Reflections on six weeks of family quarantine

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I was thinking of doing another “Five Things Right Now” post, but then I realized that I’m not sure there’s enough variety in my life right now for me to think of five unique things. I could try to summarize what a profoundly weird six weeks this has been, but that would be true for pretty much everyone in the world and nothing I could say would be remarkable or interesting. Instead, how about just some lists of highs and lows for me in particular.

The good stuff:

  • Eliminating the morning scramble to get three kids up and fed and dressed and out the door in time for two different drop offs. Since we have nowhere to go besides the grocery store and the kids haven’t left the neighborhood in six weeks I don’t think we’ve dealt with that once. It’s amazing how much time we usually spend in a hurry, and I love being rid of it.
  • Lots more freedom to choose how the kids spend time and how we spend it with them. There’s a caveat here because I’m still working full-time from home and now Kristin is teaching again, so Monday through Friday I don’t actually have tremendous flexibility to spend time however I choose. But we do have the freedom to think about how we want the kids to spend their time in a way that we never experienced when they were spending eight hours each day at school. We’ve always felt like the rush to pick kids up, feed them a snack, get Jonah to karate, do homework, dinner, and bed left us no time at all to make truly conscious choices, so this has been illuminating.
  • Their ability to find things to do and play happily with one another has been incredible. I set up their task chart five weeks ago and we’ve more or less stuck to using it (more on that in a bit) but the better part of most days is spent doing whatever they like and they rarely earn screen time (they all have to complete their tasks to be able to watch anything), and I’m not sure I’ve heard the words “I’m bored” even once. It’s somewhat astonishing to me. They always seem able to find something fun to do, and they enjoy each other’s company. Case in point: it’s currently 10:20 p.m. and Jonah and Vivi are playing music loudly in Jonah’s room, jumping on beds, and basically having a sleepover (while Jude snoozes on the couch out here because eventually I felt the need to rescue him – he’s not a night owl).
  • This is some version of the homestead-life sampler I’ve always dreamed of. I learned to bake bread, I made a batch of jelly (thanks to a friend dropping off literally everything I needed, but still), and I get to see what homeschooling/unschooling looks like in real life instead of just reading about it. I’ve actually been baking like crazy – the volume of carbs we’re consuming is somewhat decadent. The kids and I started plant seeds in egg cartons a few weeks ago and they’re doing beautifully, and I’m looking forward to a time when it’s safe to go buy plants and get out into the garden.
  • Related to homeschooling/unschooling – the things the kids are learning and doing has been really fun to witness. Before this all started, Jude barely knew any of his letters at all. We started a letter a day with the twins early on in this quarantine and now he has nearly all of them down, and he’s proud of his knowledge (though not as proud as he is of having taught himself to snap his fingers). Today Vivi took a virtual guitar class and I taught her how to sew. Jonah has read roughly ten Magic Treehouse books on his own, sometimes starting and finishing one in a single day (and often staying up late to read in bed with a headlamp), and spends a lot of time building LEGO and Snap Circuit contraptions. All three kids learned how to play chess and are pretty passionate about it. It’s all making me wonder how much kids miss when they spend so many hours at school.

The hard stuff:

  • I wish I’d started the kids on structured chores a lot sooner. I’ve read so many things about how the key is to allow kids to help when they’re really too young to be much use (and might make a task take much longer) because that’s when you’re able to harness their desire to contribute and belong. We waited too long with Jonah. The twins (age five) are pretty eager to help out now that we have the chore chart. In the morning Jude dutifully gets dressed and makes his own bed and sometimes sneaks into our room to make our bed and pick up any dirty clothes left on the floor and put them in the hamper (do as we say, not as we do). He loves to proudly “surprise” us with our clean room, and insists on pouring his own cereal and milk. Vivi whips through every item on her own task chart and then asks for extra chores to earn money. Jonah, on the other hand, doesn’t care very much about moving the magnetic discs and has reached a point where he doesn’t really expect or need screen time so it’s not a great enough reward. I think that the age of having those contributions be intrinsically rewarding may have passed, and I’m not sure what to do about it.
  • Getting Jonah to do school work is a painful slog most days. He’s pretty amenable to math workbooks and has no problem getting 30 minutes of silent reading done, but if we ask him to write four sentences we have to nag him for five or six hours and endure grumbling and stomping and yelling throughout. I’m really torn at this point, because there’s a part of me that thinks, “He’s a smart kid, he won’t be behind in the fall, the fight might do more harm than good – just let him unschool for now and he’ll learn in his own way.” At the same time, I worry that if he doesn’t develop a work ethic now (see above for the way we fouled up chores) and learn that life is full of responsibilities that may or may not appeal to you, he’s going to be an even more insufferable teen and potentially sabotage his future. Some days the battle absolutely wears me down. The other day I actually said the words, “Do I need to tell Miss. Lee that you should repeat the first grade because you aren’t doing any work?” So that’s how home school is going. So much for my Instagram visions of beautiful children in boutique-quality prairie clothes calmly studying in a clutter-free room full of farmhouse furniture, old chalkboards, and antique posters on wildflower identification.
  • I’m someone who pushes through challenging times or feeling blah about work by having concrete things to look forward to. I love having trips on the calendar, even small ones, tiny vacations from the day-to-day. But naturally this pandemic is wiping out every plan anyone might have had day-by-day or sometimes in one giant sweep of the hand. We had tickets to a show on May 2nd that we were all excited about, we had plans to go to Chicago in June to see a Frida Kahlo exhibit and to take the kids to the LEGO convention, we had a camping trip planned in Ludington that I worked hard to book six months in advance when reservations opened, and this was going to be the summer that we took a “big” family trip; something bigger than our usual road trip up north. We were headed to family camp in Vermont with my sister and her family and my parents, and we were SO looking forward to it. This week we got the email that the camp has decided to cancel their whole season, and I nearly cried. To have something wiped off the calendar for AUGUST sucks a lot of the hope right out of me. I need something concrete to look forward to, and I’m just not sure what that is now.

What’s on your list? I’m curious to know what’s been noteworthy for you.

 

 

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