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As I work from home every day, the guilt about what my kids are up to nags at me. We are nearly a month into the COVID-19 shutdown, and my family is still figuring out our routine.
Before this pandemic brought life to a halt, our family of four was always on the go, heading to basketball or soccer practices, tennis or trampoline lessons, and juggling homework. My husband and I squeezed in gym visits around work, kids’ activities, and the surprisingly consuming job of managing our son’s rep soccer team.
Now our family Google calendar is blank. With no Raptors games to cover, I spend my days searching for ways to write about sports. We are pining for our close-knit soccer team family, our friends and workout pals, our wing nights and game days, even the stinky uniforms piling up in the laundry room. We love our life, but I have to admit that hitting the pause button provides a measure of relief.
During the first few weeks, our two sons – 11 and 14 – slept in, then spent most of the day on screens. Normally, we would never let them lounge straight through days like that – sometimes even forgetting to eat lunch or change their clothes – and I was feeling plenty of guilt about it. But there’s a tsunami of advice online about life for kids during this unprecedented time, and it helped me to forgive myself a little. I related most to one from Yale University: Acknowledge we’re not trained teachers or coaches, that even the best laid plans may change, and kids are resilient.
This week, as Ontario schools added new virtual learning content, we have insisted our boys wake before 9 a.m. and start their day with it. So far, that’s been two hours. Then we’re a bit lost.
We realize we’re lucky: We are healthy, have regular paycheques and a spacious suburban house in which to keep busy. My son’s birthday is coming up and I won’t miss it this year, as I often have while on the road covering Raptors’ playoff runs. We’ve been gifted something we have often struggled to find in recent years: time together at home. Now we just have to agree how to spend it, while physically distancing from everyone we know.
My long list of ideas is ridiculously overzealous. I’m planning house-reorganizing projects, new hobbies, books, web tutorials and soul-satisfying virtual connections with friends and relatives. I imagine I can master acrylic paint pouring and fill my walls with faux-marble looking artwork.
My husband and I are enjoying our early morning walks. We do our workouts outdoors or via my gym’s free online classes. I’m doing group video chats with friends; he’s competing on the online World Golf Tour with his buddies.
Our usually active kids are finding workouts boring without their coaches and friends. They start to exercise, but that peters out quickly. Our youngest is a rep goalkeeper and he is used to a certain intensity in practices we can only try to mimic. Our teenager wants to do his own thing.
They both love books, but lately haven’t been as keen to read for pleasure. They can’t run around the neighbourhood with buddies like usual. They want to be with their friends online – like we all do.
As parents, we can’t replace their teachers, coaches and friends. But we can encourage our boys to set goals, self-motivate, improvise and seek new hobbies. Our kids are remarkably creative – they just need a nudge.
So the four of us collaborated on a list of things to do together this week and stuck it on the fridge. We plan Battleship and Stratego, a putting contest, a blackjack night, a workout on our basement punching bag, and – yes – family video games.
We brought all of our board games up from the basement and gave them a higher-profile home in the dining room. We staged an epic game of Monopoly that went on in spurts for over a week with the intensity of a seven-game NBA playoff series. We play random three-minute games of Boggle. We play Dice Football, rolling our way down a cardboard NFL field while weighing each decision like it’s the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. I hope when the pandemic is over, we keep making the time for board games and we leave that boxing bag out, standing ready to be punched. In reality I know that once people start filling our house again, we’ll feel the urge to tidy up and tuck them neatly away.
We’re sharing ideas to makeover our living room and the kids’ bathroom. We’re learning recipes from Tasty, a site our kids like with charismatic young chefs. We sat in front of my son’s little-used keyboard synthesizer and did a web tutorial with The Piano Guy. We’re intrigued about Master Class, where we can study acting with Samuel L. Jackson or film scoring with Hans Zimmer.
Around the dinner table the other night, we joked about filling our empty calendar with fictional stuff. Our 11-year-old imagined a globe-trekking dream birthday week, whisking his friends to Japan, then Disneyland California, to a movie and then straight to McDonald’s.
We haven’t lost our creativity. The routine will come.
What else we’re thinking about:
Online grocery shopping felt like a real pain before the pandemic, spending gobs of time on my phone swiping through photos of food items, relying on a staffer to choose apples and avocados for our family, and living with the substitutions they make when an item runs out. None of that bothers me any more. My kids have come to accept we may not get the exact brand of cheese they like and we aren’t running right over to the store to pick up one or two items. Maybe I’ll finally become a good meal planner. At last, we have the time to cook every night.
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