In Barcelona, the coronavirus lockdown came swiftly. Within hours of the schools shutting down on 12 March, we realised we were heading into something big. There were moments of confusion, a scramble to the supermarket, and then that was that. We were officially in quarantine until further notice.
While everyone was stocking up on toilet paper, hand soap, and pasta, I wish I had taken a minute to think of the "nonessentials" that could make or break us while we are isolated with young children. I wasn't sure about whether or not to write this post; I'm not a doctor, scientist, or medical expert. I am a parent, however, and watching family and friends in other countries who are still able to get out to the shops, I desperately want to help them prepare for lockdown life with kids — like I wish someone had prepared me. These are my notes from being in quarantine for the past 10 days with two small children. I hope they help.
Stock Up on Art Supplies (Because They Go Quicker Than You Think)
I never thought I'd see myself rationing crayons, but here we are. Today, while my twin boys were happily colouring, I found myself stressing over 'crayon wastage' (apparently that's a thing now). I cursed myself for taking our crayon count for granted. Same goes for paper, cardboard, glue, stickers, paint, Sellotape, food colouring, and all the other art supplies that could keep little ones entertained for a while.
If you're not in government-sanctioned quarantine yet, pop some of these basic (yet potentially sanity saving) art materials into your cart next time you hit the shops. You won't regret it.
Have a Selection of Games on Hand to Break Out When Boredom Sets In
We try to keep toys to a minimum here. I think Marie Kondo would be proud. At the moment, we're relying heavily on creative play, but the day boredom sets in and my boys demand to be entertained, we don't have much to fall back on.
I'm kicking myself that in those few hours before the coronavirus quarantine I didn't grab a couple of board games, card games, and jigsaws, just so I know I'll have something different to pull out of the back of the cupboard to liven up lockdown life. If you're able, try to get some tabletop entertainment into your arsenal. It's easier to relax when you know you have something fun up your sleeve.
Break Out the Fancy Dress For a Dose of Silly Fun During Self-Isolation
Luckily (and horrifyingly), we had a fancy dress birthday party a week before the quarantine began. (We had no idea about the risk we were taking at the time.) On a positive note, that's left us with a massive bag of age-appropriate fancy dress gear to dip into whenever we like. And here in lockdown, tutus, masks, and funny hats are a welcome dose of silly fun to break up the day.
What's more, we're tremendously lazy and never took the decorations down, so our quarantined home is actually a fabulous burst of rainbow garlands, bunting, and balloons. Probably not what you were expecting, right? We even spent a morning hanging decorations from the windows to cheer our neighbours up (and ourselves while we were at it).
It can be tough to deal with fears and anxieties about this global pandemic, especially while you're trying to keep things easy-breezy for the kids. If you have the chance to pick up some decorations and/or fancy dress gear, it might bring a sense of festive silliness that you'll be yearning for in quarantine.
Bring a Bit of Nature Home When You Can't Get Outside
Kids love a bit of muck and mud. Well, they do in our home anyway. We often find they've done a 'helpful' bit of gardening with a stolen wooden spoon, looking so proud of the ungodly mess they've made of the plants. The good news is, you can lean in to that during the coronavirus quarantine.
While the shops were still open here, I wish I'd picked up some earth, bulbs, and pots. You don't need a big garden to encourage tiny gardeners. A balcony or even a windowsill will do. What kid can resist an activity that involves digging in the dirt? Pair that with the ongoing maintenance of their own baby flowers, and your little ones will be busy (and dirty) for ages. It might just give you a well-needed break, too.
Keep in Mind, Kids Adapt Quickly
So far, we've made it to day seven of the lockdown. I want to say it's not what we expected . . . but then again, nobody expected this, did they? Already we've had blood, sweat, and tears. Literally. We've done hilarious family workouts. We've experienced our fair share of tantrums. We've baked, we've painted, and we've utilised all the various tools at a resourceful (and desperate) parent's disposal. What I'm learning is that kids adapt pretty quickly, even to extreme situations like this — and that parents are far more tenacious than we ever allowed ourselves to imagine.
Having said that, if you're in a city where lockdown is imminent, I urge you to pick up or dig out some of these "nonessential" items if you can. From where I'm sitting here in quarantine, they might just help save your family's mental health. Other than that, stay safe, stay calm, and please, wash your hands.