At this point in the coronavirus pandemic, families all over the world are reeling from a departure from the normal rhythms of our days. Whether spring usually finds you happy at home or planning your next new expedition, we’re all on an adventure right now. C.S. Lewis famously wrote that “Adventures are never fun while you’re having them,” and I have to agree with him to some extent. Still, I can’t help feeling that my life has been shaped by adventures—large and small—and I can say with honesty that our whole family has learned how to weather them better with time.
Just this past semester, our family of six embarked on a sabbatical in the Netherlands, where we lived, worked, and travelled for a few months. The kids were only back in school in the U.S. for a little over two months before the coronavirus pandemic shut the school doors and we were homeschooling once again. During the first days of our pandemic-induced remote learning, we reflected often on how much our experience mimicked our first days in the Netherlands. We didn’t have friends yet, our normal routine was off (as were our body clocks!), and our main goal was to find the necessities for basic survival. I still remember looking up the symbols on our IKEA stovetop and using Google translate to make spaghetti for our first meal in country!
The truth is that our current adventure of social isolation in the midst of a global pandemic is not all that different from many other adventures we’ve encountered as a family. Here are some ways we’ve learned to survive—or even thrive!
- Locate the necessities. During our sabbatical in the Netherlands, we took two trips which required housing and transportation in different countries. On both of these occasions, our first task was the same: locate our housing accommodations and find food! After dropping off our luggage, we packed some reusable bags, mapped the best route to the nearest grocery, and made food acquisition a priority. (In Scotland, we also prayed for my husband to keep our rental van on the correct side of the road!) We also focused on the essentials in other areas—what were the most important tasks for our homeschooling days? What did we need physically, mentally, and spiritually in order to survive those stressful days of navigating a new culture?
We find ourselves asking the same questions now! We’ve scheduled meals a couple of weeks at a time to accommodate fewer trips to the grocery store. We’re limiting “non-essential” outings and purchases. We’re trying to tend to our needs for physical activity and spiritual nourishment. And we’re prioritizing the most important tasks for our homeschooling days. These tasks are essential for us to thrive as a family.
- Know yourself. One thing I’ve learned after moving our family to many new locations is that we always come with us. What I mean by this is that you can change your job or location—or even move to a new country with a new language and culture—but you still take your same strengths, weaknesses, personality quirks, sin issues, and preferences with you. It was so helpful for us to carry this lesson with us on our sabbatical last semester. We had an idea of what our kids would struggle with (each one of them—they all have their own individual personalities, strengths, and weaknesses!) and what we would need to do in order to care for them well. I knew that, for me, the hardest part of homeschooling in a row house in Badhoevedorp, Netherlands would be the lack of solitude. And as the old adage goes, “knowing is half the battle.”
We’ve found that remembering who we are in the midst of this stay-at-home adventure is similarly helpful. Some of us need more Zoom chats and FaceTime calls than others. Some of us can thrive on longer, deeper chats with one other person six feet away. My husband and I run almost every day, and the others take turns joining us, kicking a soccer ball, or reading a book in the sun. We all need to be reminded of God’s Word and engage in regular times of worship with other believers. These things are true no matter where our adventures take us.
- Capitalize on togetherness. When we first arrived in the Netherlands, we were tired, enchanted, and disoriented all at once. Every person had to pull his or her weight—literally—as we carted our six rolling suitcases and accompanying backpacks along countless sidewalks and on numerous flights. While my husband and I did our best to help the youngest two adventurers (then ages 4 and 9), no one could quit; no one could stay behind. We were a team, like it or not.
Such togetherness does not come without its challenges, as one might imagine. We have felt those familiar feelings of bumping up against one another’s preferences and boundaries during our current quarantine adventure. Yet I can already sense that this period of intense togetherness is not all that different from leading our suitcase-laden pack of six around foreign cities, sidewalks, and airports. I’ve lost count of how many times our kids have thumbed through our scrapbook pages since January. They sit together and giggle about travel mishaps and pine over favorite foreign foods. They list the cities around the world that they want to visit—and revisit—and talk about which languages are their favorites. They remember faraway friends with fondness. And every single memory has one thing in common—togetherness. While we can share stories of our travels with friends, we remember the experiences as a family. I am confident that when social distancing restrictions are reduced and we finally exit our houses again, we will look back with similar gratitude for the memories we’ve made as families. Such togetherness is both rare and precious.
- Relish the extraordinary. Oftentimes on an adventure, we are deprived of the ordinary comforts and customs that create the structure of our days. This is why I packed bags of Ghirardelli chocolate chips alongside malaria medicine when our family left for Africa years ago, and why I never board an international flight without instant coffee packets! Still, despite the discomfort of losing ordinary joys, adventures offer us the opportunity to relish the extraordinary.
When I first broke the news to my 11 and 13-year-old daughters that they needed to fit all of their belongings for a semester into one small rolling suitcase, they were a bit shocked. There may have been a few protests—and possibly some comments about my sanity. However, over time, they began to reap the rewards of traveling light! Sure, they only had one pair of boots, but that was enough to take them hiking and biking and exploring across several countries. Instead of amassing t-shirts and trinkets (for which there was no room), they spent time experiencing all of the new sights, smells, tastes, and experiences of each new culture they encountered. They learned to relish the extraordinary.
Similarly, we have lost some of the ordinary markers to our days while being at home in isolation. We don’t have the same schedules. We can’t find the foods that are normally available at the supermarket. We can’t even buy toilet paper in normal quantities! Yet there is something extraordinary about our situation. We have time and togetherness—in loads, it seems! What can we do to make the most of this? Read more books? Write poetry? Go on family hikes? Train for a race? Learn a new language? Take online art lessons? The options are endless. Truly, this is an extraordinary time.
- Write it down. As a writing teacher, homeschooling mom, and lover of language, I’m constantly trying to practice what I preach by writing more. If I’m honest, my journals are a lot slimmer than they once were before my husband and I became a family. Still, I find that something is better than nothing when it comes to recording our adventures.
Shortly after we arrived in the Netherlands, I printed out a monthly calendar template for the months we would live abroad. In the evenings after the kids were in bed, my husband and I often sat around the dining room table with that calendar, a pencil, and a load of borrowed travel books, plotting our next weeks’ adventures. As each day passed, I erased the events that never materialized and replaced them with the ones that did. Over time, that calendar became a record of all of our family adventures for the semester. As our return to the States neared, we often counted up the number of museums, countries, and castles we had visited during our sabbatical. Those wrinkled pages have become a family treasure.
Perhaps because adventure usually implies extraordinary circumstances, we often don’t take the time to write down what’s happening in the midst of a journey. Yet this can be one of the many means for us to reflect on our growth as individuals and families. While journaling is a wonderful way to store thoughts, feelings, and experiences to revisit later on, it’s not the only way to record our adventures. Consider printing off a simple calendar template and writing down significant events or memories from your days at home during the coronavirus quarantine. Get your children involved—even the youngest can contribute. You might be surprised at how it helps you process your time together. Even if we can’t see it right now, one day we might look back and notice something extraordinary.
 C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader