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 47 – How to Be Unemployed and Happy

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.

Tuesday – October 15, 2014

smiling-faceAfter the whiplash day yesterday, Erin and I were determined to get to the local Temple. This is our most sacred building, where we serve those who have gone on before us and where we are most likely to receive answers to the questions that trouble us. I’ve made more than one life-altering decision while attending the Temple because the spirit that exists there opens the way for such revelation.

After dropping the kids off at school, we sped across town dressed in our Sunday Best and spent the next 3 1/2 hours serving and praying. The serving part was great. The praying part proved to be fruitless. We gained no clarity on our situations and remain as confused about next steps as ever. This is not discouraging, but it is frustrating. We long for answers, but do not doubt they will come. I’m grateful to be as old as I am and have so much benefit from past experiences. I might have freaked way out a decade or two ago, wondering if I’d ever get an answer at all. Now I know to just be patient. We have plans to go back to the Temple at our earliest convenience.

* * *

Today, we got an email we’d been waiting a while for. The organization Erin auditioned for in San Francisco finally got back to her… only to say she did not get the job. Erin spent the rest of the day severely bummed out. Not because she thought she really had a shot*, but because this was her dream job. However ill a fit she was on paper, this was the job so much a dream she didn’t even imagine it could actually exist.

*She felt like she gave a good audition and had exactly the skills they were looking for, but she wouldn’t have hired her either if she were them. Who would hire someone who lives three hours away and may or may not be available depending on where her husband ended up? It was only a part-time position to start and she would have needed them to make some accommodations for her to make it all work. They knew all of this.

I told her to post the rejection on Facebook to get some immediate affirmations (mine weren’t cutting it). Say what you will about fights and drama and the misuse of Facebook*, when it comes to supporting a person when they’re down, there’s no better or quicker place to turn. People dutifully told her how great she is, which was both true and what she needed. Cody and Kristen (she of the dropping of the R Bombs) even came over with sorrow-drowning ice cream.

*Please, spare me the details of how hard it was for you to get the lid off the peanut butter jar. You didn’t conquer Everest and I refuse to congratulate you like you did. Also: I don’t care.

* * *

I capped off the day in much the same way it started–by serving others. In this case, I helped my friend Donna start her own blog so she can chronicle her upcoming adventures fighting Ebola in Africa.

Holy crud, right?

Despite evidence to the contrary, I’m generally reluctant to say “Hey, today I helped this person! Today I served this group!” I mean, besides the fact that it’s not like I’m FIGHTING EBOLA IN AFRICA (I mean, I’m not crazy), I believe boasting about such things is detrimental to the doing of them. There’s only one decent reason to even mention it to you here, in this blog. And that’s to illustrate this point:

I find that the only true way to ward off self-pity and despondence is in the giving of a helping hand here and there. I love writing and I like drawing and I appreciate the freelance work that’s increasingly being thrown my way, but the most satisfying work I do these days comes when I am allowed the privilege of helping someone out. I feel like I have purpose beyond my troubles and whatever results from them, and I like seeing people smile. That’s stupidly cliche, I know, but I’m telling you when the job is taken away–the thing you spend most of your waking hours doing–it’s a bit like dying. You see more clearly what’s of the most worth. Smiles are worth a lot. They won’t pay the mortgage, but they’re still better than cash.

If one of the big questions we were asked at the end of our lives to give an accounting of what we were up to on this Earth was something simple like “On the whole, did you make people’s days better or worse?” I think that would be fair. I would expect a question like that. No one is going to ask me about how successful my marketing plan was or whether that logo was really the best choice. They’re going to want to know if I contributed to the world’s darkness or fought against it.

Jobs aren’t bad things–they’re very good things–but anything we do mostly out of a need for survival can distract us from the stuff that matters a great deal more. Survival-based activities can start to seem like the only important activities. When that happens then we’re no better than every dad in the 1st act of every 80’s kids movie ever–overworked, neglectful of the truly most needful things, and unhappy.

All of which is to say: I’m unemployed and I’m yet I am happy.

Day 28 – Why I Shouldn’t Want to Go to Prison (But Do Anyway)

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.

Thursday. September 25, 2014

DSC_0284I’m a selfish sonuvagun. I like time to myself–and not just the normal amount. I need lots and lots of it. Sometimes I fantasize about what it would be like to be in prison. Scratch that, I don’t fantasize–I romanticize it. I know prison is a horrible, restrictive place, but it can provide you with the ultimate solitude. If I were to ever go there I think I might shank* a guy to get myself put in Solitary Confinement.

*Urban Dictionary is confused about the proper use of “shiv” and “shank” so don’t expect me to know it.

Seriously, Solitary sounds like the best thing ever. First of all, it’s time away from all the guys in The Yard (totally got the lingo down) who basically want to kill you or get you to join their racist gang (everybody in prison is racist–thank you, movies). Second of all, that’s mucho time by yourself. Think of the thoughts you could think! Or the meditation you could meditate! It would be so peaceful. This is how I imagine it. In the movies (which never lie), when they threaten to take guys out of Gen Pop and put them in Solitary for shivving* a guy, I always think, “Why are they rewarding him for bad behavior?”

This is, of course, deeply stupid. But, to a selfish guy like me who likes his alone time and dark rooms and time to think? Yeah, Solitary doesn’t sound that bad.

Of course I know better. I know Solitary is horrible because despite whatever terrible little idiosyncrasies I might have, I’m still a human being. I need human contact and I can only stand so much of myself. More than that, I need to be useful to someone other than myself. Why? What is my purpose? I can tell you what it’s not: to satisfy my wants.

I want to be alone a lot. I need to not do that.

Now that I’m unemployed, my days are easily filled with wants. True, I do have a family (and make no mistake–I love being with them, but I also really like the hours from 10pm to 1:30am when I’m awake and alone), but without the job I have even more time for myself besides what my family wants and needs from me. So, I fill up the days with writing and drawing and, sure, applying for jobs and sending out resumes and stuff. Me stuff.

But, I need to do more than that.

* * *

This morning, Erin and I went and visited my Grandpa and his wife, Susan. They’re incredibly kind, generous people, and they’re family. Susan had a list of stuff that had piled up that needed doing–grandson stuff. You know. Take this thing out of the wall, fix this thing on Facebook, Get Netflix up and running, fix the computer, that sort of stuff. After a few hours of visiting and knocking out the list one-by-one, we were done and they were happy.

Not gonna lie, the first hour or so I was thinking almost the entire time about all the stuff of my own I wasn’t doing, but that faded. What replaced it was the most sublime feeling of satisfaction and peace that can only come from taking the focus off yourself for a little while.

spaingrapesIn the afternoon, I drove out past the edge of town to the Church Vineyard. My church runs several farms around the world that grow food for relief efforts. In California’s Central Valley, we have a vineyard for growing grapes that are turned into raisins. All the work at the vineyard is done by volunteers from the church membership and whatever friends we can trick into coming out with us to sweat and work and get dirty enough to be an extra in a Mad Max movie.

The grapes were picked about a month ago and have been sitting out in the sun ever since. They’re raisins now, and still on the ground up and down the rows of the vineyard, wrapped up in paper we call trays because, I guess, “paper” has too many syllables. Our job today was to box the raisins.

For the boxing, a small tractor is sent through the rows with a trailer hitched to it. On one side of the trailer sits the people who scoop up the trays. They toss the trays overhead to the people on the other side of the trailer who shake out the raisins into large, wooden boxes sitting in the trailer. I loved the tossing part, which put me low to the ground and constantly batting away vines as the tractor sped us along.

At the end of the row, the leftover trays are put in a stack and lit on fire. Yes, there is fire. A big fire. I really liked the fire.

When I first arrived at the vineyard, no one from my group was there so for the first hour I was put to work wetting down dirt for the forklift carrying the boxes with genuinely the longest hose I’ve ever seen in my life. That thing could go anywhere. I sprayed the moon with that thing.

file0001118113690All told, my work at the vineyard took about four hours. Not a full day’s work by any means, but a good chunk of the day. The sweetest moment came at the end, when I walked back to my car at sunset through the rows of grapes. A holey blanket of scattered dark clouds tried to cover the sky, but light shown through just fine. The breeze was perfect, just barely disturbing the leaves on the vine, but carrying the scent of burnt paper throughout the vineyard, into my nose, and straight to the part of my brain that recalled the childhood smell of my grandmother’s cigarettes. I was dirty from head to toe. The top of my head held so much dirt it looked like my hair was growing back in.

I worked hard. I was useful. It was amazing.

Today, I gave myself over to the needs of others and not-so-coincidentally had one of my very best days since this whole unemployment mess started. I did this because it’s simply not mentally healthy to drown yourself in your own wants and needs day after day after day.

That’s right, wants and needs. You can’t do it. You can’t be that selfish, even though you may be justified. The minute you think you’re so important and so desperate–I don’t care if you’re Job himself–that you can’t take time out to help someone else, you’ve lost. You’ve lost and you are lost. You’ve missed the point of, well, pretty much everything. You might as well go to Solitary Confinement, for all the good you are to anyone.

And besides, being unemployed sucks. It feels bad. But today? Today, I felt good.

* * *

For those curious, here’s a short little video about the vineyard I served at today. It’s an incredible place.

Day 2 – 20 Blessings from the First 24 Hours of Unemployment

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.

August 30, 2014

settlersThe Facebook messages didn’t stop during the overnight. A lot of people seemed to think that playing Settlers of Catan would somehow alleviate the stress and tragedy of this week’s double job loss, as though a simple game among friends could have the power to stave off emotional darkness and too easy cynicism.

Smart, smart people. I love tabletop gaming and so does my wife, so we were all in on that.

I decided to do an accounting today. I think the secret to happiness is gratitude–the mere act of being grateful requires positive reflection so being grateful for everything is the one guaranteed way to be happy–so I wanted to be sure and think back over the previous 24 hours and consider the ways in which we’d been blessed. Here’s the list I came up with:

1. Warm cookies.

2. Many lovely private messages of support.

3. Erin’s father, Dale, a world class runner, ditched his race in SoCal to come up to be with us.

4. Offer of free massages.

5. Offer of legal help.

6. Sound unemployment advice from people who definitely KNOW what they’re talking about. I’m excited to take advantage of the mortgage insurance on our FHA loan. Apparently, we can get the next six months paid for.

7. Free babysitting so we could go out with my brother and his wife while they’re in town (they’re kind about the negative impact our troubles are having on their vacation, but I feel terrible they have to put up with our feelings when they should be relaxing).

8. Free ice cream, courtesy of my brother and his wife.

9. Offer of cold, hard cash.

10. Leads on potential freelance jobs.

11. Warm hugs. (My girls watch ‘Frozen’ nonstop. All hugs are warm.)

12. Praises we don’t deserve. Seriously, you’d think my wife and I were Gods who could call down fire from the mountain for all the confidence and faith people have in us to pull out of this.

13. Prayers on our behalf.

14. Service in the Church Vineyard. Erin and Elora, our oldest, went to pick grapes in the early AM. The grapes are turned into raisins and then used for relief efforts. For Erin, rendering that service was exactly what she needed. It felt good and took the focus off our troubles for a while.

15. Free horseback riding for our daughter with special needs, Cami. We go out to the Heart of the Horse Therapy Ranch every Saturday morning and it’s always free. Never been more grateful for than than today.

16. Offer to pay for Violet’s preschool. Violet is our youngest. She started preschool for the first time this week. If there was anything Erin was most stressed about, it was having to tell Violet she wouldn’t be able to go back as we cut back on expenses. A kind relative stepped forward and didn’t give us a choice–Violet’s preschool WILL be paid for.

17. A meal we didn’t have to cook or buy.

18. Peace.

19. Love.

20. Hope.

* * *

I’ve been struggling all day between peace and panicking. There are moments when it hits me that soon I won’t know how to pay for things and I just want to run away. We went over  to my Mom’s today and she asked me how I was doing and I snapped at her that I felt “terrible because I lost my job,” as if she didn’t know. I had to apologize to her later. Thankfully, that’s not my disposition most of the time.

Most of the time, I feel good. I feel relieved to be separated from a job that was increasingly an ill fit and I feel grateful to be moving on to something new. Hopefully, that ‘new’ is not homelessness.

We got one last blessing today, very late at night. I got a text from a friend to check the porch, and this is what I found:

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An unemployment survival kit from friends who know how much soft foam violence we’d like to exact on our situation.