For us, having a kid was already a step closer to quarantine. Once we made it past the first few months and started to get our bearings, my partner and I found we appreciated the default insulation parenthood provided. Kids are like shields against social interaction. No more pressure to talk to people. No more crowded escalators to ride (elevators become a thing again). People even give you their seat on the tram and just let you be. Vienna is amazing that way.
Besides staying home more than before, we learned to maximize the use of each nook and cranny of the apartment. Each piece of furniture became multi-functional. The couch is also a ship, or a fort. The bed is also a runway, or a wrestling ring, etc. If you can’t hire a sitter and your kid is home sick, or off kindergarten, you have to find ways to pass the time. So, in a way, maybe we were a little more prepared to stay in for two months.
Still, it’s been a challenge: What the past months have taught us is not only to use what we have, but also to use old things you didn’t think your 3½ year-old was ready for.
A collection of Asterix comic books my partner hadn’t read since childhood became a source of shared enjoyment. Some were in English, so I was the assigned reader and my son could look at the pictures. After he learned the characters’ names and a few key words (“magic potion”, “Roman”, “wild boar”) we could talk about what was happening in each frame or scene. “What’s Obelix doing, Papa?” “He’s fighting the Roman soldiers.” “But, the Romans don’t like that, Papa.” True.
We also started dusting off albums from way back when. “Who is this, daddy?” “That’s Mississippi John Hurt.” “Oh.” Next song. “Who is this, daddy?” “It’s still Mississippi John Hurt.” “Oh.” When he asked to listen to that record a few days later, heroically stumbling through the singer’s name, it felt like he’d crossed to my side of the river. I was rediscovering something with him that was meaningful to me.
One of my biggest fears about having kids was that there wouldn’t be any overlap in our interests. He wouldn’t want to do want I wanted to do and vice versa, and his desires would always win out. During this quarantine, however, it became essential that he join in household activities. He started helping me cook, collecting ingredients, stirring or pouring things. Sure, it’s a little messier, but so what? He’s like Arielle in The Little Mermaid. Every tool is a marvelous new machine to him. When he’s older, I imagine us talking about how the food is actually cooked. Preparing dinner will be like a science experiment.
Be weirder than he is
Kids have a huge advantage in the attention-getting game. They are not yet inhibited by morality or social graces. They’re small and cute and need your help. They want what they want and will fight you for it. My son is now trying everything he can think of to get his way. “I washed my hands!” he’ll announce with glee. This after scores of “No!’s” and “I don’t want to’s” that end in me (gently, but forcefully) dragging him into the bathroom and propping him in front of the sink. Doesn’t matter how much he protests, he will always take credit for the result. The parallel between pre-schoolers and politicians is unmistakable. Bending the truth? Check. Resistance to change? Check. Emotionally manipulative behavior? Check.
This had started before, but after we got shut in together, it seemed to happen more often. He’d say “no” to absolutely everything. Reasoning used to work, giving him a choice used to work (do you want the stripy socks or the ones with the little elephants) Mind games worked for a second, but he caught on and would just dig in his heels. Nothing helped.
Then I started singing what needs to happen. A la Johnny Cash ”If you want to have dessert then you gotta eat your peas!” It doesn’t always do the trick – sometimes he just sings back “Nooo!”– but often it does, and it’s a lot more fun for me than just being a disciplinarian. When he refuses to get dressed, I’ll do a puppeteer-like “pants dance” with the empty trousers he won’t put on. Now that they’ve been infused with life, he’s often more receptive. I’m not sure why it works. Maybe it throws him off a little, challenges him. But, one positive side effect is it throws a little of that attention back my way.
In parenting, there are so many new variables to consider practically overnight, it’s a miracle we don’t go completely nuts. It’s like one of those nightmares where you’re taking a test, and none of the questions have anything to do with what you studied. I didn’t grow up religious, but having a kid that turned out ok – despite all the things that could have gone wrong – I have to just throw up my hands in surrender, like “Ok, you win! What do I have to do.”
Being forced to stay home for a few months has also given me more time to be with him. To allow myself to go at his pace – to slow down. I find I want to be around him, crawl inside his little world and get away. It’s pure escapism. Maybe that’s the ‘magic’ my parents were always talking about…
Our son was born pre-maturely so, by the time we were released from the hospital, we were already veteran hand washers, a habit we continued as he got bigger. With that established, my partner suggested since we were going to be stuck indoors for a while, wouldn’t this be the perfect time to potty train him. Easy enough. But, now that we had to ration baby wipes and were getting fed up with diapers anyway, we had to up the intensity a little. Eventually he did it, declaring his achievement during dinner after which there was much celebration. What we didn’t expect was that, bolstered by success, he now wanted to go to the toilet ALL THE TIME. “I have to go,” he’d say ten minutes after I just changed him. This too shall pass.
What to play at home
- Teddy bear hunt
Hide a beloved stuffed animal somewhere, then look for it together. Where do you think he went? Why did he go there? What do you think he’s doing right now?
- Hide and seek
One person covers their eyes and counts. The others hide. The seeker says “Ready or not, here I come!” The fun begins.
- DIY Play-dough
Mix 450g of flour with 200g of salt, boil 500ml of water with 10 table spoons of oil and let it cool. Mix both together and add coloring as desired. It’s easy and edible. You can pound it with different tools, roll it into balls, mold it into letters, or animals, or faces. This kept him occupied for hours!
- Toilet roll marble run
All you need are a marble, cardboard rolls, tape, scissors, and a free section of wall. Cut the cardboard rolls in half length-wise and use the tape to fix them to the wall in a zig-zag pattern. Start close to the floor and see how high you can get!
- DIY washable window paint
Flour, dish soap, and food coloring is all you need for this activity.
- How to EARN money game (monopoly or other)
List household chores each with a wage, and set up a “store” with things they will want, each with a price tag. Found this online.
- DIY Stress ball
For the parents! The simplest variation is a balloon filled with flour. Wrap it in a fruit net for funny shapes.