By Steve Hubrecht
The Columbia Valley Pioneer continues its look at how local families and individuals are coping with COVID-19. This instalment comes from the English Bourbeau clan in Invermere, with Amy giving the scoop on how to keep two preschool kids happy (and learning to bike!) while both spouses work full time, and why it’s okay to be a little stir crazy.
Amy English Bourbeau and Jean Bourbeau:
With so much of our time being spent within our own house and yard, we’ve been trying to do something out-of-the-norm every couple of days to ‘reset’ and keep things interesting. Just little easy things, but to a preschooler, they’re a big deal! Things such as cooking hot dogs over a campfire in the backyard for supper, having a glow stick bath in our dark bathroom, drawing a city on a flattened cardboard box to drive trucks on, or building a fort in the living room. I’ve also been making a conscious effort to lower my standards and expectations. I keep reminding myself that it doesn’t take a lot to make a little kid happy, and that’s the most important thing right now: that my kids feel safe and happy.
We are lucky to have a sizeable fenced-in yard with a sandbox and trampoline, so it makes getting outside very easy for us. We’ve started including the boys in some of the yard work and home improvements now that the weather is nice, too. They love to ‘help.’ They also just learned to ride bikes: Remi (almost 4 years old) learned to ride a pedal bike over these last couple of weeks, and Bosco (21 months) has just started on the stride bike. They love riding bikes on our quiet street or on our deck. But we also try to get out for a ‘hike’ (toddler version) or longer bike ride once every few days to change things up. Bosco’s favourite activity right now is throwing rocks into water so we’ve been to Toby Creek and down to the lake a few times too.
We ARE going stir-crazy. BUT things that help are staying active, getting plenty of fresh air and outside time, and connecting with friends virtually. I have a once-per-week standing date with a group of friends via FaceTime and it helps to have that to look forward to. And I can’t stress enough how lowering my standards has helped. It’s easy for us to be hard on ourselves about not getting much done or not feeling particularly productive, but letting some of that go right now is okay. Our mental wellness and family happiness needs to be put first.
We’re lucky that our kids are the ages they are right now. I can think of times when they were younger that this would have been much more difficult, so I feel for anybody whose kids are at those difficult-to-entertain ages. But it’s still busy, and hard to find a moment to yourself to straighten your thoughts, let alone accomplish something. We keep reminding ourselves that as long as the kids are happy, we’ve done our job. We’re trying to let other things go and lower our expectations. We’ve also been getting a lot of big emotions from Remi, but that is completely normal for a kid whose entire daily routine and all predictability has been thrown out the window. We have to remember that this is hard for them too and they might show it in peculiar ways.
Our oldest is about to turn four, so we aren’t doing much homeschooling. But he misses his preschool so we’ve been trying to keep elements of that in his day. We look at the calendar every morning and talk about the date and count the days until big events like Easter and his birthday. We also practice writing his name and sing some of the songs they sing at daycare. Remi sometimes does ‘virtual sharing time’ (show-and-tell) with family members across the country. We also often ask Remi if there is something he’d like to learn about, so we sometimes read books or look things up on the internet and learn about whatever topic he chooses. We’ve learned a lot about space and the planets. We also built a volcano over a few days: doing papier mache, painting it, and then actually making it erupt with baking soda and vinegar.
The biggest difference maker for us, though, has been to have a schedule posted. I originally made it for my boys, thinking they would be lost without routine. But actually the visual schedule helps us as parents the most! We can glance at the schedule and realize we can avoid some fighting or big emotions if we get them a snack, or the schedule will give us an idea for how to move on with the day when things are feeling like they’ve stalled (such as doing a craft, practicing letters or numbers, story time or getting outside).
My husband and I are both working from home right now, and it’s difficult, but we’re managing. We’ve split up the day and take shifts working and covering childcare because our kids are too young to not be fully ‘on duty’ with them. We get some work hours in before they get up in the morning and after they go to bed, and thank goodness for quiet time in the afternoon when at least one is napping. It’s definitely a lot of work covering full-time mom, full-time work, and also covering all the other tasks that have gotten more time-consuming and complicated due to the current situation, such as grocery shopping and cleaning. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to also add homeschooling on top of this for families with school-aged kids. As a school district employee I can only say that if families are having difficulty keeping up with all the demands life has placed on them right now, PLEASE contact your child’s teacher and/or school principal to discuss your concerns. The most important thing is that your child feels safe and loved, so keep things fun and if you need help, ask for it.
But to be honest, despite everything, my husband and I sat down the other night and he said “you know, its been fun spending so much time with the boys!” They are typically in full-time daycare/preschool five days per week, so to have this time with them is pretty great. They are also spending more time together than usual, and learning to play together. And our youngest – Bosco – is in a developmental stage right now that is amazing to witness. He’s learning new words and new ways of stringing them together every day, so it’s great to get to be around for that.
Photo by Kelsey Verboom