A year ago, or even a month ago, I wouldn’t have believed I’d ever be facing the possibility, and perhaps even the likelihood, of living in near or total lockdown. Yet already here in Ontario we’ve been instructed to venture out as seldom as possible and are just waiting for further restrictions. Meanwhile, parts of America and swaths of Europe have already seen significant lockdown measures put into place. To learn how to do this well, and to prepare as much as possible, I wrote to everyone I could think of in Italy to ask them for tips. This, after all, has already been their reality for at least a couple of weeks. The first response came from pastor Clay Kannard, whom I’ve met during visits to Rome. His tips may be especially helpful for families.
Two weeks ago we received notice that all of the schools would be closing in Rome. The cases of COVID-19 in the north were multiplying and the nation’s leaders were quickly beginning to understand the severity of the situation. Just one week prior, the news began to break about the cases in the north and the new quarantines that were being implemented for that part of the country. As you would expect, the supermarkets were overwhelmed by panicked shoppers. We all watched from Rome in disbelief.
While some might call me paranoid, I saw the need to be prepared and asked my wife, Lauren, to purchase enough non-perishable foods to last us a couple of weeks. At the time she considered my request to be an over-reaction, however, it did not take long to realize that being prepared was not a fearful response but a wise one. When the quarantine was extended to the entire nation, we did not have to participate in any panic shopping. Praise God, food supply chains are not being impacted.
So what can we do? We can still go to the grocery store, but only one person from our home is allowed to exit the home to do our shopping. Additionally, we can go to the pharmacy, take the dog for a brief walk or go on a brief run, and if your workplace has not closed you can go to work, as long as social distancing is possible. If you have a garden/yard, you are able to go out and get some air. However, most of us live in densely populated neighborhoods, in apartments, and only some with small balconies. Every time we leave the house, we are required to take a government issued document explaining our motive for leaving the house. The permitted motives are listed on the form, and this form is to be given to the police if the police stop you. They are on patrol and ready to fine citizens over 200 euros for violating quarantine.
This initial quarantine went into place on the 12th of March and was set to expire on the 25th of March for the public and businesses, and until the 3rd of April for schools and universities. However, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has since announced that those deadlines will be extended, and the lockdown requirements will become stricter due to the fact that too many people are still out and about. So for the moment we still don’t know when this will end.
What has been somewhat more challenging is adjusting to life in quarantine as a family of 6. We have 4 kids between the ages of 4 and 16. In fact, our daughter Ava will be celebrating her 14th birthday in quarantine. As students in the Italian public school system, we have been patiently and graciously waiting on the schools to organize and work with teachers who, although having little to no training in distance learning, are now being asked to choose an online platform and ensure their students can continue in their studies.
Then there is the fact that all of us are now at home together with a 4-year-old named Kian. He has not left the house since the quarantine, is full of nuclear levels of energy, and bouncing off the walls. In fact, as I write this to you I can hear my 10-year-old daughter screaming, “Daaaaaad! Kian is being crazy in our room and won’t calm down! He’s messing with the dog!” Usually we would take him outside to burn some energy. However, our only option now is the balcony and that just sounds incredibly dangerous for a bouncing 4-year-old!
So, this is a new, once-in-a-lifetime (I hope) experience and we are learning as we go. What are some of the things we have learned in these past weeks since lockdown began?
- Keeping a routine is crucial
- Find creative ways to keep kids busy
- Use the extra time to teach life skills, lessons, and profound truths about God
- Engage with your church family constantly and do it as a family
- Those boardgames the nerds like to play are actually super fun!
Keeping a routine is crucial. We all need a routine. We cannot stay up all hours of the night and sleep until noon just because we don’t have anywhere to go. There is still schoolwork, housework, and spiritual work to do. Whether or not my two older children, whom I have now dubbed the quaranTEENS, feel as though keeping a schedule is important, it is for the good of the family to do so.
For that reason we send them to bed at the times we normally would. We wake them at the times we normally would. We still expect that they begin their day with the normal routines. They then have to commence with their homework and online class activities. They practice their musical instruments like they normally would. We eat lunch and dinner when we normally would. We participate in the weekly activities of the church like we normally would, albeit via Zoom.
The same goes for Lauren and I. She tends to her work in the home and my office is now located in our bedroom. Rather than meeting face-to-face with colleagues and church members, we do it online. The point is that in the midst of new norms and great uncertainty, there is a stable routine at home.
We are finding creative ways to keep our kids busy…and active. Once the schoolwork for the day is finished, it is too easy for our kids to want to turn on YouTube, the Xbox, or stare at their devices. Before all of this began, we had protections and time limits set in place for our family use of tech. While there may be a few exceptions, we pretty much keep to the same pre-lockdown limits.
What we have found, however, is that there are many enriching ways to keep our kids busy via tech. Rather than playing a videogame, they can take virtual tours of museums from all over the world, watch a live orchestra perform, follow an art tutorial, etc. The last thing we need to do during this lockdown is disciple our kids into being couch potatoes and passive consumers. What we need to be better at is a daily physical activity plan.
We have more time to teach life-lessons and deep spiritual truths. It seems that there is more time now to teach spiritual and practical life lessons. I am probably mistaken, as it is more likely we have fewer distractions and are together always. This quarantine has motivated us to share in the work it takes for being a family. Lauren has spent a lot of time teaching, including the kids in baking and cooking. In fact, Lauren and the girls have gotten really good at bread-baking. The big kids engage their little brother more often. And while we have practiced family worship and catechism during mealtimes, we are especially engaging with our kids on a spiritual level during meals. We try every day to gauge how they are doing in this crisis and to talk about the hope we have in Christ.
As the daily increase in numbers of COVID-19 cases rolls in, it would be hard to slip into silence and try to ignore what is happening. And while we don’t share every tragic headline with our kids, we do discuss the seriousness of the situation in order to talk about God’s sovereign rule over the virus, and sovereign choice of placing our family, and church family, in this city for such a time as this.
We no longer have to ask, “What did you do today?” We know exactly what everyone has been doing all day! Instead we spend more time praying for our church, city and the world, and talking about the hope we have in Christ. Psalm 24, 27, 29 and 46 have been read aloud and prayed through many nights during our dinners.
We engage with our church daily as a family. We spend time throughout the day thinking about our church family, writing them messages, video-chatting, and even inviting them over for dinner—virtually. Zoom has been really useful to at least spend some facetime with our church family. Apart from our online worship, prayer groups, etc, we are trying to be creative in how we spend time together, especially with the singles in our church. In fact, we are currently organizing a game-night in which we will fellowship and play a game together with the singles of our church via Zoom.
Additionally, with the enormous impact this has had on work and the economy, many of our church members are unable to work. Some are not even certain if they will have a job when this is over. As church leaders, we are already communicating with our people that we will share what we have with those in need.
All of this has provided a special opportunity for our children to think about ways they can encourage our brothers and sisters and be the church. We are God’s people in this city. We have the message of hope this city needs. We need to be engaging one another, encouraging one another, and preparing one another to be the testimony God has called us to be in this storm. This lockdown has highlighted the importance of community for us all.
Those long-lasting boardgames the nerds like to play are really fun! Lauren and I have never really been into playing boardgames. She, in fact, still isn’t. However, when the lockdown began, I purchased several boardgames via Amazon Prime. Now instead of once-a-month, or once-a-week, we have game time every evening. This allows us to avoid the tech and the tube and instead laugh together as we race to Eldorado, or build our citadels, or construct our gizmos, or avoid exploding kittens. Rather than passively consuming a movie together, we are engaged in conversation, talking smack to one another, strategizing, and thinking critically as we try to crush our opponents’ dreams of victory! I am already thinking about new boardgames we would like to buy, seeing that the quarantine’s end is nowhere near in site. Any recommendations? [Tim’s note. Yes! We enjoy Ticket to Ride, Lost Cities, Power Grid, Dominion, Clue, Smallworld, and Carcassone.]
Lastly, Guard your mind and your time. It’s too easy to visit every major news site throughout the day when you should be working. It takes discipline to stay focused on what really needs to be done.
I hope this helps. Maybe it’s too long, and not exactly what you were looking for, but it is what we have been learning since our lockdown. We are trusting God and trying not to waste it.
p.s. I wish I had bought more bacon.
Clay Kannard (Communications Director) is a missionary and pastor sent to Rome, Italy from Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, through WorldVenture. Clay and his wife, Lauren, were commissioned and sent by their church to serve as a resource to Italians in communicating and living out the Gospel, developing new leaders, and planting new churches. They are members of Breccia di Roma in Rome. Clay earned a Bachelor of Science in Biblical Studies from Moody Bible Institute and a Master of Theological Studies with emphasis in Preaching and Pastoral Ministries through Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Twitter: @claykannard