How to Survive a Family During a Pandemic

It’s not just this virus. Literally anything that happens to us, good or bad, either draws us more closely together or rips us apart. A pandemic like COVID-19, of course, draws us together no matter what. We quarantine. We lockdown. We huddle together in a bubble held together by, in some cases, nothing more than proximity. The question isn’t just whether we can survive the virus, it’s whether or not we can survive each other.

Are we a family of ships passing in the night, or is there a love still there that can be rekindled by a whole lot of togetherness?

I want to make two things clear up front before I dive into this:

  1. I’m the writer in the family or you’d be hearing from my wife, Erin, right now. The following is all down to her. Her ideas, her initiatives, her glue holding us all together.
  2. All of this requires effort. I know it’s easier to be lazy during a pandemic, but that way lies madness. Family is work. Family during a pandemic is a little more work. No way around it.

Okay. Here it is. The following is what the Heasley family has been doing the past four months to survive each other during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Your mileage may vary.

CELEBRATIONS

When so many things are going wrong, you’ve got to elevate the good. We will take any excuse to celebrate. And I mean, ANY. Yes, we’ve done things like in-home celebrations of birthdays and our eldest daughter graduating from high school and an in-home prom with the help of John Krasinski, but we’ve also come up with a completely made up reason…

The pandemic itself. Starting on Day 50 and every ten days since, we’ve put together themed celebrations just to say to ourselves, “Hey, we’re doing this, we’re staying in as much as we can, we’re masking up, we’re avoiding anyone who doesn’t live in this home, and we’re doing our part. Let’s celebrate that.”

Here’s what that’s looked like so far:

Day 50 – Family Sock Hop

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Day 60 – Mocktail Night

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Day 70 – Family Fun Run

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Day 80 – 80’s Movie Festival

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Day 90 – Water Day (New trampoline with sprinklers and water balloons/guns)

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Day 100 – Service to Others and Ice Cream Sunday

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Day 110 – Blanket Fort Day

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Day 120 – Spa Day

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Day 130 – Christmas in July

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Day 140 – International Night (Trivia and food from around the world)

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Consequently, marking time during the pandemic has gone from a depressing thing to an exciting thing. Yeah, it’s a lot of work for us (again, mostly Erin), but for our kids they’re going to look back on this time as difficult, yes, but also special. Exciting, even.

I mean, everybody got presents during Christmas in July. Our kids should be LOVING this. And they do.

ONE HOUR CLEANINGS

Every day. Every day except Sunday we get together as a family and clean for one hour, at 11 AM. Four out of five of the people who live here are able to participate, which means that our house is getting four hours of cleaning every day.

Within two weeks we had cleaned literally everything in the house. Spring cleaning the likes of which we have NEVER done before. Now, it’s just upkeep. Really easy stuff. We even folded in a repaint of the bathroom over the course of a week because there’s just less to do now.

Look, my family HATES cleaning. I don’t think we even started cleaning the house in a significant way until around Day 100 because we hate it so much, but it has made a HUGE difference. We are in this space ALL THE TIME, and having it clean just FEELS good. Plus, no one gets mad at anyone else because their stuff is somewhere it shouldn’t be because know that 11 AM the next day it’ll get picked up.

Or fed to the dogs. I don’t make the rules.

ROUTINE

Speaking of doing things every day, a routine is essential for a time like this. The days can easily get away from you, you can lose track of time, and you can be so unproductive if you don’t have your routines in place. Besides the cleaning, we also get up by 9:30 AM each morning (why wake up any earlier when you don’t go anywhere?), eat dinner together as a family every night around 6 PM, read scriptures and pray together as a family at 7:45 PM, and the parents take over the TV at 8 PM. Because we paid for it.

Simple stuff, but it keeps our clocks in order and gives structure.

BREAK THE ROUTINE

If the routine is wearing you down, it’s not doing its job. Take breaks! Just the other day, Erin woke up and said “I can’t clean today.” So, we didn’t! And we didn’t the next day, either. Or the day after that (mostly because that day was Sunday). But today? We were right back on it. Breaking the routine is just as important as keeping the routine. So, break it.

But then get right back on it.

ICE CREAM

Sometimes, you need ice cream. That’s it. That’s the tip.

(But don’t overdo it.)

GIVE EACH OTHER SPACE

Don’t be in each other’s business all the time. We got both Animal Crossing and Minecraft for our Nintendo Switch for our youngest. She hasn’t seen a friend since March and it’s her major form of entertainment and socialization, sadly, but more importantly it keeps her in a private space at a time of her life when she can kind of talk your ear off.

Best way to not get on each other’s nerves? Don’t be in the same space all the time. Respect the need for privacy.

DON’T OBSESS OVER THE NEWS

The job of the news is to inform, and the most essential information is always going to be bad news. There’s a lot of bad news right now, and a lot of disagreement about what is and is not true about that bad news. You can drive yourself mad trying to sort through it all, and everyone I know who lives on a steady diet of news (TV, in particular) is pretty sure the world is going to end, like, tomorrow.

That’s not a super healthy place to be, but if that’s the place you insist on being, don’t take your family there with you. Not everyone wants to go. We talk about current events in our house, but we don’t dwell and we are conscious of who is in the room and what age they are. There’s only so much we can control, but controlling our home environment? Well, that’s all up to us.

FIND GOD

This isn’t going to resonate with everyone who reads this, but find God in all this. He is, I assure you, there. I’m not super old, but I’m not super young either. I’ve been through some stuff, and I’m telling you that even in the darkest of times–ESPECIALLY then–God is there. He cares about you. He loves you. (Yes, he’s allowing all this to happen, but that’s for a purpose that would take a whole other blog to cover (or, y’know, a movie I wrote). )

He’s in the kindness of strangers. He’s in the smile of those you pass by. He’s in the hug of a child and a meal shared. He’s on the other end of the line when you pray. I have felt tremendous comfort through all of this, and, I would argue, my wife has been tremendously inspired through all this by the Spirit of God. We are constantly, constantly looking to Him, and because of that we know peace.

And because we know peace, the Heasley family is more than just surviving each other during this forced togetherness. I daresay we love each all the more.

Day 29 – The Bag Exploded on the Way to San Francisco

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Friday – September 26, 2014

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Woke up at 4:45 am today. I’m a religious man, and I think there’s a reason the sun, the light and fire of God and the heavenly symbol of our heavenly home, is not up at 4:45am. It’s simply wrong to be awake. It’s why they call it the “ungodly hour;” even He thinks no one should have to be up so early. It’s immoral.

10313190_10204557643318606_6606568879666869552_nThe only reason I would risk such gross sin is for someone I love. Erin had an audition to be an on camera presenter up in San Francisco scheduled for 9:15am, and the only way to make it in time was to risk partnership with the devil himself by defying God himself to witness the pornographic beauty of sunrise on the open road.

Erin is exactly who you want to road trip with. She is a sterling conversationalist and agreeable about snack purchases and indulges (reluctantly) my need to linger in mini-marts until every last item is considered for purchase.

I bought various snacks, among them a bag of dried fruit bits that were super healthy and thus would give me full permission to eat whatever I wanted for the rest of the day. Erin took it upon herself to open my bag of dried fruit. It literally exploded in her face, sending bits of coconut and dates and pineapple all over the interior of the car. We figuratively exploded with laughter.

While, as I said, Erin is a lot of fun on road trips, the first rule of taking her on road trips is you do not let her open any bags. She is a college-educated, capable woman who is utterly unable to open plastic bags without it ending in disaster. This goes for the bags in cereal boxes as well as, occasionally, ziploc bags. I don’t know what is is, but I would sooner trust a monkey to open my Doritos than I would Erin.

1234104_10204557643038599_7552869608493518755_nThe audition went exceedingly well–so I heard. I stayed in the lobby to surf the internet and wait. From the space where the studio was located looked more industrial than anything, but the interior, even while still under construction, proved intimidating. With the high ceilings, constant windows, rafters, descending lights and stylish wall placements (seriously), I felt very out of place. Where we live, office spaces are single floored, white-walled and spotted with cubicles. How is anyone supposed to die a slow, fluorescent death in a building like that?

With the kids safely in the care of Erin’s parents, we were free to spend the rest of the day spinning our slow wheels through the congested traffic of the San Francisco streets to revisit some of our favorite eateries. We’d had brown bagged it, but Erin’s parents were generous and insisted we take a little of their cash to treat ourselves.

Mona Lisa's
Mona Lisa’s

Lunch was spent at Mona Lisa’s, home of quite simply the finest and most savory Italian food I’ve ever eaten. We arrived early enough that no other diners were yet inside, so we were rewarded with free Bruschetta. I could eat that stuff all day.

For dessert we headed over to Humphry Slocombe for ice cream. This is an out-of-the-way place with no discernible logo out front, so you really have to know where you’re going to get there. Immensely worth it, however. They have new flavors all the time, like Cream Cheese Chocolate Chip and Fat Elvis (banana ice cream with bacon). Their most popular flavor is Secret Breakfast, which is bourbon flavored with cereal bits.

Seriously. This is what Humphry Slocombe looks like. Good luck finding it.
Seriously. This is what Humphry Slocombe looks like. Good luck finding it.

The modesty of the place belies how good Humphry Slocombe really is. The Mythbusters know what I’m talking about. They showed up while we were there, while on a break from filming down the street. I completely regret not getting a picture with them.

We ended our trip by heading over to the Oakland LDS Temple to walk the grounds. My parents were married there, but Erin had never been. The Temple was built in the sixties and every inch of its architecture screams that fact. Every time I’m there it feels like I’ve been transported back in time, to some alternate version of Mad Men with a lot less sex and drinking. A… lot less.

oakland-mormon-templeThere are 140+ LDS temples in operation around the world. I’ve been to more than a few of them and the one thing they all have in common is a feeling of utter peace that comes over you as soon as you enter their airspace. Or even the parking lot. For Mormons, there’s no more sacred place on Earth than our Temples. Many times in my life, when I’ve sought solace and answers, I’ve found them while attending the Temple. Though we didn’t go inside, Erin and I both hoped we might gain some clarity about this sudden left turn in our lives.

Didn’t happen. Must not be the right time.

We were able to make it home through a dense traffic jam in time to kiss our girls goodnight before putting them to bed. I’m exhausted, quite frankly.

Hopefully, we’ll hear back about Erin’s audition soon.

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