Here we are, the evening of February 2nd. The day that was meant to signal the firm end of the holiday, the day before my daughter was meant to return to school. Well… as we all know, that won’t be happening for at least two weeks, possibly more. For a number of reasons, we’ve elected to ride out the virus situation here in Shanghai (no judgment on anyone who has chosen to leave – we all gotta make our choices for ourselves on this). So what am I going to do with a young teenager for all this time other than let her stare at the screen in the palm of her hand?
Without question, this is a big question parents both foreign and local are facing as we all press on day to day. Some part of each day, theoretically, will have my daughter occupied and engaged in e-learning from her school. But what to do with the rest of the time?
We sat down as a family earlier today and tossed around some ideas. Here are some thoughts we have had and ideas we have come up with. Hopefully, if you’re in a similar boat you’ll find something in here that inspires you to map out your own plan for the coming weeks.
We’ll keep a schedule so our days have some structure. We’ve played it pretty loose up to now: no real bedtime, no fixed time to get up, no requirement to do refined things like put on pants. (I mean, someone has to go out to walk the dog, but this is Shanghai: pajamas are totally acceptable for such local errands.) Once or twice I had to stop and think to myself, “When did I last shower – was it yesterday? Day before? What did I even do yesterday?” And you know, whatever, it was the holiday, so who cares?
But it’s time to get back into some semblance of order lest we tip over entirely into incurable sloth. Tonight, we go to bed at a reasonable hour, and we get up in the morning by 8. We’re blocking out chunks time in our calendars for specific activities.
We’re going to start each day with 30 minutes of exercise. If it’s nice out, maybe a walk. Or maybe we do some yoga. On some days a little HIIT. Some pilates. Get funky with a bit of tabata. The point is, we gotta get ourselves moving to stay fit both mentally and physically.
It’s time to get the kid up to speed on some basic domestic skills. God bless her, she’s had an ayi almost all her life; she’s never had to clean a bathroom. I had this roommate once, a nice guy, but he had grown up with a housekeeper and he would do stuff like eat breakfast and then leave his cereal bowl, the box of cereal, and the carton of milk on the table and go off to work. I don’t want her to be that guy! So we’re going to work on things like actually using hot water to wash a dish, folding clothes in such a way that they actually lay flat and no bits are sticking out all around, overcoming fear of using the iron, and sewing a button on a shirt.
Reorganizing and room redecoration in progress. This is one that I’m happy to take the back seat on – a teen’s room is, of course, their sanctuary, the only space that is really their own. My daughter’s already off to a good start on going through all of her stuff and identifying what she’s ready to part with and what she’s outgrown. She’s found a few bits and pieces she can repurpose to give her room a little bit of a new look, and she’s now got a few things she can put up for sale in our local reselling group to give herself a little extra pocket money. And I didn’t even have to do anything! WIN.
We’re challenging ourselves to learn something totally new. We are living in the age of YouTube and Youku, etc. There are instructional videos for everything available out there at our fingertips –why are we not all learning to juggle fireballs or perform brain surgery? Well, I don’t suppose either of those are practical pursuits for my living room, so we’ve set more achievable goals. I am going to learn to play the ukulele and if that goes well, maybe take a stab at a bit of guitar. The kid hasn’t decided yet what she wants to do, but she’s leaning towards learning how to do fashion drawing as she’s always been interested in clothing design, plus it looks totally cool.
We’ve already started doing a lot of cooking together, and we’re going to do some baking too. Thankfully the shops are pretty stocked and we’ve been able to get pretty much anything we need. We’ve made hummus, baba ghanoush, and flatbread. We’ve made bean and cheese quesadillas with guacamole and salsa. We’ve made a stunning bolognese and there’s a vegetarian cottage pie and also some sausage and lentil soup planned for the upcoming days. We’re going to have a go at baking… something. Not sure what yet. Hoping for results that are more GBBO than Nailed It!
And there’s all this time to read books! Books, glorious books. Kid and I have formed our own mini-book club. We’re each picking a book, reading it and then trading, and then we’ll have a chat about them both. I’m currently in the middle of Michelle Obama’s “Becoming”, and she has chosen “I Capture the Castle” by Dodie Smith. One of the great things about having a teenager is you see them moving towards becoming a young adult person and (occasionally, between the sighing and the eye-rolling) you get to have moments of mature conversations. I’m looking forward to the dialogue reading together in this new way inspires.
Lastly, we’re going to work on a family vision board. And make it a real work of out. We’ve agreed that it’s something we would all like to do – create something that is beautiful to look at that will reflect our values, goals, and dreams as a family. I don’t know what that looks like yet, but I’m excited for it.
Although I’d never say I’m ‘happy’ about the coronavirus – because that would be freakin’ nuts, real people have died and real people are suffering – I do want to acknowledge that we personally have been handed this amazing gift of time together, time where we can slow down a bit, not be rushing around with our busy Shanghai lives, doing this and going there and never feeling like there are enough hours in the day. Less than five years from now, my girl will be away from us, probably studying at some faraway university, creating her own world around herself, and our time together will be in short bursts of holidays and summer breaks. So if fate has seen fit to put us all together for this extended period of time, I’m going to take every bit of it.