How are you doing, six feet from everyone other than the people that you live with?
For many reasons, I am so thankful that my kids are young right now. They aren’t in school yet, so we aren’t faced with fighting over homeschooling projects daily. They love their friends, but they are still young enough that nothing is exciting as mom being home all! the! time! And most importantly, they are too young to really grasp the unprecedented time we are living right now. We’ve explained the distance we are keeping, the park closures, the lack of playdates, the live streaming of church from home, the many changes to daily life, as simply as possible. Lots of people are sick, so we are all trying to keep our germs to ourselves. And they accept that, without question. Because again – mom is home more, so everything is awesome. But for me, it is much harder. I can freely admit that our busy social schedule of playdates and outings is as much for me as them, and I miss my mom posse, miss the daily support of our community. My extroverted self is so ready to be back with people and it has been a whopping 10 days of “social distancing.” I realize how insanely lucky I am that the state of the world now affects me far less than many others. I was already home with little kids a lot of the time. While I am now lecturing remotely online instead of teaching in person at a local university, a lot of the work is flexible. And we have a yard and basement keeping us from going totally stir crazy inside. (Oh ye longtime readers- please imagine us in our old apartment unable to get out much. IT WOULD BE SO BAD.) The break that comes from time with my friends while my kids play with theirs is so vital to my happiness and sanity as a mostly stay at home mom. On a harder note, there is a lot to be fearful about in the world. I read reports of Italy and other countries weeks ahead of us and feel real fear about the suffering coming our way. And if that suffering doesn’t come on the scale we are bracing for, then the real suffering of lost work, plunging markets, and disrupted lives is enough to be devastating on its own. That stress is the companion of everyone right now.
But it is also a stress that has no place in my children’s day. It would be different with older kids, but I am constantly aware that they are soaking in all around them and lately – that’s pretty much me. My moods, my anxieties, my fears. My almost 2 and almost 4 year olds don’t have the emotional processing skills to handle a unprecedented global pandemic. We don’t have to hide the truth from our children, but all the adult stress that comes with it? They can’t process that, and they shouldn’t have to. So instead, I have been focusing on having good, but normal, days. We don’t have a colorful schedule, we don’t have special themes or activities, we aren’t doing anything exceptional. But we are leaning in to simple days of closeness as we put distance all around us. On our first day of distancing, we headed out to see if Rawlings Park was empty. It’s one of my favorite spots, lined with Japanese magnolias, and always fairly empty, even under normal circumstances. It was empty and I let the kids run wild in the trees and drained fountains. A morning of so much beauty in the midst of so much uncertainty. But moreover, a really normal morning in a world that feels very abnormal.This is not one of those blogs where you can download a list of 60 ways to use empty toilet paper roles for STEM related toddler activities. Sorry. But, here is a fast list of things that have and have not been filling our days.
Things we have not being doing:
Crafts/Educational games: We have done crafts twice in the past 10 days, and both times I have lost my calm and patience. Craft chaos drives me insane like little else and we just can’t handle much crafting beyond simple watercolors. As for educational games… nope. We read a lot of books and one time I dumped a bunch of scrabble tiles in a cookie sheet and wrote names of family members on a piece of paper for Henry to find and match. But that’s it. I find that most of the learning games involve a lot of prep and are discarded in about 5 minutes, which is simply not worth it for me. Admittedly- I am not trying to teach anything, given the age of my kids. But if the thought of having to build an elaborate structure out of colored poms and painters tape each evening is stressing you out- then this is me giving you permission to not do it.
Additional screen time: Ok- hear me out. This is not at all a judgement of the ample screen time that I know is a lifeline to many right now. If I had to be working a full time job with kids out of school, if my kids didn’t still nap for 2-3 hours every afternoon, or if we hadn’t moved to a place with a yard and basement — we would definitely be turning to the TV more than we are now. But for the moment, I am trying to stick to our general screen time limits because it is what helps our family work best, and we need to be at our best right now. TV does happen a couple times a week, but those times follow a couple key principles. It is a decision I make, not a result of whining for it. It also corresponds to something that needs doing, usually the kids cleaning up all their toys. To give myself the same sort of mental break that TV offers parents, we have been turning to a lot of audiobooks and free play. Plus, with more and more schools announcing closures for the rest of the semester… August is a long way off for unbridled screen time.
Staying inside: We have been staying far from other people, but definitely not been staying inside. We try for an outdoor playtime or adventure before lunch and another after naps, sometimes as simple as a walk up and down our street or playing in the backyard. Henry has tied a rope to a train pull toy and insists on waking it up and down our street daily, as his “dog” needs a walk.
Things we have been doing:
Hitting any and all lesser-known nature spots… and I use the term nature broadly. Any scrap of nature will do, and my kids don’t care if there are roads and houses just through the trees. We have been heading out, feeding ducks, getting as muddy as possible, and then coming home exhausted and content. (If you want a 4 year old to get REALLY EXCITED, I highly recommend you give them a Tupperware container and a patch of dirt and tell them to fill it with worms. )
Scavenger hunts. Don’t get any grand ideas. Little kids like repetition and they have low standards. I bring some toys outside, hide them quickly (mostly in plain sight, but I put some up high enough that Henry has to climb and use sticks to whack them out of trees), and then repeat it again 10 minutes later. They think it is awesome.
Morning walks by myself: This is the saving grace in my days. It is tempting to sleep in since we have nowhere to be, but I know better. Every morning I love my 30-40 minutes of walking around neighborhood alone while I listen to podcasts. It gives me the patience to spend the rest of the day distanced from adult community and (sometimes claustrophobically close) with my children.
FaceTime: A notable exception to screen limits. My kids love reading books with their cousins, seeing new baby cousins in other countries, and doing farm chores or chatting with grandparents. They love periodically seeing their friends and I love seeing the other adults in my parenting posse.
Laundry: Is anyone else feeling on top of laundry for the first time ever? Due to all the mud tromping mentioned above, we have made more messy laundry since social distancing than ever before. But yet, no one is running out of clothes.
Audiobooks: Henry loves audiobooks and podcasts. We started listening to this a lot about a year ago. I think it was a good “starter” audiobook, as he already knows many of the stories and can duck in and out as he wants. We have been exploring the free kids audiobooks here, and have found some that we love. If you are starting your young kids on audiobooks, try this one over snack time. It’s short and simple, but my kids love it.
Popsicle baths: It’s exactly what it sounds like. I gave my kids popsicles in the bath and they couldn’t even contain their excitement.
Taking off all the couch cushions: I really don’t love my couch cushions getting played with. But I do really love how long and independently my kids play when they get to turn them into play materials. So I have been ignoring it, pouring another cup of coffee, and reading a book at the table.
Taking it slow: I hate how often I rush my children. We all do it. Toddlers and pre-schoolers can just be so infuriatingly slow and you find yourself telling them to hurry up a hundred times a day. I’m trying to squash that for the moment, to let us slow down and avoid the silly stress of rushing.
How have you been filling your days?