These are strange times my friends, and we are all feeling the stress of our worlds being completely flipped upside down. Humans are not meant to be isolated and by nature we revolt against what we need to survive. We need space and air and love and socialization. But this isn’t a blog for debate about what is currently our reality. This is about how our large family of 8 is coping with our isolation. I wanted to bring to light some days of laughter, fun and frustrations to let you know that we are not so different than you. Everyone is trying to find the light in this dark time.
Welcome to our home and our new normal. What does your family do to try and get through this difficult time?
Communicating with others
There are all these amazing apps now that assist with communicating online. I’ve used Skype and Zoom for years to meet people across the world for business purposes. Now my kids are using these for talking to their teachers and their friends. Cole even has Messenger Kids on my phone now to chat safely with his classmates. We are having social distancing get-togethers with the neighbours as we walk the dog and or share a drink. The kids feel it more than we do. They are social creatures by nature and want to always be playing with someone. Thankfully the kids have each other (which can also result in the most ridiculous fights). But on the best of days they ban together and find ways to reach out to the community.
One such event was standing outside and waving at all the cars that go by on our street. Their aim was to get honks and they did a pretty good job. Hopefully many of those drivers went by with smiles on their faces. The neighbour texted me later asking what all the honking was about. They had a blast. Then they thought it would be fun to pretend they spoke a different language as people walked by with their dogs. They really were speaking pig-Latin to people, but it was pretty hilarious to see their responses.
Arts and Crafts
It really doesn’t matter what kind of creative activities the kids get up to. It could simply be a colouring book and some markers. But no matter what the art fun, just try and help them carve out time for the right hemisphere of their brain to be triggered. Here are some of the artistic outlets our kids discovered.
Chalk - On one of the beautiful days we had 13 degrees outside, Cole and Madelyn got out the chalk and spent hours drawing a glitzy caterpillar on the sidewalk all the way to the corner. It went past two more houses as it twisted further. They were determined. And I watched people walk by, walking around the caterpillar and taking a moment to slow down and appreciate the hard work the kids put into it. They smiled and as I glanced from the front window, I began to understand how easy it was to silently communicate innocence and sweetness. Even when the kids were done and in the house, people walked around the caterpillar and smiled. Some stopped to admire. It was a beautiful rendition they shared with the neighbourhood. Eventually it rained, but that just gives them opportunity to go back out again and create a new masterpiece.
Art Hub for Kids – This is a website that my kids have enjoyed for years. It is absolute genius. This Dad and sometimes his kid, will do step-by-step instructions for drawing simple, and fun pictures for the kids to follow along. We bought the kids all sketchbooks so they can get their art on while they were at home. We all know that kids benefit from fostering their creativity through art forms.
Play with a Box – Remember when you spent hundreds of dollars on your Toddlers for Christmas? They opened up that amazing play kitchen and then spent hours inside the box it came in. Well not much has changed since then. Give them a box and they come up with the best ideas that occupy them for hours. They even sometimes include the dog. They sometimes even go so far as to make an iron man suit. The creative juices were flowing and there was no stopping them.
Diamond dotz – The kids have sat for hours sticking these hundreds of dots onto a picture to make it sparkle. I don’t find it that entertaining, but they sure do. They will sit at the table for hours and work away at them. We just go online and order a bunch at a time from Amazon. Definitely worth the money for the quiet that ensues.
Homework for the Masses
While many of us anticipated school being out for the remainder of the year way back in March, some were hanging to a thread that it wouldn’t be true. It took a couple weeks to really get a handle of the home-schooling aspect and sharing technology to access their weekly calendars and do their daily work.
Getting 6 kids settled into their homework… not the highlight of my week.
Many of the teachers did a fantastic job with the online aspect, but just figuring out things like Google Docs for us to understand was a project. Sometimes you can put your work right into the document, sometimes you can’t. You better be computer savvy and hope your kids are too. Never mind having to actually go through the lessons with them and answer questions. Most of us aren’t qualified teachers and haven’t done grade 6 math in a long time. But Will and I managed to dig deep most days and figure it all out for them. It wasn’t without many battles. Finding balance between doing school work with the kids and working from home.. argh…
Working from Home
Many of us have the opportunity to work from home during this economy shutdown. While most think that is fortunate, it isn’t an easy solution. I now have 4-6 kids here at any given week and trying to focus on work is a bit of a joke some days. Granted I can still keep an income coming in, while others are struggling, trying to do that while raising kids full time… well, it presents its own set of problems. It eats up my entire morning.
I’m being pulled in 6 directions constantly.
“Mom, does this sound right?”
“Mom, I don’t understand this!”
“Cole, get off that game and do your homework!”
“Mom, I don’t want to read that! It’s stupid.”
My honest thoughts? I think we should get paid a teacher’s salary for at least half a day. This one-time payout of $200 a kid to have them home for four months is a joke. I have to limit the hours I can work by half now that I’m home with the kids. Never mind that the rest of the day I struggle to focus because that’s when the kids are playing and being loud and disruptive. I don’t want them to have to be quiet all day. They are kids and should have fun and be active. But it isn’t conducive to a smooth work environment for me. I don’t have a space in my house anymore because I have an office elsewhere.
I’ll be honest (because I always am)… This is more of a challenge than I ever thought it would be. I am positive I am in the same storm as others. It’s ok to acknowledge we aren’t superheroes in the midst of all this craziness. When my kids were younger they were so much easier to sit down and teach, but now… with ages 8-12, it certainly is a challenge to rope them all in and get them focussed at the same time so you aren’t literally doing homework all day long. My oldest is pretty self-sufficient, but the other three is like pulling teeth some days. I know they are good kids at school, but it’s not a new concept that kids think they can act out more with their parents. It’s especially difficult in our home of very limited technology. While the kids have ancient tablets from years ago, they are allowed on them very little. They don’t get a lot of tv time, and they don’t play video games. We have a Wii system from 10 years ago that I will allow them to rent games from the library once in a while, but in truth I just always wanted to raise my kids against the grain of society today. I believe in fostering their brains and creative thinking through kinesthetic play and being in nature. Our home has almost every board game and card game imaginable. We eat dinner at the table together and talk about our day. This is not a judgement of anyone and how they choose to raise their kids. This is just my home. You might have only two kids, while I have 4-6 every other week. The boat might look different, but our storm can be very much the same.
Structure & Routine
While the schools are literally set up for bells to go off at certain intervals of the day, we at home are not equipped for that. The kids lose all concepts of time at home. Heck, half the time I don’t even know what day it is. Finding a new routine can take some trial and error, but it’s important for everyone to survive this mentally. After a few weeks of holidays unofficially, I began to see behaviours erupting, fighting, talking back, and nobody wanted to even get out of their pajamas. One night Will and I had a talk in bed about how things had to get back to normal – a new normal. We began to implement an old system I used years ago when I was on my own with the kids. We call it the ‘Ball system”. We use coloured balls to signify certain accomplishments or behaviours and I put them in a container marked with each of their names. This gets transformed into money at the end of the week. The kicker is that they could also end up owing me money. The day we started doing this with the kids, we saw an instant change in them. They loved having something to work for. They began getting up and showering, getting dressed and even starting their homework without me. They stopped fighting and starting listening to me again. They began helping more with the dog and went back to menu creating of their choice where they cook one night a week. We were almost shocked at the difference in our children – especially Emily, who was really pushing back against us. What I learned from this was how important routine and also consequences and rewards are for kids when their world is tipped upside down. They were stressed out with having no sense to their day. We gave them incentive to create a new routine that helped them feel safe and secure in their daily structure. And if it cost me $10 every week it was well worth it. Success is found in problem solving with a cup of creativity and a heap of patience.
The Positive Outlook on a Negative Tailspin
Social Media has been overtaken by COVID-19 updates and while I enjoy a good debate once in a while, I have been attempting to pack my facebook wall and Instagram accounts with funny anecdotes, videos with the kids, new homemade recipes, and anything NON-Coronavirus related. And I’m spending a great deal of time posting but not scrolling. Because I have my own beliefs and concerns and most of them have nothing to do with this virus.
I want to keep my kids as sheltered from this panic-induced society as much as possible.
What I am doing right now is giving myself an outlet to reconnect with many acquaintances and friends that value the fun, silly, and light version of our current situation. Like last week, I taped Emily telling a riddle and posted it for everyone to guess. We did a fun musical video with rubber gloves and dancing. We allowed the kids every opportunity to go outside the box and create their own fun, and then we posted it. One day Madelyn was getting into my makeup and wanted to practice on her siblings. They were not as excited about it, so Will volunteered.
We have found joy in the moments of laughter, sometimes to the point of tears and sore bellies. We have stayed up later, curled into bed with our girls and giggling about boys, life, and knowing that anything goes in our safe space. The conversations are insightful and full of love. We are now spending two weeks a month with my step-children, which has not only allowed my relationship with them to grow, but for us to feel like a whole family. On National Siblings Day, Lilly posted a picture with her sister and her new siblings. Ella braided my hair one day, and then we spent the afternoon chatting with one another in her room, which somehow led to us all watching YouTube videos of the 1996 Summer Olympics with Donovan Bailey. You never know where the day will take you now. There is peace in that, if you allow it.
Moments… they are everything. Stay in the moments, and let them wash over you, as the joy they bring changes your emotional state. There will be frustrations and fear of how the world is shifting around us, but this is the time when we can stay within our walls and truly appreciate and be grateful for the time with our kids, the time to slow down, and the time to get back to roots. Don’t be afraid of the things we cannot control. Don’t panic about the change that has been forced on our lives. Just embrace all the new and fantastical opportunities to stop chasing your tail in a 9-5 work world, and sit in the sun and listen to the laughter of your kids as they chase the dog around the yard. Or whatever your joy is in the reality that is your life. This is how we will all survive this next year with our mental health intact, but also come out of this with bigger hearts and maybe even a greater appreciation for the simple things in life.