Cooped Up


Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

We are a family of five. Husband, wife, one teen, one pre-teen, and one second-grader. In normal times we are a comfortable middle-class family. We have a nice home and yard. We can telecommute. The older kids know enough about technology to keep us safe and connected to family members far away. We have regular check-ins with them and family meetings at home. Everyone has their own biorhythm, but we have evolved rules of consideration about shower time, music-playing, group activities, keep-quiet zones and times. The kids are engaged with meal planning and prep, and each is in charge of family game night once a week. But we are exactly the messy humans we write about in your book: we get cranky, bored, restless, impatient, annoying, patronizing, and every other trait that would normally drive us out the door. But as good conscientious citizens we are staying home to flatten the curve, and sewing masks for the brave medical and essential workers who are keeping our world afloat. Given that the news suggests we are going to be locking in together for much longer than anyone would want, can you suggest a way to improve communication in our little microcosm?

Cooped Up Mama


Dear Cooped:

If you are like most families, you did a Zoom Seder, likely with variations on the plagues and Four Questions to account for these extraordinary times. Most folks I knew added The Ten Gratitudes to their Seders. If you did not perhaps now is a great time to do so.

One game I know is this. It works great with a whiteboard and or even just putting three sheets of paper on the frig with magnets. Let every family member pick a color and use markers, crayons, or colored pencils. (If you want, stick them in a jar and everyone can pick a new color every day to preserve anononymity.) You, as Mama, are queen of the game, like the host at a bridge table. Label the sheets each morning: Gratitudes, Issues, Solutions. Put 1-10 on each page. Each family member may write up to two things per page. They can self-select the ranking. For example, It makes me CRAZY when so-and-so does such-and-such. But if that complaint is given a 7, it ranks lower than So-and-so spent 20 minutes in the shower and drained the hot water tank.

Another great game is Truth or Dare, also called Two Truths and a Lie. Each person tells three things about him/her-self, only two of which are true. If a person guesses right, they win a special treat, which might be picking the meal t be cooked or ordered in (or something such). Wrong, they get a chore no one wants like cleaning the backroom, or otherwise related to staying in.

If you are looking for group activities, go on the internet, or perhaps better YouTube, and look at what families are doing, from sing-alongs to Rube Goldberg marble chasings. Honestly the idea of trying to master a new language or start a big project sounds beyond most of us in these times, but more power to you if you are inspired. For most of us, getting through the day, from distance-learning schoolwork, connecting with friends by phone or facetime, or watching some TV/movie is enough.

I like starting each day with a list, so I have a sense of having accomplished something. The classic joke is, The first item on your list should be “Make list,” so you have something to cross off. Sadly some days that’s all you may be able to do. We all have low moods and bad mental health days. With your family you may be more acutely aware of symptoms of sadness or grief about how our lives have irrevocably changed or the death of people in your close or distant network. Encourage talking and sharing, crying and feeling all the feelings. The more you can let it out the better for you all.

If you have a mask, go for a safe, socially distancing walk just to get out of the house if you feel it is safe. Or do a little yoga in your yard. Thank God it is spring, and not November. Watch nature come back to life and believe this too will end, and that we very resilient beings will find a way to make a better world after. That may feel like a stretch in bad moods, but believing it will help us all.