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.