Eliana in her first mud mask

Shelter in place? You mean all of us? Together 24/7? EEK!

By Carrie Wise
Crediti, all photos by Carrie Wise

As I sit here on our 61st day of Covid-19 “isocation,” I wonder if I will put on proper pants or not and whether I can solve today’s seventh-grade algebraic equations. And I pray.

I pray that I will experience at least the slightest semblance of domestic tranquility and that sibling rivalry will not cause bloodshed. I pray that I can somehow live in the gap between my first, often unskillful, response to the potential mayhem and my best response to the big emotions of the upcoming day. 

We are a family of four. All at home all the time! Our sacrifices are minimal. We are not on the front lines working tirelessly while risking our health and that of our families. My husband and I are both educators working from our comfortable home, essential workers not currently affected financially.

But let me just say that our pandemic struggles are real. Honestly, we are all a bit sick of each other. Wait. More accurately, this place is a flippin’ nut house. Yep. That is the real scoop.

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Our kids are 12 and 14, yet are exhibiting behaviors reminiscent of their toddler years with higher-level negotiation skills, the ability to guilt trip, a mastery of eye rolling and increasingly not-so-pleasant language. Ugh! They seem to have lost all buy-in for the family rules, except when they are pointing out in high-pitched squeals that their sibling is not following those aforementioned rules.

We have all completely lost our filters and exhibit limited situational awareness. Our collective mental health is deteriorating, there is a complete void of civility and everyone’s frontal lobes are apparently on hiatus—except mine.

Matzo balls coming right up!

Ha! Did I mention that this crisis has exacerbated my controlling nature? “Controlling” is harsh; I prefer to call it detail-oriented. Yep. I like my ducks in a row and they are currently not even in the same damn pond. The lights are left on, the toilet seat is always up and the pantry quite literally looks like a tornado just blew through.

This homeschooling thing isn’t for me. I’m a teacher, but I teach other people’s kids, not my own—by design! Week one of what we thought was going to be a month-long pause from school was pretty much staycation. We played tennis, hung out in leggings watching TV, wrote haiku, started doing the daily crossword and sudoku in the Fresno Bee, power-grazed through food like nobody’s business and planned a camping trip. 

At the start of week two, I visited the Fresno Unified School District Website, after all the chatter about “distance learning,” and clicked that Exercise Your Brain button. But mostly I joked about getting my two “students transferred out of my class. The kids scoffed at the generic, less-than-scholarly, offerings and bellyached at the notion that their education would now solely consist of hours in front of a computer screen doing “stupid stuff.”

I blasted my frustration all over Facebook with posts that went something like this: “So, how’s homeschooling going? We’ve had 2 students suspended for fighting and one teacher fired for inappropriate conduct.” Instead of state standards on a computer screen, we decided to mix it up a bit.

I developed a chore list for the next three weeks, and each kid picked 20. The options included preparing meals, amending the soil and planting the summer garden, learning new skills, helping with outdoor projects and writing notes to loved ones. You get the idea.

Then I had each of the kids make their own list of things they wanted to accomplish. My son wanted to dig a pond, clean under his bed, make a one-man-band get-up, play tennis, work on his model train layout, research turtle habitats and propagate some succulents.

My daughter’s list included making friendship bracelets, rearranging her bedroom furniture, learning to make fudge, researching hair-care products, keeping in daily contact with her friends and finding YouTube workout videos. And they both read a book and practiced their instrument at least 30 minutes every day.

In week three, we negotiated traditional “academic time,” one hour and 30 minutes on screens doing something provided by their teachers. Offerings at this point were more personalized so managing this time was less grueling.

By week four and with the news that we would not return to our “normal” routine indefinitely, we were beginning to tire of all this togetherness, were missing friends, mourning the loss of spring sports and pretty consistently on each other’s last nerve.

Nicholas enjoying some sand and surf…without the surf

So amid the threats and name-calling, we attempted to amp up the good times and spread a little love. We created chalk art in the street, hablamos un poquito español, took more bike rides waving to our neighbors and thought of some ways we could be of service. We committed to weekly picnics in the foothills, started a YouTube channel, watched movies and Broadway plays.

We hauled decomposed granite from the neighbor’s to transform our backyard with two new paths, but first my son created a beach in the driveway complete with a lounge chair and umbrella. He’d sit out there for hours just watching the day go by listening to KC and the Sunshine Band.

We have virtually visited the world’s greatest museums and stunning national parks and turned our driveway into a makeshift pickleball court once all the tennis courts in town were chained up and the DG was carted off. We have transplanted plants and given extras away on the curb, organized closets and boxed up stuff for Neighborhood Thrift, and welcomed new pets. 

We were even gifted a sourdough starter for all this baking folks are talking about doing. Epic failure; apparently our little friend wasn’t into our almond flour.

We’ve installed app after app after app to help us stay connected with friends and family and we Zoom incessantly taking care of business, connecting with students, going to meetings, even attending Sunday services at the Universalist Unitarian Church of Fresno.

We’re texting, MarcoPoloing and YouTubing. We’re on Google Hangouts, Google classroom, Google meets and Google voice. We’re What’s Apping, Grandpading and Skyping. The techy members of the family are fine with all this; in fact, hour upon hour of uninterrupted sitting with a phone in their hand would bring great joy to some, but that’s not the way we roll on teamwise, even in a pandemic.

This momma is experiencing screen fatigue, and there is an incessant struggle with integrity around scheduled screen time with the kiddos. 

Now in week nine, we have settled into a new normal—sort of. We’re spending more time than usual being creative and learning new skills. My husband is recording music and honing his chess skills. My son has learned how to produce videos, and my daughter is making her own skincare products. I have competently taken clippers to the boys’ hair after learning the difference between a fade and a taper on YouTube. Hmmm! “Competently” might be a scooch overstated.

Rookie hairstylist in the house!

I successfully wear my mask without fogging up my glasses. Skills! There’s not much squawking about academic time. There’s no pressure since the kids’ grades are settled, and we have given them the independence to focus on the subjects that they value most. Honestly, I now dread the day that school ends because I will have to kiss that structured time goodbye.

Our family dynamics continue to be off-putting at best. I have bumped up my yoga practice and meditate daily before the chaos ensues. This is my circus, and these are my monkeys. And I love them beyond measure.

Their likability? That wavers. I cancelled our vacation today, and summer camps are talking refunds. The future with all four of us home all the time this entire summer is daunting! But today, we are safe and healthy and are part of a beloved community. Onward!

*****

Carrie Wise is a mostly at-home mom just living the dream in the midst of sheltering in place. She is a part-time teacher in Fresno Unified and enjoys being in nature, gardening, traveling, and scrapbooking.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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