Distance learning for middle school (in my district, at least) has been pretty seamless. Each middle and high school student was already supplied with a Chromebook at the beginning of the school year, and those who do not have access to the internet at home were given solutions. The students follow their usual schedule and are able to have access to their teachers at that time for answering any questions. Teachers have modified their coursework to better suit distance learning and the work has sufficiently taken up the allotted time. Some classes are utilizing chat rooms and this upcoming week my son’s French class will be using their mics to elevate the language learning experience.
The distance learning transition hasn’t been a matter of difficulty with the coursework, but rather the distractions. It’s hard to keep my older son on task when my youngest is having such a good time.
My husband’s job made the call that same Thursday. We’re lucky that his career is very computer-centric and he’s able to continue to work from home throughout all of this. This took some adjustments with two kids at home through the day. We had to do some rearranging. In our office we have a desk for every person in the family, but we couldn’t have our middle schooler trying to get work done while dad’s on business calls all day. I also needed to keep an eye on him, so I didn’t want him using the desk in his room. So there’s a desk in my living room—make that two. My toddler just couldn’t deal with my oldest being the only one to have the privilege of sitting at the living room desk all day.
The little guy has been on a streak of OBSESSION with his Dada, so it was causing some problems with him thinking every day was a Saturday but his Dada was ignoring him in the office. So our new routine is to wait until Elvis starts eating breakfast, then Mark gets his coffee, puts on his briefcase (while still in pajamas) and says, “I’m going to work! Bye bye!”
Elvis will say bye bye back and even if he overhears him it’s 👌. Mark gets his coffee delivered by his temporary secretary to avoid any confrontation with the baby before lunch. After lunch, the babe goes down for a nap.
How we’re Passing the Time During Social Distancing
When shutting everything down was just a rumor, I thought, ‘huh. I wouldn’t mind being quarantined at all. I have plenty of projects to do around the house and can always run and hike.’ I’ve also just come out of a very busy snowboarding/travel-filled winter, eventful Christmas season, and fall fun/travel-full fall. I was ready to cut out some social obligations.
But day two of social distancing, I went for a run with the jogging stroller on the sidewalk. Someone had overgrown bushes that were impeding the full use of the sidewalk and I ended up falling and spraining my ankle in a divot. It’s by far the worst injury I’ve ever gotten while running, and a huge bummer given the circumstances. No hikes or runs for me, and even cleaning things up around the house has been painful.
The kids have busied themselves with a lot of outdoor play, painting, sensory play, listening to podcasts, playing pool, reading books, drawing, hanging out in the fort the kids made, taking naps, a video chat playgroup, a three-hour Dungeons and Dragons session with five friends, watching Frozen 2 and Wreck it Ralph as much as possible, and playing chase around the house. I’ll let you guess which one was doing what.
Mark loves to cook so he’s been doing that. Sweet potato hash + andouille sausage breakfast burritos, mixed fruit cobbler, white chocolate malpua, blackened fish tacos…to name a few.
I’ve been reading as my ankle heals, and felt a lot better today so I’ve been working on a home project.
We don’t know how many days or weeks or months we’ll carry on like this, or what the future holds. We’re just taking it moment by moment, day by day. This is day ten.