Alone together during COVID-19

How local families are coping during COVID-19

By Steve Hubretch

With the Columbia Valley (and the rest of the province) well into COVID-19 quarantine, self-isolation and social distancing, the Pioneer checked in with several local families with kids to see how they are keeping busy and whether or not they’ve started to go stir-crazy. The overall results? For the moment, people seem to be enjoying some unexpected family time.

Their responses have been gently edited.

What are you doing to keep yourself and your kids busy?

Steph and Aaron Van de Kemp:

This experience has forced me to reconsider the notion that kids need to be kept busy at all times, and that it’s my job to entertain them. That’s why we had three kids, so they can entertain each other, right?! We do need some structure to our days but there is a lot more free play happening. I try to do at least one indoor activity with them each day, like painting or making puzzles. We go for walks. They jump on the trampoline. They play imagination. We read books. At the start of this week, we put a bunch of movie titles into a mason jar so they get to take turns picking one out of the jar and we watch it in the afternoon, usually before dinnertime when everyone is tired and grumpy!

Duncan and Tara Whittick:

To start, we set up a daily plan for our family that we could keep up indefinitely in order to create some structure which can be a great help for both kids and adults. Within this we provided time for family time, independent time, and outdoor time, which is obviously so important right now for mental and physical health. We included things that everybody could look forward to, and created some daily choices within this so that everybody felt empowered to help shape each of our days. For example, each day we have set aside time for an outdoor adventure, a family game and a family movie. We have a rotation for who selects what we’re doing that day (including the kids!) and we rotate this list daily. And to make it easy on all of us, we brainstormed a list of ideas to pick from for outdoor adventures (see page 8) which continues to evolve as new activities become available with the changing of the seasons (ie. biking) and other ones are no longer available due to changing regulations/closures (ie. national parks, fields).

Penny Powers and Max Fanderl:

After such a crazy winter season for us, with hockey and being on the road, being busy with work, and the kids busy with school work and activities, we are finding that some downtime has been really nice. Every day is not a ‘rat race’ with a non-stop pace (which we were so accustomed to!) Those ‘projects’ which are always put on the back burner are finally getting done. Katia has taken it upon herself to paint her bedroom, and the kids have actually enjoyed purging unnecessary items which have just been collecting dust for ages! I have offered to help seniors or anyone who might need help with shopping.

Gerry Taft and Nozomi Ishii:

It helps that the weather is getting nicer, so short walks or playing in the front yard are good daily activities. Kelvin is moving up from a run bike to a peddle bike, so practising this in the driveway or on a pathway can keep him pretty busy. Small rewards, and some new toys or games help a lot. Black Star Studios, Main Street Fun and Games and other local businesses have been awesome with delivery options, or no-contact pick up. We aren’t quarantined so for trips for essentials, like groceries, it’s good to get everybody out of the house, even if only one parent actually does the shopping and the rest of the family hangs out in the car (or red truck in our case).

Gerri Brightwell and Michael den Otter:

We picked up two new board games from Main Street Fun and Games and are getting back into our game stash. We have a puzzle on the kitchen table constantly. I think we are on puzzle number four. We’re doing outdoor outings and exercise every day. We’re also baking and cooking some special meals and treats together. Crafts are fun; we have tried some painting and knitting so far. The kids got an Xbox live account so that they can play games like Minecraft online with friends. We figured out how to play Magic the Gathering between friends with FaceTime and have been hosting online meet-ups with grandparents and aunties/uncles/cousins.

How are you getting the kids outside, with all the ski resorts, hot springs, and playgrounds closed?

Gerri Brightwell and Michael den Otter:

We go for walks, hikes or bike rides every day. Even if they don’t feel like it, we find everybody is happy once we are out and about. We set a mission for each outing, even if its something simple (ie. seeing if the lake ice has melted or finding a geocache). We have a basketball net, trampoline and hockey net for yard play. Maya’s friend Jackpine has been sending us soccer ball challenges too.

Steph and Aaron Van de Kemp:

I did panic a bit when Panorama closed, followed by the skate park and playgrounds! There goes my entire game plan! We mostly meander these days, going on walks with no destination or timeframe and wandering aimlessly. It feels a bit strange, like I’m in withdrawal from being busy. Interestingly, the kids don’t perceive it that way. They say they like it. I’m grateful we live in the mountains where we have lots of forests and outdoor spaces to explore. I realize we still have to observe social distancing when we’re outside, but it seems everybody in our community got the memo. When we do encounter other humans on our walks, they adhere to social distancing.

Penny Powers and Max Fanderl:

The kids are spending lots of time together and just being kids. They’re enjoying the outdoors and playing outside, jumping on the trampoline, riding their bikes, playing basketball in our driveway and playing street hockey. We have also been ski touring (with caution and care), nordic skiing, walking and biking – all with plenty of distance from people. We plan on canoeing and kayaking too, in the next couple of days, and doing some overnight trips if the weather cooperates, as well as doing some ground handling for paragliding.

Lorene and Justin Keitch:

It’s been difficult since I am trying to work full-time from home. The kids don’t really understand that me sitting at my computer all day is working, so of course they ask if I want to play games and more. Our weekend plans include online church at Lake Windermere Alliance, longer bike rides and finding some open fields where they can burn off steam. Maybe we’ll finally start tackling the Mt. Swansea hike from the bottom, as long as the parking lot is fairly empty! There are loads of amazing hikes around the community too. As long as those trails stay open and are not busy so we can keep our distance from other hikers, we’ll get out whenever we can. We are also very blessed with an incredible backyard that feels like a safe haven.

How do you keep from all going stir-crazy?

Penny Powers and Max Fanderl:

To be honest, I don’t think any of us are going stir-crazy yet. Sure, the kids are missing hanging out with their friends, but we are lucky they enjoy doing things with us still. We’ve also done some puzzles, watched movies in the evenings, cooked and baked, all of which we never do!

Steph and Aaron Van de Kemp:

I think it’s normal to go a bit stir-crazy in these circumstances. Most of us are accustomed to a fast pace of life, jam packed with work, school, extracurriculars, social activities and special events. This is a big change to the way most of us operate. I do find it helpful to set up our day in blocks: breakfast, unstructured play, organized activity, snack, unstructured play, lunch, quiet time, outside time, snack, movie, dinner, reading, bedtime and last but not least, grownup time!

Lorene and Justin Keitch:

Thankfully both our kids love crafts, reading, and playing lots and lots of board games. Main Street Fun and Games delivered a fresh batch of games to our house so that has kept us busy along with the stack of games we’d picked up at the thrift store over the years. And if the kids complain about getting bored, I’ve got a running list of chores they can tackle for every complaint they make!

Gerri Brightwell and Michael den Otter:

We talk about our day in the morning and agree on some ideas so that we have a plan for every day. We are trying hard to have our kids connect with friends or family by video each day and go outside every day. We are being less strict on screen-time rules. I am enjoying the extra time with my kids and the break from the hectic school and extracurricular schedule. At the same time I know the kids are missing their friends, teachers and sports, and I feel sorry for them.

How is it being a parent during quarantine/social distancing?

Gerry Taft and Nozomi Ishii:

The biggest challenge is not over doing the ‘screen time’ and not going too crazy with Netflix or YouTube. Our oldest misses pre-school and daycare and asks when he is going back. It’s hard to explain why were aren’t visiting in person with grandparents. But, being pretty young, I think in general they like having the attention and don’t really find things as weird as the adults do.

Penny Powers and Max Fanderl:

We are fine. I miss seeing and hanging out with friends; we chat on the phone. But so far our family is having fun together, so it’s not a problem. If this isolation continues and you ask that same question in a month, I might have a different answer!

Steph and Aaron Van de Kemp:

I imagine this whole experience is very different depending on whether or not you have little kids at home. I sometimes fantasize about all the things I would do if I was quarantined at home without kids: cleaning closets, organizing photos, meditating, reading through stacks of books, participating in online yoga classes and webinars. Maybe this is one of those ‘grass is greener’ scenarios?! Either way, here I am with three energetic kids at home, 24-7, no end in sight. On the bright side, I get to spend a lot of quality time with my kids right now, with fewer distractions. I’m reminding myself to smile and breathe and to be grateful for our health and our time together. I find more than ever I need to carve out solo time in the day. Otherwise I turn into a crazy, impatient mom, and I don’t really like that version of myself. The days go better when I wake up early and go for a run or just take some quiet time alone before launching into the day. When I fill myself up, I have more energy and patience for my kids. As a parent it’s helpful to know that my friends and family with young kids are in the same boat. The struggle is real, but we’re not alone. We can’t get together for coffee but we FaceTime and text. Today we’re going to a birthday party for my best friend’s son in Australia via Zoom. We’re adapting.

Lorene and Justin Keitch:

It’s mostly OK. When I think about how blessed we are in Canada with clean water, warm homes, fresh food, and incredibly competent medical teams working very hard across the country, I am so thankful. Of course I’ve lost my patience with my kids a few times already, but overall I’m trying to count the blessings instead of what we’re missing out on.

Are you planning on doing any homeschooling/educational activities with your kids in coming weeks? If so, what?

Penny Powers and Max Fanderl:

Yes, we will be doing school work. We will wait to see what DTSS assigns for the kids in the classes they are taking at the moment, and then we will make a decision as to whether they need more, and will do online courses. Weather permitting, we will do some walks to different areas, and see what we can learn during them, ranging from the geographical landscape, to the history of the area, to flora and animal life. We have the kids working with us to prepare a Columbia Valley Interpreter guiding course, which in turn teaches them a lot. I am also doing some ongoing personal trainer and nutrition online seminars, which the kids too are sitting in on. All in all, I think the whole situation has been an unfortunate but great re-set button.

Lorene and Justin Keitch:

We have sourced out an old computer that we can use for the kids to watch educational videos and do a bit of online learning. But it won’t be our primary focus over the coming weeks. The more important things for us will be making sure that our family is healthy, that our kids feel secure, and that we create a good home environment for them while all their ‘normal’ is disappearing.

Gerri Brightwells and Michael den Otter:

We will do online piano lessons. If the school district comes out with any online learning plans or homeschool learning plans, we will follow along.

Steph and Aaron Van de Kemp:

We are waiting to find out what the school is planning. Hopefully we can access some online learning or have lessons emailed to us. I noticed Rosetta Stone has a kids’ homeschooling program for various languages so I’ve thought about subscribing to the French one. We own a small business but I find working from home with kids is pretty much impossible. Having some schooling for the kids would allow me to spend a bit of time on my work as well.

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