Our friend Cleo lives in Hong Kong, where she and her two sons aged 9 and 13 have been in a virtual coronavirus lockdown for six weeks and counting. Things are now slowly returning to a new normal there. Please SHARE her tips and experience with anyone, especially parents, who could use some inspiration and encouragement as our communities are just now dealing with these issues…
These are certainly mind-boggling times. In Hong Kong, we’ve had tremendous disruptions of normal life and school; first with the street protests and now with this coronavirus.
When we go through times of upheaval, our family has always adopted the attitude of “We’re going on a new family adventure” …let’s try new things, set some new challenges, maybe turn over some new leaves and have more fun than normal.
Regarding all the scary news: I only let the boys know about the news in small bites until I felt things were “real.” Initially we talked about what we were learning and hearing from friends and school. We also tried to ‘play by the new rules’ which I called “semi-house-arrest” to the boys to make it sound more dramatic and like we were more special, because the rest of the world wasn’t doing it yet!
One of the first activities I organized with the kids was rearranging the furniture in our apartment. It ended up feeling “new” and like we were in a different place. It really improved the mood and made it feel like we were entering a new space.
When we officially started our time of “House Arrest” (on February 2), I convinced the boys as a challenge, to try to skip sugar for one month. I said, let’s turn this period into a time of being intentional and take on a goal for one month together.
I also initiated regular family devotions that were at Gabriel’s (age 9) level and had Ian (13) come alongside to help guide the conversation. We did these years ago but the habit fell by the wayside, so this was like “turning over a new leaf” for all of us. Gabriel is LOVING it, and now he asks for it every morning!
Personally, I decided to add-in intentional prayer time in the morning too because there was no longer any rush to get out the door and the kids to school, and we had heaps of extra time because school was online and literally a flip-of-a-laptop-lid away.
Online schooling was a little stressful the first week, just trying to figure out what links we needed on hand to get to which teacher and training the kids to stop muting each other for fun. Every school will do it differently, but our children’s school is using Google Classroom and Hangout; and for the kids who can, they are doing it in real time. Gabriel works on an iPad in the living room and Ian works on his laptop in his bedroom. Both boys have headsets and normally we only hear one end of the conversations. The only time the house starts to feel a bit small is when Gabriel has music classes and plays the maracas!
I share the same “office space” with Gabriel, so I definitely need to mute myself and also have headphones when I’m on calls, or I take my calls in my bedroom. We videochat via Zoom for everything now: Bible study, small group fellowship, church services, work meetings. Even Gabriel’s Sunday School class Zooms in on Sunday mornings to see each other and hear from their Sunday school teacher! I think of our apartment now as a sort of snazzy, hip Share Space. When Ian is done with live classes, he usually migrates out to the living room and works from the couch right behind me. And everyone is coming and going from the kitchen constantly.
Another new thing we implemented was an incentives chart for Gabriel, using Monopoly money. Ian helped me to design it and create the categories by which Gabriel could earn money. His big reward is to earn money for shopping this summer in the US with his grandmother. He gains points for exercise (walking up and down the nine flights of stairs to our apartment), helping to wipe the table after dinner, and taking initiative to be independent or helpful around the house. For every Monopoly $100, he earns US$1, and it’s working! He is motivated. He has already bought his buddy a birthday present with his earnings from Amazon. Ian’s equivalent is walking our dog and doing the dishes after dinner, except that he earns HK$, not US$!! He unfortunately does not earn money for his exercise routine, which is running around our apartment building (outdoors) or skipping rope (indoors).
Initially I thought I’d keep going to the gym, but soon that began feeling sketchy so I stopped after a week into the lockdown. Then I tried to turn home exercise into my new thing, but I’ll admit it’s pretty much flopped. I ordered a new yoga mat online, some resistance bands and some basic weights. I tried to follow along to a bunch of YouTube exercise classes for a while, but then it sort of fizzled out. 😞 (Hmmm…speaking of shopping, online shopping has become more of a temptation and I’m definitely guilty of that. But why not? Of all times, it’s so nice to treat yourself to a surprise package when you’re cooped up at home!)
Overall, we looked at our new-found “family time” as an opportunity to try some new things, to change our routines from the norm, make the most of our time together, and keep things fun. We treated ourselves to a LOT of extra movie time, even during the school week (yes!), and staying up way later than normal on weekends. I splurged and ordered a couple Lego sets for the boys to do together that they were excited about. But that only occupied them for one weekend 😓 I’m trying to get them to make a music video or write a Gabe-inspired book together… but those ideas haven’t gotten much traction.
Gabriel has been sleeping in different places around the house for fun! That’s been a treat for him. They’ve been setting up tents and forts around the house. And two nights a week I’ve had Ian start learning to cook his favorite dishes. Gabriel likes to help out, too. We’re trying to add in fun new challenges and do things different from our normal routine that we didn’t have time for before.
I have to say that the first month was all kind of an adventure and fun – we ate a lot of home-made popcorn and watched a TON of movies! But coming to the end of the 2nd month things are starting to feel a bit routine. Even ordering-in takeout food (which we NEVER used to do) has lost a bit of its specialness. Hot home-cooked meals during the school day was a treat at first, then ordering in was super special. Now it’s all become a little bit of a ‘been there, done that.’
Now that we’re hitting the two-month mark, people are gradually going back to work! We’ve started venturing out a little more, as well. Ian’s had only one play date this whole time, so last weekend we went to a beach, just the three of us. Another day we explored another attraction. It wasn’t amazing, but we were glad we got out and we tried something new. Tomorrow we’re going to head out to see my cousin and his family.
The subways are getting more and more busy but with 99% of people wearing face masks. It’s definitely socially-expected and odd for people to not wear a face mask here.
After the first couple weeks of panic buying things mostly calmed down. There were a couple incidents of “toilet paper heists” but then it didn’t happen again. It didn’t make sense that, of all things, toilet paper was going to be the thing that was going to save us. Things were crazy initially but, after a week or two, they calmed down. Everything was available in grocery stores again, except hand-sanitizer and antibacterial pump soap which is still hard to find today. Our new routine is that we buy a few more days’ worth of groceries each time we went out and cut our shopping outings down to twice a week, to minimize exposure.
My advice in a nutshell would be: 1) view the time of isolation as a treat from regular life, as a special fun time for special extravagances and 2) set new goals and try new routines that you normally don’t make time for.
It’s weird to say that this is working for our family and has become our new temporary norm. And with all the new twists and turns of this virus saga, we’ve learned to take everything one day at a time. It only brings stress to try to plan weeks or months ahead because too much is still unknown.
Lastly, the good news I have to report is that we made our one month no-sugar goal and the three of us went out to celebrate with floats, shakes and burgers at Shake Shack (many restaurants actually stayed open), so that was a fun treat, topped off with cheesy fries! But I think I need to start thinking up some new fun ideas for the coming weeks. We’ve been told by the Hong Kong Education Bureau that at earliest schools will re-open on April 20th. So, at best, that’s another 5 weeks… 😩!