Parenting during coronavirus and school closures- week two recap

Our family has officially survived the first two weeks of school closures and eleven days of shelter in place.  As I said last week in my blog(https://theordinarymom.com/pb14), we didn’t know a week ago what the next week would bring and it was true again this last week.  I know it will be true for next week too. In the last week, Coronvirus has spread like wildfire across the U.S, NYC became the new epicenter, people are dying at alarming rates, hospitals do not have enough staff or equipment for the influx of patients and 23 states and many cities in other states currently have Shelter in Place orders. 

How we all handle this is a defining moment in history and one that we will never forget.  And our kids will never forget it either. We will now talk about life before and after coronavirus, just like we do about 9/11. 

My wife, Lori, does work around trauma-informed practices so she looks at things through the lens of how not only how people are impacted by trauma but also how you can work on resilience for improving life after trauma. One of the most foundational tenets of a trauma-informed approach is the importance of creating physical and emotional safety. You can learn more about trauma resilience at https://originstraining.org/. Lori is very thoughtful about using that lens for the rest of her life too. She helps me think through how living through this time will affect all of us, including our kids.

Using that lens, remember that our kids will look back and have memories of this time and, depending on their age, many of their memories will be how their parents were affected or how their parents handled this stressful time.  Did a parent (or both) lose a job? Were their parents stressed out the whole time? Were their parents constantly checking the news and then sharing bad news with the kids? Did their parents try to make home a safe place?  Did their parents take time to see how they were feeling? Did their parents make an effort to have special time with them that they don’t normally get?

They will also remember it from their own perspective:  Were they scared or anxious? Did someone they know die from it and were we able to properly mourn them?  Were they burdened with too much school work as parents and schools tried to replicate “normalcy”? Did they have time to just be kids?  Did they feel they had the permission and space to process everything?

Our family hasn’t been personally affected yet– no job losses, sickness or deaths.  These things certainly may happen but, as I’m writing this, coronavirus has not entered the little bubble of our world other than the disruption of our lives.  We have been lucky so far but we are still at the beginning of this and I don’t have a crystal ball to predict the future. I am heartbroken for those who have been affected through job loss, sickness and death.  I will be forever grateful not only to those healthcare professionals on the front lines and the teachers we all so much miss and appreciate right now but also those who kept the world moving when the rest of us were asked to stop–the grocery store employees, the restaurant workers doing take out, the sanitation workers, the delivery folks, the postal workers and all the other people who are still going to work every day so the rest of us can stay at home and keep our distance.   THANK YOU!

Many of us feel we don’t have control over much right now but what we do have control over is how our families are handling these crazy times and what we are modeling to our children.  Looking back the first week of having our kids home was harder for us because it was all new and unexpected, we all were trying to adjust to 5 of us being at home 24/7 and we parents were extremely stressed trying to work from home like everything was normal while wondering what to do with 3 kids who are usually gone during the day at school (again, thank you teachers and we’ll never take you for granted again!).   

As I blogged about over the last two weeks, we created a schedule and expected the kids to follow it so we could do our jobs from home.  We learned the ages and personalities of our kids made following the schedule different for each. Our 8-year- old needed more attention than our 10-year-old or our 13-year-old but we also learned that we shouldn’t neglect the older two as they needed to feel connected to us and feel like they are also each an important part of the family.  

The second week was a little easier at our house.  I think in part because we parents both made a conscious effort to try to be calmer and more present (both physically and mentally).   I realized I had said in prior blogs that we are homeschooling but I think it’s more accurate to say that we are not homeschooling at all but more focused on providing a safe, healthy environment with some structure so it’s not 24/7 technology.  We are not taking on the roles of the teachers– we couldn’t possibly replicate what teachers do. We just wanted to create some structure for both our kids sake and ours without trying to replicate school. We both agree that our kids will be fine during this and it’s ok if they miss some academics but what won’t be ok is if they are paralyzed with fear, anxiety or uncertainty.  We decided we will call this time a success if we provided our kids with a safe and loving household with access to some (but not forced fed) educational opportunities, exercise, creative outlets, family time, time to chill and time to read.  

We both still had busy work weeks last week but made the conscious decision to take breaks throughout our days to do something with each kid.  Our household stress seemed to come down a bit as everyone eased into the school closures and Shelter in Place. 

Here is how I adjusted my work schedule to make time for each kid:

  • I checked in more with our 8-year-old, Ellie, and would take breaks to play a board game (Clue, Connect Four or Labyrinth) or I’d bring her along when I took the dog for one of the many walks around the neighborhood.  We watched some Garfield and read a lot of Dog Man books together. Her reading has come a long way in the last couple of months and instead of me always reading to her, she was often reading to me, which is huge since she is dyslexic.  
  • I carved out little 15 minute breaks with my 10-year-old, Lucy, to play Chess (she always beats me– except that one time 2 years ago that I’ll never forget), Scrabble (we’re about even on this one) or when I bike around the neighborhood as she scooters next to me (because I’m too slow a biker for her to ride her bike with me).   We got to talk more than usual and here are 3 things that I learned from her this week 1. She misses her teacher (the amazing Mrs. Neal) and about 5 friends from school but most everyone else in 4th grade is annoying (especially the boys because they all think they are so great)  2. The things she likes better at home than school are that she gets to wake up whenever she wants and she can have a snack whenever she is hungry and 3.  She likes weekends because she can have more screen time and her parents are not as busy.  
  • Our 13-year-old, Jackson, was still pretty self-sufficient but I made more time to just check in with him during the day or watch a show sometimes in the evening with him.  He looked really tall to me last week and when we stood back to back, he was officially taller than me. Wow. It was a momentous week. 

One thing that was tough this week is that our 8-year-old, Ellie, was on spring break (which is almost meaningless at this point) and our other two weren’t.  She had her usual two days of video tutoring, her school wanted to do a Zoom call and she still had a schedule to follow so that we could work. After she broke down when she realized she was still having tutoring during her spring break, we realized we needed to ease up on her schedule a bit last week.  We allowed her a little more screen time, told her teacher that she would not be joining the class call and canceled one of her video tutoring sessions.  

We also heard that Ellie was going to have to start virtual school next week.  Her brother and sister are in public school and they are completely off for another 2 weeks but her private school is chomping at the bit to get the kids back to a “normal” school schedule, which I get since folks there pay tuition.  We adore her small, progressive school and choose to send her there because it’s a great environment for her to learn. We understand that everyone is trying to figure out how to navigate how to figure this out and there is no manual or precedent on this. The school will be 3 hours of synchronous instruction every morning and then 2 hours of independent work in the afternoons. We let them know that our family isn’t able to handle that much instruction time for our 8-year-old right now. Luckily, the teachers and administration there are great and are working with us to figure out a schedule that will work for our family without making Ellie fall behind.  

With so much bad news and uncertainty in the past week, here is my list of things that I discovered and/or appreciated in the past week:

  • I love having lunch and dinner with my family every day (breakfast is a rolling schedule as folks are waking up at different times).
  • I love that our kids are sleeping in.  And since they don’t need to be up early, I’m getting more sleep too…so please don’t call or text me early in the mornings.
  • I am having fun spending more quality time with my kids doing things like playing board games, taking walks, reading and watching shows (Garfield, anyone?).  
  • I’m grateful to my spouse that we are splitting the household and childcare responsibilities during this and I think we are both doing our best to be as calm as we can be to make this not so scary for the kids.  
  • Our dog is in heaven having us home all of the time and getting tons of walks.
  • One of my favorite things about the week was when the girls did a fashion show from my closet and they asked that I post it for “the internet” to vote.  I put their dress-up pictures on Facebook and we had so much fun reading all the responses. Not sure what the actual count was but I called it a tie.
  • I love that my mother-in-law and our son are each watching the same movie each week and then Facetiming to discuss it (what a smart way to connect with a teenager!)
  • Our babysitter of 3 years is home from college (as most college students are) and came to visit with the girls by standing on our driveway while the girls stayed in the garage.  They brought down all of the art/creative things they had done since they have been out of school and she was so patient as she let them explain them all to her. 
  • The kids wanted a “lazy day” last Sunday but we said that we had planned on a family garage cleaning.  They spent time on Saturday evening cleaning the garage (and did a great job) and told us to watch a show together.  We watched an episode of Orange Is the New Black in peace as they were busy cleaning (that’s never happened before). They got to have a lazy day the next day and we were able to finish the garage cleaning in no time.  
  • A friend from work, Carolyn, is an ex-math/science teacher and she offered free tutoring for my kids.  She assigned math games for Ellie to do last week (which she had fun doing) and we had a video call with her to see if Ellie had any questions and to show off each other’s dogs (ours is Oliver and hers is Stella).  It was so thoughtful and just the support we needed. 
  • We decided the dog park was ok if we kept our distance from other humans so I was able to go a few times this week and get caught up with my dog park friends from 6 feet away.  It was a lifeline.  
  • We ordered a 2nd mini trampoline for the house and now the kids can have trampoline jump-offs.  
  • I realized about 5pm on Wednesday that I hadn’t brushed my teeth yet.  I haven’t done that in years.
  • One funny work thing is that one of my customers is really young and has a pretty big job.  We had a Zoom call with a bunch of folks and he showed up in an old t-shirt that showed his tattoos and he had his baseball hat on backward. It confirmed that, yep, he’s a millennial.   It also confirmed that you should take the extra minute or two to put on at least a decent top, take off your baseball cap and brush your hair when having a work Zoom call.   

I hope that you all are surviving the school closures, social distancing, have not been personally affected by coronavirus (and if you have I am so sorry!) and that you take the time to put your oxygen mask on first, lower your expectations about what we need to get done during this time and know that the kids will be alright.  They won’t remember what they learned during this time but they will remember if their parents were stressed out, always checking the news or if they were calm, engaged and felt like their house was a safe space. Let’s all make our houses a calm and safe space for our kids. We owe them that.

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