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.

How Elmo and Michael Caine Cleaned Up My Yard

This past weekend I saw two movies that couldn’t be more unlike each other and yet are equally as good: 1966’s Gambit (starring Michael Caine and Shirly Maclaine) and 2011’s Being Elmo (starring Elmo and all the cooler-than-you humans who make the Muppets come alive). Both movies got me thinking in substantial ways about creativity and storytelling and how important it is to always ask more of our entertainment.

I think of my mind space as precious real estate. I don’t want your Saw movies and gorefests and pornos coming in and junking up the place with trash and rotted out couches. I want to put things on my mind’s front yard that are pleasing, things of worth and value. Call me old-fashioned, but art is not intrinsically valuable to me. I think art’s greatest value is both in how well it is done and how much it improves life.

Let’s take Being Elmo first. Elmo is after my time. I always found him annoying and kick-in-the-faceable. But the little dude works. Kids love him and, with time, I’ve come to appreciate the character as well. Being Elmo is the story of Elmo’s puppeteer, Kevin Clash–a 53-year old black man who grew up in Baltimore. Yeah, I was surprised too.

Kevin inspires me. From an early age he knew what he wanted to do with his life and he’s done it. That’s amazing. How many get to say that? With Elmo, he’s found the purest expression of his art, and through that art he has found the purest expression of the purest, finest emotion: love. Elmo is love. That’s Kevin’s guiding principle: Elmo is love.

And Kevin is brilliant. It’s a magic trick, what he does. Even when Elmo is hugging sick children who want to meet Elmo as a last wish, there’s Kevin. The kids can see him, but their attention is on Elmo. They don’t care about Kevin. That’s magic. So his art is the whole package: it is very good and it is very valuable.

Gambit is an underseen gem of a film with enough twists and turns to rank it among the very best of heist films, but its biggest surprise is that its biggest twist occurs in the first half hour. And it’s genius. Flat out. It’s genius.

The original poster for the film even featured the tagline, “Go ahead and tell the end, but please don’t tell the beginning!” And they meant that. The beginning blew me away. Jaw dropping moment that I won’t ruin here but whose implications reverberate all the way through to the end of the movie when the sweet message at the core of the film becomes obvious.

That’s the kind of creativity I want–so good that it astonishes. Elmo, who I once derided, now astonishes me. Michael Caine and Shirley Maclaine and the writers of Gambit astonish me. And I thank them for that. This past weekend, I was shown new horizons of what it is possible to achieve creatively and there’s nothing more inspiring than that.

Both Gambit and Being Elmo are currently available on Netflix Streaming, though Gambit expires on 2/29/12. Hurry.