Lijah turned 6 today—can you believe it! We celebrated him with a card and a few presents this morning, plus the traditional pancake with a candle in it (his had chocolate chips, but that wasn't special: all his pancakes have chocolate chips). Harvey and Zion each made him something in Minecraft, whatever that means; from his parents who give tangible real-world gifts he received a rainbow unicorn card, a stick unicorn, a heart necklace, and pink nail polish. Oh, and gum. (Along with Minecraft gum is currently a mania in our house—probably because I hate them both.) For upholders of traditional gender roles, I will say you don't need to worry: at his party tomorrow we're additionally giving him a musket and a pocket knife. These are all things he asked for, which I think says we're doing something right. Or maybe he's just an awesome person on his own. Happy Birthday Lijah B!
What strange times we're living in. Since I last wrote, everything is different. I wish I had been noting down everything as it happened, but had I done so I probably would have looked stupid in retrospect—there was a time, for example, when I thought this virus business was no big thing. Happily we got Lijah's birthday party off before the epidemic got going, then we hosted Bible Study here a week ago on Tuesday evening. On Thursday we thought we were going to a homeschool music gathering, but the hosts, with an immunocompromised family member, were more on top of the news than we were and cancelled. We met up with one other family at their house anyway, played some music, and took a hike. Then Friday we cancelled our Book Group here but still invited families who wanted to join us. Just one took us up on the offer and the kids played outside while the adults talked about SARS-CoV2 and social distancing. We had lunch together, but carefully. They left at 1:30, and nobody has been in our house since, nor have we visited anyone else.
I guess that's only been four days, but to be honest it feels like a lifetime. Not because the time has been hard—on the contrary, except for some base-level existential dread we've been having a great time! I guess it's just that with so little on the schedule the days have felt stretched out. Not so much that I've had time to write, clearly, but lots for board games and stories and learning to use Zoom. It looks like this is going to be our schedule for quite a while now, so maybe I'll be able to work some writing in there too.
Last night we started a new bedtime chapter book, Secret Water by Arthur Ransome. With plenty of time in our schedule we read some this morning, too: chapter two, which includes a discussion over a breakfast of porridge. I had planned waffles for our own breakfast, but once they heard the word the lure of porridge was too much for the kids to resist. So we did that instead. Then a little while later they listened to a Zoom read-aloud from our good friends at Team Moosiverse. After finishing Neil Gaiman's Fortunately, the Milk yesterday, today the hosts started Adventures With Waffles by Maria Parr. We read it ourselves a couple months ago—and pushed on everyone we know—but that doesn't mean they didn't want to hear it again. I don't think they actually got to the part where waffles come into the story, but it didn't matter: just hearing the title was enough for Lijah to need one for a snack. Who knew my children were so impressionable! It's a good thing we're not reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory...
As I mentioned, we cleverly scheduled Lijah's birthday party before society closed down. He invited six friends—appropriate for a sixth birthday!—and those friends brought along enough family members to bring the total number of folks in the house, including Archibalds, to 26. Pretty good! The party had a dragon theme, officially, though as the day got closer the birthday boy decided he wanted to give unicorns equal billing. The short notice didn't bother me since I didn't have any particular dragon-based activities or decorations in mind anyway; he wanted a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting so options were limited in that direction, and I was too overwhelmed with other life to think too much about activities. (I did make a fantastic rainbow unicorn card that I gave him on his actual birthday on Friday.)
Of course, with all those kids in the house we needed to do something! As the kids arrived we had material out for them to make puppets—or any other project they cared to attempt with construction paper and lunch bags. I had prepared a dragon puppet as an encouraging example. Lijah made a unicorn puppet (with terrifying sharp teeth); there were also a couple other dragons, a knight, a dog, and two penguins. The more active kids played outside on an obstacle course that Zion and I had set up. Then we had lunch—plain pasta and chicken nuggets for the littles, home-made pizza and African food for those with more discerning palettes (who am I kidding, the kids ate most of the pizza too). After lunch I sent them out on a treasure hunt to find a dragon's hoard hidden in the yard (totally not a pirate treasure: that was last year). They couldn't figure out one of the clues but it didn't matter: they brute-forced it by blindly searching the whole property and finding the clues out of order. I knew I should have buried them! The prize was a bag of candy for each kid.
Which hopefully they didn't eat right away because next we had cake. No ice cream, but there were also chocolate chip cookies... does that count? After the cake Lijah opened his presents, and besides the musket and knife from his parents he got so many beautiful and thoughtful dragon-related gifts. A Dragonite doll, a dragon puppet, an amazing homemade costume, an embossed leather journal... He was delighted.
It was a three-hour event; the morning of I was actually worried I scheduled it to be so long, and I wasn't sure what everybody would do. I needn't have been. The folks who absolutely had to be somewhere else tore themselves away after three and a quarter hours, and everybody else stayed for four. Maybe we had an inkling we wouldn't be partying together again for a while?
We tend to do our fair share of socializing. Before the end of the world we had dinner with friends two evenings a week (not counting weekly dinner with my parents), took part in homeschool gatherings twice a week, and hosted Harvey's friend Jack every Thursday... and that's just the scheduled things! Last weekend it all lurched to a stop and we found ourselves with more private time at home than we've had in years. It was... kind of nice! But we did miss our friends, so we've been enjoying the gradual transition of all those meetings to the digital realm. Today we might have gone a bit overboard, though.
We kicked things off at 10:00 with homeschool Book Club party. We just finished reading The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic—we heard the epilogue this morning—and while we couldn't stick to our pattern of making food from the book we were definitely able to dress up like characters from the book. Zion was King Lucas the Loftier and Lijah was Theodore, the potter. Harvey didn't dress up but he did memorize a 16-line poem from the last chapter (this morning!) which is probably more impressive. We also played a rousing game of Mount Majestic Jeopardy. We finished up at 11:30.
Then we were off until 2:00, when we joined the Jacksons' read-aloud to hear more of Adventures With Waffles. That lasted for an hour, then as soon as it finished up the boys had a date for a video call and pokemon battle with our closest Pokemon-card-playing friends. I had to cut them off at 4:00 before they were quite finished because I was hosting my very first Zoom meeting, for the parents in our homeschool coop. It was supposed to just be a half hour but went almost until 5:00 (happily, the bonus time in the oven made the squash that was going into the squash soup even better!).
As we finished up dinner I had just a few minutes to set up a second computer with Zoom so that the boys could join the Kids meeting of our church-related community group, as Leah and I hosted the Adult portion upstairs from the other machine. The adults had a civilized conversation for an hour and a half while the digital native young people discovered that you can draw on Zoom and had a great time doodling, as well as—apparently—playing hide and seek. Well, most of them had a great time: Lijah suffered a complete breakdown and says he never wants to use Zoom again. To be honest, I get where he's coming from. Maybe a screen-free day tomorrow?
We learned this evening that the equinox was actually a couple days ago; never mind, we celebrated it today. The 19th was rainy, anyway! Today was beautiful, if chilly, and a Saturday without much in the way of obligations gave us lots of time to welcome the summer half of the year in the proper fashion: by getting outside!
To make the day extra special we took a trip in the car—the first in eight days!—to Concord's Estabrook Woods, which we last visited just under a year ago. It was a great choice—despite a startling number of cars at the trailhead the woods are big enough that we barely saw anyone, and we spent two and a half lovely hours exploring a very steep hill, vernal pools and a real pond, a couple of streams—one with a spillway waterfall. The best part was the sunny spot we found by the pond for our picnic lunch. We haven't been feeling particularly cabin-fevery, but still it is nice to get out a bit.
There was lots of playing outside in the afternoon, then towards evening we built a fire. After it had done its part cooking our supper it transitioned into a (very small) bonfire to greet the spring and roast us some marshmallows. We burned the wreath that adorned the front of our house for three months; more because we needed kindling than for ceremonial purposes, but it still seemed nicely symbolic.
Of course, the coming of astronomical summer doesn't mean the weather automatically turns lovely. There's cold rain in the forecast for much of the coming week—and you know we're not getting out of the house to any indoor activities. So it's a good thing we got as much outsiding as we did today!
Lots of moments from the past week—not all of them of us on screens. (Also I finally put up the past three weeks' "moments" posts, if you want to scroll back and check them out).
Lijah doesn't eat very many different things. He's not picky in a traditional sense—he'll eat sweet potato, for example, or pickled garlic—but he knows what he likes and doesn't like foods that aren't on his list. Not that the list is static; that would be too easy. A couple years ago he liked his hot dogs without buns; the year after that he only wanted the bun. This week we saw a change in his diet happen.
Yesterday morning I made scrambled eggs for myself, Harvey, and Zion. When he saw them Lijah asked to try some, approved, and asked for more. Well, I wasn't going to cook more eggs so I told him he'd have to wait. Could he have some for lunch, he wanted to know? Remember, this is the child who needed separate breakfast food every time I cooked eggs for the past 18 months.
Well, you can guess what was on the breakfast menu this morning! I admit I felt some pressure as I scrambled today's eggs: what if he didn't like them this time? Would I be doomed to another year of short-order breakfast complexity? Happily, he once again approved. Of course, he also turned down the toast I made him, but I suppose you can't win em all.
We didn't get much snow this year. We only managed to go sledding two or three times, and one of those times there was literally no snow on the ground anywhere except the north-facing slope of the sledding hill. It was pretty disappointing. So naturally, on Monday—less than a week into spring—we had our biggest snow since mid-February. It wasn't a blizzard, sure, but it was certainly enough to notice.
Naturally, we took what advantage of it we could. As the snow started to stick we all went for a walk in the woods; only those members of the family who determined in advance to be grumpy even minded getting snowflakes in their eyes. Then on Tuesday morning the neighborhood kids all changed their homeschooling schedules to make sure of playing in the snow before it all melted away in the bright sunshine. There wasn't enough for a snowman, but there were definitely snowballs thrown. And I'll tell you, the snow gear doesn't get any less wet in one inch of snow than it does in 20—it certainly looked like a snow day inside the house!
Our social distancing regime seems kind of like a blizzard-level snow day that's lasted for almost two weeks, with no end in sight. So it was nice to get some actual snow into the deal!
Just like last Friday, we had an overwhelming online day today. This time I hosted three meetings! Besides that I spent a while working on recording a video. Suffice it to say that I spent more time looking at my own face today than I have any other day of my entire life. And videos isn't all we're doing! When the quarantine started Leah and I thought we had all the time in the world, so we ordered a dumpster; it's going to be picked up Monday so we have to finish filling it before then. The dumpster situation is emblematic of how life is going: how can it possibly have been in our driveway for two weeks already?! (Strangely, while weeks are speeding by each day seems to last a very long time. I don't know how that works.) All that is to say, I thought that being stuck at home would mean I would have time for all sorts of things that I don't usually manage. And that's not happening. Or maybe it is, actually—it's just that the extra time is for Zoom meetings and making videos. Oh well.
Nine days ago we took advantage of Saturday's empty schedule to go on our first family outing of the pandemic time. I guess that's what we do now, because this past Saturday had us hitting the road again. This time we went to a beach.
It was Duxbury Beach, on the South Shore: it's not our usual direction, but the trip was also motivated by the need to pick up up a cache of whole wheat flour from Leah's cousin—which is a whole other story—so we got to see somewhere new. The beach is on a long spit of land stretching out into Duxbury Bay, and so visitors have their choice of the waters of the Atlantic (well, Cape Cod Bay anyhow) or the much calmer Duxbury Bay. Naturally, we headed for the waves first thing, but when we crossed to dunes to face the chill breeze on the ocean side we quickly turned back to have our picnic lunch back on the other side where it was a little warmer. It's still March, after all.
There was plenty to explore on that side among the mud flats and salt marsh; after we exhausted the possibilities of that corner we took a walk maybe a half mile down on the bay side before crossing over and coming back on the ocean side, the boys and I naturally picking up special rocks and shells (and in their case bottlecaps and bits of brick and glass) all the while. There were lots of people out and about, but on the beach it's easy to find enough room for social distancing. Naturally, we were the only ones to do any wading. It was a bit of a ways—we were in the car for just about as long as we were actually at the beach. But that's fine, because once again the boys hadn't been in the car for a week. And it's nice, every once and a while, to get a change of scenery!
Especially when the scenery has salt water in it.
When we started social distancing I felt like I had all the time in the world. Just think of everything I was going to get done around the house and in the garden! But actually it turns out that I still have to do my job, and help lead our homeschool group, and keep in touch with my friends... and all those things are more complicated now. Since I care about them, though, I'm hanging in there and trying to make them work by making more work for myself. Like in my job as a Kids Church pastor. How do I pastor kids when I can't see them? I started out by just putting my weekly stories online, which added maybe three minutes of work to what I was already doing anyway. Then when I got a little experience on Zoom I realized I could do Zoom meetings on Sunday mornings; the first of those was this past Sunday. That took some prep. But I was also thinking about the kids who couldn't do videoconferencing... how could I make the story engaging to them? So I made a video version. And since there's no way I can get through a six minute story without a mistake or an interruption I had to do multiple takes, and edit them together. It took about five hours overall. Take a look and tell me if you think it was worth it!
At the same time, I mentioned to the homeschool group that I was thinking of doing something around poetry with the boys for April (which is National Poetry Month, of course!). I may have used the word "curriculum" and offered to share it with them. When there was some interest I actually had to come up with something concrete for them to look at! Here that is. I have three daily activities done so far... the other 19 will come pretty easily, right?