Creating a Special Time

Published on April 18, 2020

by Ellen Galinsky

Forever Memories emerge during unexpected times, times that herald a change—where the “after” is not the same as the “before,” and times that challenge us to adapt. Most of us will have forever memories of COVID 19, similar to the kind of memories we have for events like 9/11 or when President Kennedy was shot. Given the stress everyone is under, it would be easy for us to lose sight of the kind of memories we want to create for our children and ourselves. That’s why I am sharing stories from families who are thinking intentionally about this. These stories can inspire us all

A grandmother recreates the family calendar for her young grandchildren

Erin is a grandmother who lives with her husband, their children and three grandchildren on a farm in the middle of the country. She is also a telecommuter who works full- time. In the beginning of the pandemic, she felt overwhelmed:

Everything was changing fast and there was so much uncertainty about how to be responsible and fully comprehend what was happening. We were worried about everything—staying safe, not getting sick, and having resources.

There are very real dangers—her husband’s work is considered “essential” so he has leave home and go out into the world to work every day. Soon it dawned on Erin that they couldn’t keep living in constant fear. It wasn’t good for them, their children, or their grandchildren. She also saw that being cocooned at home with most of her family could have some positive repercussions and, in fact, be a “once- in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

We realized we would never have a chance like this again, when we were altogether, with the kids this age for such a prolonged period of time. We focused on what we could control—like social distancing and abiding by all of the recommended safety measures. And just as importantly, we focused on how we want to function as a family—how we want the children in our family to remember this time in history.

In their kitchen, there is an erasable chalkboard calendar. Before COVID 19, they had used this calendar to manage their weekly schedules. They would write their activities on the chalkboard, one color for each adult in the family. The calendar looked as if it should have been posted in a train station to keep track of arriving and departing trains—that’s how busy it was.

Now, it’s all changed. Erin says:

We make a family plan for the week. We begin by asking the kids what they are interested in and would like to do. We select one special family activity for each day.

Every evening, we talk about the next day’s activity and what we will need to gather to do that activity.

Now that’s all we have on the calendar—just the family’s special time.

It isn’t that the activities are that special, Erin says. But they feel special to her grandchildren because the family has planned them in advance, because they have talked about them together, and because they are written down on the family calendar:

When I finish work, the girls come running up, ready for our “special time.” It gives all of us something to look forward to, day after day at home.

They have done paintings, made play dough (until they realized they should conserve flour) and drawn rainbows. They found the Rainbow Project on the Internet. They read about children in Brooklyn making rainbows that they put in their windows to express solidarity during the crisis. Children all over the country and world are now making rainbows and a rainbow map was created on the Internet. Erin says:

We looked at the map. Because we live so rural, there were no rainbows near us.

Making rainbows and then putting ourselves on the map made us feel that we were part of something bigger than ourselves.

COVID 19 has been a rocky ride for Erin. She says:

One minute I am focused on the fear and concern for others and ourselves, and the next minute, I am focused on the joy. It is an emotional rollercoaster like I have never experienced before—but like everything in life, we can choose where to put our focus.

Having these joyful moments comes with a price—“because I know that families are losing people they love: But they are necessary for our family’s health,” she says:

When things are awful, we have to give ourselves and our children times of joy. While we feel what we feel, we can also help others.

Ensuring children take an active role is one of several strategies that studies find promote executive function life skills—important