A Day in the Life of COVID-Summer Vacation

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We made it.

I just have to declare this fact because, to be honest with you, there have been days over the last few months that I didn’t think I’d ever get to write those words. Back in March when I first heard the words “Novel Coronavirus” (Are we talking about a fictional book? A Mexican beer? A seasonal cold?) I had no idea how much our lives would change in such a short amount of time.

The whole world flipped on its head overnight: school became home and the classroom teacher became me. School this year had its challenges–and its rewards–and then some more challenges to round things out. But we made it. We survived the first wave of Epidemic Crisis Schooling that the world has ever endured, and I’m pretty sure we can survive anything now.

Except maybe summer vacation.

Because if you’re anything like me, you’re just as confused about “summer” as you were about “E-learning”. Quite simply, summer in the time of COVID is about the most stressful, labor-intensive, hair-pulling period of relaxation I’ve ever experienced. For those of you not lucky enough to have young children at home with you this summer, allow me to give you a glimpse into a typical day of summer vacation 2020:

Tuesday, June

7:40  You wake up to the sounds of your 4 year old screaming your name from down the hall. She’s not hurt or incapable of moving out of bed on her own. No, she just wants you to remember who’s boss in this family.

7:45  You bring the screaming child downstairs and find the older boys already awake and playing video games. They ask you if they can have your real American dollars to buy video-game-nonsense-dollars so their avatar can wear a shirt with a “sick flame” on it. You politely decline. For the 10 millionth time this week.

7:55  Start making breakfast and realize there are no clean dishes. Start emptying the dishwasher that you ran overnight (this is the first of up to 3 loads of dishes you will run through your dishwasher today with all of these people home eating food 24/24 hours of every day).

8:00  An alert pops up on your phone that today is supposed to be the first day of that super awesome summer camp you signed your kids up for 12 months ago. Of course the camp has been cancelled, so you delete the calendar entry and replace it with the sobbing emoji.

8:15  Return to the breakfast situation. It’s been nearly 2 weeks since the last time you picked up a curbside grocery order. Prepare the best available option: granola bars AND fruit leather, because you like well-balanced meals.

8:30  Announce breakfast and turn off all screens in the house. Earn the title “Meanest Mom Ever”.

9:00  After breakfast you ask the kids what they’d like to do today. The boys want to stay home and play video games so they can whine at you about buying video game dollars. The girl wants to go to a princess party just like Cinderella. In your head you debate your options because after 4 months of house arrest with these kids, you just need to get out of here. Compromise and tell the kids we’re going to find a quiet park where we can be outside and physically distanced from other people. “It will be fun!” you say, “It will be our own little adventure!”

9:30  Pull up Google Maps on your phone and look for green spaces (usually parks) that you’ve never heard of (maybe nobody else has heard of them either). Pick a promising green patch in the middle of nowhere and pack some snacks for the adventure.

10:00  Before you leave the house, tell the kids to bring a face covering with them since we’re going into public. One child comes downstairs wearing underwear on his head.

10:30  Pull up to the “park” you found on Google Maps and realize it’s mostly just some bushes on the side of a road. Consider your options and decide check it out anyway. After about 20 minutes of the kids throwing rocks into the bushes and one kid falling into some blackberry brambles, decide to call it a day.

11:00  On your way home you drive past one of the kids’ favorite parks. They haven’t been to this park in nearly a year and they all beg for you to stop for just a little bit. Since the first stop was such a bust you decide to give the park a try.

11:05  Before you get out of the car, remind the children that they must stay at least 6 feet apart from all other people, wear their masks, not touch anything, and basically try their very hardest to not enjoy themselves. Remind the children that the playground is closed so we can’t play on it anyway. We’re just here to look and reminisce, and then back into the car we go. They agree to abide by the law of the land as they pile out of the car.

11:10  You walk into the park and notice that the playground is no longer roped off. You weren’t prepared for this. We already had the “we don’t touch anything” talk in the car, and now this playground is just sitting there like a siren in the wild beckoning to eager children. Thankfully the kids haven’t noticed the playground yet, so you stop in your tracks and point wildly into the sky: “KIDS, LOOK!!!! A BALD EAGLE! NO, MAYBE IT’S A DRAGON! OR A UNICORN! QUICK! LOOOOOOOOOOK!!!!”. As the children avert their gaze heavenward, you huddle them together and usher them back toward the parking lot. The middle child swears he saw the dragon.

11:15  When you get back to your car there is another family unloading right next to your car. Fortunately/unfortunately they are friends from school. Fortunately, because THEY’RE REAL LIVE FRIENDS!!!!!! Unfortunately, because OH MY GOSH WHAT DO WE DO?!?!  Humans! Gah! The kids all want to hug and play and just be kids. You glance at the other mom and reach an unspoken understanding: We’ve all been quarantined for so long that it’s in our health interest at this point to allow the children a few minutes to catch up. Relish the quick reunion while you pray under your breath that nobody present is an asymptomatic COVID carrier.

12:00  Upon returning home from the morning’s adventure (AKA the most excitement we’ve had in half a year!) set to work preparing lunch. The kids decide on Unicorn mac-n-cheese (the girl wants it because it’s magical, the boys want it because they want to bite the heads off the unicorns).

12:30   After lunch, send the kids outside to play in the back yard. Return a couple of emails and check the “news” to see updates on which of the 10 Plagues of Egypt we can expect next.

1:30  Call the kids back inside and tell them that we have a fun game to play this afternoon. The game is called “Living With COVID Challenge”. Here’s how you play: everyone gets a face mask and they have to wear it while completing “challenges” such as reading aloud, taking a math test, writing a letter to a friend, or “shopping” in our pretend store. The goal is to leave your mask on for the entire challenge without touching your mouth, eyes, or nose. Players can earn bonus points for washing their hands, checking their friend’s temperature with a temporal thermometer, wearing gloves while disinfecting a surface with non-toxic cleaner, or engineering a plexiglass shield.

You make it exactly 2.6 seconds before all 3 children fail the challenge.

Consider writing (another) email with the updated results of your at-home challenge to the members of the school board that will be making the “safe return to school” plan for this fall.

2:00  The kids say it’s too hot outside and they want to go swimming. A quick Google search shows you that every public pool within a 100-mile radius is closed, the nearest lake is full of toxic algae, and the nearest river is still full from spring melt-off and has a no-swimming advisory. Tell the kids to put on their swimsuits anyway, because we’re swimming in the upstairs bathroom “Bathtub Pool”!

2:45  Check on the kids in their bathtub pool and realize that 90% of the water has now migrated from the bathtub to the bathroom floor/walls/ceiling. As your blood starts to boil, notice that you already have “month-3 of summer vacation patience” rather than the actual “week-1 of summer vacation patience” that should be accompanying this moment.

3:00  After you mop up all of the water from Bathtub Pool, tell the kids that it’s reading time. Since you’re pretty sure the only learning your children accomplished in the last 4 months involved Roblox obby hacks, you count this daily reading time as sacred.

3:15  Since your husband is still working from home in his basement “home office” cave, you sneak out of the house for a quick solo walk while the kids are busy reading. These 20 minutes walking around your own neighborhood are the highlight of your day.  5 minutes into your walk a cyclist passes you on the road. It’s not until the cyclist is out of view around a corner that you realize you’ve been unconsciously holding your breath since you saw the other human approaching your air space.

4:00  Bake something. Because COVID.

5:00  Start preparing dinner. Again. For the 4,376th day in a row.

6:30  After dinner, have “family movie night”…also for the 4,376th day in a row. Whisper a silent prayer for the timely providence of Disney+ during a worldwide epidemic.

8:00  Tuck the little one into bed. You tried to order her new bedroom furniture 4 months ago for her birthday, but so far only her mattress has arrived because everything else is backordered indefinitely due to the COVID shutdowns. So, actually, just tuck her into mattress instead of tucking her into bed.

8:30 Despite their pleas to stay up later, tuck the older kids into bed because you are D.O.N.E. DONE. Promise them chocolates in the morning if they just stay in their rooms and don’t bother you for the rest of the night. If quarantine has taught you one thing, it’s the power of bribery. And chocolate.

9:00  Go downstairs and immediately notice the filth that is covering  every square inch of your house. Debate cleaning it up while the kids are tucked away in their bedrooms, but decide against it. After all, we need to save some fun for tomorrow’s COVID-Summer adventure!

***

Happy summer, everyone–stay safe, stay healthy, and stay sane!

My Quarantine Bookshelf

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I’ve always loved reading. I am the kid who (literally) had my 10th birthday party at a bookstore (As you can now tell–if you didn’t know it already–I was the cool kid in the class). Since we’ve been in quarantine, though, I’ve picked up reading again with a voracity that I haven’t known in years. Basically I’ve taken this quarantine lockdown as my own personal Silent Reading Mandate. My bedside table is covered in stacks of books that I’m actually reading. It’s fantastic.

In a time like this when we are physically confined, reading is the ultimate escape. Since the COVID lockdown officially began about two months ago, I’ve been using books as a way to take mental vacations every single day. I’ve trekked through the Swiss Alps, gone backstage at San Francisco comedy clubs, spent time on the beaches of the San Juan Islands, experienced Gold Rush California, and taken an ancient pilgrimage from Canterbury to Rome. All from a safe social distance, of course.

If you’re looking for some inspiration for your own virtual retreat, here is what I’ve been reading:

Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire: The Guide to Being Glorious YouFierce Free and Full of Fire by Jen Hatmaker
Oh, how I love Jen Hatmaker. She writes from the heart with humor and grace and moxie–it’s the perfect combination. Some of my fondest book memories involve Jen Hatmaker, including the time I drove across the state of California with an infant to hear her speak…only to get stuck in California traffic and nearly miss the whole conference (All’s well that ends well, though, because my sob story landed me a private audience with Jen–see, we’re buddies–and a book signing while she held my baby).

This book was released mid-quarantine and, truly, it is the perfect quarantine read. It’s inspiring and heartfelt and makes me want to implement positive changes in my life RIGHT NOW (well, as soon as I can pull myself out of my yoga pants-induced stupor fueled by home-baked sourdough bread).

Rick Steves Switzerland (Tenth Edition) by Avalon Travel
I’ve had this book sitting on my nightstand for half a year as we planned our epic trip to Switzerland scheduled for earlier this month. As we all know now, that trip never happened (Still heartbroken. Still complaining about it. Not over it.). I’ve kept the book on my nightstand because I still like to dream…and what better place to dream of than idyllic mountain villages covered in cheese and chocolate?

Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets & Advice for Living Your Best Life by [Ali Wong]Dear Girls by Ali Wong
This was a lucky last-minute find at the library right before the world shut down. I heard a rumor–with about 2 hours notice–that our library might be closing with no scheduled re-opening date. I dropped everything, threw the kids in the car, and proceeded to check out nearly 200 books from the library to hold us over through whatever impending disaster might be looming on the horizon. I had been waiting for this book from the library for several months, but my number still hadn’t come up in the queue. I happened to find it in the (aptly named) “Lucky Day Collection”–basically, it’s a high-demand book that you can check out on the spot, but you only get it for 2 weeks and then you have to give some other lucky library patron their chance at winning the book. It’s like winning the lottery and Christmas all at once. This is why I love libraries.

Anywho…the book is written by Asian-American comedian Ali Wong (If you haven’t already, stop what you’re doing and go watch her Netflix specials. You’re welcome.). Each chapter is written as a letter to her two young daughters (to read when they’re much, MUCH older). It’s hilarious but quite raunchy, so read it if you want to take down your filters and just laugh.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by [Kelli Estes]The Girl Who Wrote In Silk by Kelli Estes
OK, funny story with this one. My sister’s mother in law sent me a book a few months ago written by the same author as this book–she had bought it when she was here visiting from California, and she liked that it was written by a Washington-native author who shared her same last name. Long story short, I found out that the author actually lives in the same town as me, and now we’re Facebook friends (Hi, Kelli!). So, of course, I had to read her other books!

This book is set in the same locations–Seattle and the Orcas Island in the San Juans–in two separate time periods (the present day and 1886). The novel follows a young woman who discovers an elaborately stitched piece of fabric hidden in her deceased aunt’s house. As she begins to unravel the story that is being told in the embroidery, she sees how closely her life is intertwined with that of the artist who created it, a young Chinese-American woman who lived a century before and was escaping the prejudice and violence against the Chinese people in that time period. It’s a beautiful story about doing what is right in the face of adversity, and the power that our own stories hold.

American Disruptor: The Scandalous Life of Leland Stanford by Roland De Wolk
This was actually one of Jon’s birthday gifts that I stole from him before he even got a chance to read it. This book is a biography of Leland Stanford, the founder of Stanford University–and it doesn’t hold back any of the ugly truth of who this self-made man was.

When Jon was in grad school at Stanford I spent quite a bit of time learning about the Stanford family so I knew the basics of who they were and how they started the school, but I was curious to know the gritty details. This book goes into backstory of Stanford’s life all the way back to his middle-class birth and upbringing in the early 1800’s in upstate New York, follows him through his apathy and absolute failures throughout life that moved him continuously westward, and sheds light on the cheating and stealing that made him one of the wealthiest Americans of all time. Through all of his failures–and an incredibly devastating tragedy–however, he went on to found one of the most prestigious universities in the nation. It was an interesting read and an enlightening history lesson. (Side note: I’m glad I will never have to meet Leland Stanford in real life.)

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don't KnowTalking To Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
I’ve read all of Malcolm Gladwell’s books and they’re always thought-provoking and help me to see things from a totally different perspective. This book about how we interact with strangers–and how our biases, our assumptions, and our desires play out in those interactions–makes you see social interaction in a totally new light. Right now is quite interesting timing to read a book on social interactions, especially as nearly all of our social interactions have become virtual. This book has given new meaning to “stranger danger”. I just may never speak to a real-life stranger again.

A Pilgrimage to Eternity: From Canterbury to Rome in Search of a FaithA Pilgrimage To Eternity: From Canterbury to Rome in Search of a Faith by Timothy Egan
This is the memoir of a man who takes an ancient pilgrimage on the Via Francigena, a thousand-mile trek through the theological cradle of Christianity. He begins in Canterbury, England before passing through France, crossing the Swiss alps, and continuing south to the Vatican in Rome. While on the journey he grapples with his own troubled past with the Catholic church and searches for meaning in a world that is often difficult and full of pain.

I love books like this where I get to be a bug-on-the-shoulder and get a free ride through someone else’s adventure. I loved seeing the ancient castles of England, the beautiful scenery of the French countryside, the majesty of the Swiss Alps. I indulged in patisserie in Arras, took a tour through ancient wine cellars in Châlons-en-Champagne, and tasted sumptuous testaroli in Pontremoli. All this, and I never even had to pay for a plane ticket or suffer through blisters on my toes.

*** Bonus Children’s Books ***
I’ve chosen to include a couple of children’s books for good measure because I spend at least an hour a day reading to my children (Again: grateful I checked out those 100 books from the library right before lockdown went into effect…).

Emily’s Idea by Christine Evans
I just have to include this beautiful book on my list because my dear friend Christine wrote it and I think it’s a masterpiece. The book was released during the quarantine, too, making it an appropriate addition to anyone’s quarantine reading list.

This story follows a little girl (Emily, based upon Christine’s real-life daughter Emily) who has a wonderful idea that spreads around her community and around the world. The message is inspiring for kids and their grown-ups alike, and there’s even a template in the back of the book to make your own paper doll chain (Hello, quarantine Arts & Crafts!).

Indescribable: 100 Devotions For Kids About God and Science by Louie Giglio
Every morning since quarantine began I’ve been sitting down with my kids and doing a 10 minute Bible time. This regular Bible time has been grounding for me (and, hopefully, also for my kids) in a time when everything feels so up in the air.

I started going through this devotional with my kids a few weeks ago and we’ve all enjoyed it. Each story ties in a Bible verse, some cool “weird science” phenomenon from the real world, and a way to connect the lesson to your life today.

So, that’s what I’ve been reading for the last couple months of lockdown. I’d love to hear what’s been on your quarantine bookshelf so I can get some more ideas. Happy reading!

Fortunately This Will All Be Over Some Day

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Today marks 6 weeks since our school district announced they would be closing for in-person classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Six long weeks that have essentially thrust me into a time warp. From that fateful day onward, our world began to slowly (and then quite rapidly) shut down around us–and what a whirlwind it has been!

I have started a routine with my kids each morning where we write down the day’s date together–not so much because I care what day it is, but because if I don’t write it down I fear we will never find our way out of the COVID-chasm again. You could ask me a question such as what I had for breakfast this morning or what day/week/month the International Olympic Committee announced their deferment of this summer’s games, and I would simply look at you with the same dumbfounded look. I just don’t know. We have entered a supernatural realm where time nor space nor work nor former purpose seems to hold any significant meaning. For better or worse: The world has changed.

And, speaking of “for better or worse”, I like to play a little game when life becomes tragically hilarious as it has at this moment. The game is called “Fortunately/Unfortunately” and it goes a bit like this:

Fortunately the world is still spinning.

Unfortunately everything in the world has had to shut down.

Fortunately, my 3 adorable/precious/loved/needy/not-yet-self-sufficient children still have school.

Unfortunately, all of their schooling has moved out of the classroom and onto “the cloud”.

Fortunately, “the cloud” is not an actual cloud, because all of the airlines are shut down and it would be quite difficult to reach the clouds by our own might.

Unfortunately, this means my children are doing school at home. Yes, even the preschooler.

Fortunately, we have internet access and computers and *me* to oversee the daily learning/weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Unfortunately, even teachers working in one of the most tech-savvy pockets of one of the most industrialized nations on earth run into tech issues during remote learning. And Zoom is full of perverts.

Fortunately, my son is too preoccupied with turning his computer background into a mythical Pokémon creature during his Zoom lessons or typing “toot” in the private chat bar to notice any of the tech glitches that may or may not occur during this time.

Unfortunately, he still has to learn the material presented during lessons. Even if they’re on a cloud.

Fortunately, his mom has basically given up on hardcore academics at this point and is pretty well appeased by “good enough”.

Unfortunately, school is not our only preoccupation.

Fortunately, baking and consuming massive amounts of empty carbohydrates is not a difficult task to pull off.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the new jeans that I bought back in February will fit me any more.

Fortunately, I haven’t even tried them on since February (#yogapantsforthewin). Ignorance is bliss.

Unfortunately, diet and exercise is still important. Even when you’re in lockdown.

Fortunately, I have a 100% legitimate excuse for not making it to the gym.

Unfortunately, the gym being closed is not a legitimate excuse for sloth.

Fortunately, my husband is a born-again Cross-Fit converter and we have enough gym equipment in our basement to make Gold’s Gym shudder behind their no-cancellation-policy long-term contracts.

Unfortunately, simply possessing gym equipment does not somehow make you magically fit.

Fortunately, my friend makes Facebook Live videos of her workouts so I can join with her to sweat it out.

Unfortunately, my kids and dog always want to join in my workout fun (Sidenote: The best part of working out is that you do it without your kids and dog.).

Fortunately, I have learned that I can sit my kids in front of a screen for an hour, slip outside with my yoga mat, and nobody ever even realizes I’ve tried to do something without them.

Unfortunately, no good thing lasts forever, and eventually you have to return to the screen zombies.

Fortunately, my children are totally fine with me turning off screens and they never throw a fit or scream or stomp or cry when screen time is over.

Unfortunately, this is a true story. Children losing screen time without losing their minds is a paradox that does not exist in reality.

Fortunately, our TV is password protected and I’m now strengthened from my invigorating bout of exercise. Off go the screens!

Unfortunately, now I have to make dinner. The children are not pleased. They are *just a colossal smidge* tired and cranky and demanding my attention, even though I’ve basically done nothing today except give them my attention.

Fortunately, I have a fridge full of food because I just picked up my once-weekly grocery order last night.

Unfortunately, I have to cook all of the food. Again. For the “Every meal of every day”th time since this lockdown began.

Fortunately, as with all things in my life at this point in time, my acceptance of mediocrity has reached an all-time high. Hot dogs and chips it is.

Unfortunately, this dinner is lacking a bit of pizzazz.

Fortunately, there are several dozen wineries in my town that are now offering free at-home no-contact delivery. Which brings me to my next question: Which pairs better with fire-roasted frankfurters and crispy tortilla strips: Syrah or Zinfandel?

Unfortunately, after dinner we still have to kill a few hours until bedtime.

Fortunately, family movie night has become a nightly occurrence.

Unfortunately, even with Disney+, Netflix, Hulu, Plex, PrimeVideo, and a collection of old DVD’s there is nothing to watch.

Fortunately, all of the movies my kids had been anticipating being released in the theaters are now being directly released to home streaming.

Unfortunately, the new Trolls movie costs $19.99. To rent.

Fortunately, it’s still light enough outside in the evening that you can just send the kids outside to play instead.

Unfortunately, your kids seem bent on climbing high trees and jumping off of moving objects. You remind them that they may NOT, for any reason, break a limb right now.

Fortunately, your kid who broke his arm in September and had to wear a cast up to his armpit for the first 6 weeks of first grade understands the severity of the situation. He implores his siblings to comply. Kind of.

Unfortunately, we have spent most of the evening arguing over unwatched movies and safe outdoor playtime tactics, and now it is time for bed.

Fortunately, it is time for the kids to go to bed.

Unfortunately, the kids will not stay in bed forever.

Fortunately, we are putting the kids to bed. Right now.

Unfortunately, the kids getting to bed can not happen soon enough.

Fortunately, both parents are equally motivated to get the kids to bed and we move them through the bedtime routine in double time.

Unfortunately, one kid has a wiggly tooth (WHY AT BEDTIME MUST YOU HAVE A WIGGLY TOOTH?!?!?!) and another kid has somehow outgrown all of their pajamas.

Fortunately, the tooth fairy can still make house calls during quarantine and Amazon carries pajamas.

Unfortunately, everything I order on Amazon is now taking approximately 23 years to arrive.

Fortunately, we’ve sorted out both the tooth and the pajamas, and the kids are finally in bed.

Unfortunately, we have to do this all over again tomorrow.

Fortunately, we have another tomorrow. Another chance to do life a bit differently, to take a step back, to lower our standards, and to try something new. Tomorrow is a gift, and even this will all be over some day.