There’s a lot to read about COVID-19 out there. No one is unaffected and it’s unlikely that I have a completely original thought about the current “shelter in place” order that most of us find ourselves under. We’re healthy, we have a full pantry, and hopefully enough toilet paper to last until people realize we poop just as much as we did before. Whether mandated by the government, or just taking the advice of scientists, most of us find ourselves spending the vast majority – if not all – of our time at home with our kids. (If you don’t have kids, well, time to make one!) To adjust to sheltering in place, I’m drawing on our experience from the road – and some experiences from my childhood.
The truth is, we might have a psychological advantage over other parents when it comes to this quarantining thing. We’ve spent most of the past two summers road-tripping, in tight quarters with our kids. During the summer of 2018 we spent 60 days, 24/7, literally every single meal, bedtime and waking up, in the presence of our children. That’s 180 consecutive meals. As parents, we learned to temper our own reactions in frustrating situations. And our kids really learned how to get along.
The early days of social distancing. Rainbows, butterflies and nature hikes. Can it last?
Don’t get me wrong – it was often pretty brutal. Most of the trip was conducted under the very real threat that we would – indeed – turn the van around and go home – and put them in summer camps.
Welcome to Camp No-Goin-Anywhere
Therein-lies the difference between typical time off from school and the Quarantine of 2020. There are no camps for a quarantine (and if someone offers you a Quarantine Camp, take a pass).
Tablets! Puzzles! Board games! Uh oh. It looks like we’re running out of things to do.
I never went to any fun day-camps as a kid. Did they even exist? Maybe I missed it, but when I was a kid, there weren’t a hundred different camps at museums, colleges and athletic centers where kids could learn to sail, master an art, or hone their curve ball. The only “camps” were the kind you went away to for a week. Oh, sure, there was “Vacation Bible School” which I was traditionally sent to for one week. “VBS” was worse than actual school. My brother and sister are older than me, so I was just left at home with them, so maybe I was just unaware of “camp” options available to my parents.
The only thing resembling camp was the local Lord of the Flies reenactment at the Boys Club. And there was one summer when I was about eleven, after my siblings had gotten jobs or moved out, that my dad decided he didn’t want me staying home all day by myself. He happened to be the board of the local Boys Club. So he signed me up to get some good ol’ school-of-life street smarts while he and my step-mom worked.
Without ceremony, he dropped me at a big white building. The Boys Club was is in the next suburb over from where we lived, tucked in the shadow of the Santa Ana Freeway, with eight lanes of traffic humming by overhead – and I didn’t know a soul. But I knew enough to know that these were all the bad kids who couldn’t be left at home if their parents wanted the house to be there at the end of the summer. It was unsupervised chaos. There were a couple of video game machines (Asteroids, Galaga), but a couple of older kids had decided that they were the only ones that got to play all day. The gymnasium was a deafening battleground where games of football, basketball, whiffle ball, and dodgeball went on simultaneously in the same space. There were so many bloody noses there was a dark red trail leading to the restroom.
I don’t remember exactly how I explained the situation to my dad. I’m not one to complain, but he was perceptive enough that after two days he decided I could stay home after all. He gave me one task to accomplish: paint our backyard fence. I watched every episode of Twilight Zone that summer. I hung out with the neighborhood kids and failed miserably at the fence painting. A modern day Tom Sawyer, if you will.
But I digress. Now our kids are home for an open-ended period of time and there are no playdates. In the age of COVID-19, how do we keep our kids entertained? Actually, keeping them entertained would be easy: just hand them an iPad or an X Box. How do we keep them entertained without destroying their brains, and at the same time, figure out how to mix in some school work – all while Monica works from home?
This will be a big challenge. But I think we’re up for it. If I can offer any advice from our experience of total immersion with the kids it’s to learn to take a deep breath and dial your frustration down from 11 to 5. And then, stay on message. Everything you say must point back to the greater harmony of the family. And if harmony can’t be attained, there are going to be consequences. In our family, this means that the kids have learned what it takes to get along – and they get along great. They know that their transgressions come with negative consequences for them. And, we’ve learned to give them a longer leash – because that means less intervention from us. It’s not perfect. They mess up all the time. But it’s remarkably tolerable. Tolerable = success.
Our daughter is obsessed with slime. Finding slime in the house is my biggest pet peeve. So we made her a slime lab in the garage and ordered her a couple gallons of supplies. And we caved and finally let our son get Fortnite, which means – if I understand correctly – he’ll become addicted and never bother us again. In truth, we let him get it because he’s able to socialize with his friends on it. Remember when it was a big deal to get a phone in your bedroom? It’s like that.
My greatest urge is to lock them in their rooms so they’ll stop making messes. They literally pick things up and set them on a table and walk away – ALL DAY. Hundreds and hundreds of times a day they take an object from where it belongs, and set it where it doesn’t. It’s baffling and infuriating at the same time. This is why I meditate.
The “Thursday Central Writing Group” had to take the gathering to a park. Now, in an abundance of caution, that activity is on hiatus too. A while back my mother-in-law gave me this fancy journal that I’ve been afraid to use. I figured the apocalypse was a worthy excuse to scar its pristine pages. And I’ve taken up terrible art.
Before things totally shut down, I ordered one of those small above ground pools from WalMart. It was about $125, delivered. A friend had one that lasted him two summers. If this one lasts through one pandemic, it’ll be worth ten times the price. On one hand, I feel bad for the workers who have to fill an order for a cheap pool in the midst of all this. But on the other hand, I want to give people who need work, something to do. So I’m conflicted as to where I fall on this.
The best part of our little above ground pool is how visible it is from our neighbors upstairs windows.
For fresh air we can take bike rides and go to the park. Social distancing on the coast of Florida should be a breeze: We have miles of open sandy beaches to spread out. But some kids from Ohio had to go on the news and spoil it for everyone. Believe me, we’d be planted on a beach every single day – 100 feet from the nearest person – if it weren’t for the fact that tourists would flock here if our beaches were still open.
On the last day before the beaches shut down, we practiced safe distancing at a county beach where there’s always plenty of room – even on this busy day. And I busted out my new solar oven and made some sausages. (GoSun solar oven purchased at Truffula EcoBoutique – Jeff, the owner is our friend and petsitter.)
We just completed our first week of “home schooling.” Home schooling is really a misnomer, because I’m not really trying to teach my kids math. It’s “distance learning” and I have to give huge credit to the teachers and the school district for rolling out an online platform to connect with their lessons and each other in such short notice. For everyone who likes to slam public schools – tell me how you’d pivot eduction for millions of kids over a period of five days. It’s nothing short of amazing.
The principal’s morning announcements, daily tutoring, and even birthday parties are taking place virtually.
A friend let us take a paddle and a swim off their dock.
If you’re home and you’re bored – stir crazy or annoyed, think about how much worse it would be to be on a ventilator in a hospital with no visitors. Suddenly, this real-life Sartre play isn’t so bad. I hope everyone continues to stay well and follows the distancing requirements for their areas. The more we do, the sooner we don’t have to.
“Don’t make me turn this van around” is written by Jonathan Kile, and approved by Monica Kile. Jon’s 2014 thriller, The Grandfather Clock, is available free for Kindle on Amazon.com and other eReaders at Smashwords. Reach him at email@example.com. Monica is a leader of a local non-profit, marathoner, baker, tour guide, and prolific bath taker.