Surviving self-isolation with three school-age girls

So this is the new reality: We are home. A lot. Kids and parents, together. This has the potential to be a lot of … a lot of things. We can have a lot of tantrums or try to figure out how to make the best of this time. We are a family of five, plus the dog, living in self-isolation. Like everyone else, we are trying to navigate this new and unexpected reality with as much grace and as few meltdowns as possible.

This is us: I am a pastor at Cole Community Church (churches are non-essential in this time—not complaining, I get it) and I can do a significant amount of my work from home. It just means a lot of Zoom meetings. Like, all day long. And I am developing a new series of theology videos for thinking through what difference Jesus makes in these times. My wife, Grace, is a doula and faces much more uncertainty about her role: Which hospitals are allowing doulas and which aren’t? How will she serve moms when not allowed in the room? Will she and the moms she’s serving be safe at home births? She has been interviewed by local news — which is way outside normal— in order to communicate that these are uncertain times for those in the birth world.

For this site, though, the focus is on the kids. We have three girls in the West Ada District — sixth grade, third grade, first grade. The younger two were already home on track break when the districts closed schools (they are on a modified schedule), so there were fewer decisions for us to make than for some others. But we have had to work out our strategy like everyone else.

Here is our strategy: encourage creative freedom. The girls started this time of isolation by playing school. For several days, they spent more time in school while at home than they would normally spend in school while in school. We had to remind them to make sure that they added meals and bedtimes into the school schedule so that they would eat and sleep. They each took turns being teacher for the other two, and they each had different names for the different classrooms they were in. When the oldest was the teacher she was Miss Evans teaching Paisley and Tanya; when the middle was teacher she was Ms. Collins teaching Lauren and Tracy; the youngest was Miss Johnson teaching Quinn and Molly. It was kind of amazing. And they were learning! Research, math, reading, science. As a parent, it’s hard to limit the amount of time our kids want to play school, especially when we’re all stuck at home. So we didn’t limit. It was fun and educational.

As a family we love music, and as parents we have encouraged music and musical experimentation. Grace and I fell in love while in the high school choir and fell back in love a few years later in the church Christmas choir, so music was always going to be central to our family life. Besides allowing our kids to play school (in which we have played no part—that is all the kids), our parental contribution to this coronavirus quarantine creative freedom has been music. We are in the middle of a project we are calling the Cramer Quarantine Sessions.

The Sessions consist of our family doing music: as a family, as individuals, as a couple; original music, older music we learned from others, music we like that we just want to try and learn. We practice, play, record each session, and then post to Facebook. The girls get to show off their musical abilities—they all sing and play piano, one plays guitar, another plays the viola and the ukulele—and I’m totally biased, but I think they are good. Their learned pieces are good, their original pieces are great.

We started by recording once a day, though the pace has slowed since we finished the songs that we already had prepared. It takes more work to learn Sara Bareilles’ “Orpheus” than to record a song one of the girls wrote.

The Sessions, for us, are a way to stay sane. But they’ve meant a lot more than that. They’ve been a way for the girls to creatively express themselves. Our oldest finished and recorded an original piano piece and it is beautiful. Like really good. Our middle is writing a guitar piece that I think really rocks. In what other venue would these girls have had opportunity to express and share their gifts with us?

More than that: in what other time and place would they have developed those gifts for expression? COVID-19 has taken a lot away from us, but human limits often are the sites and catalysts for creativity and personal development. The girls now have time and motivation that they would not have had available to them if these were normal times. I have time and motivation that I would not have had. At work, I am calling and checking in on people that I would not regularly check in on; at home, I am finishing and reworking parodies that I started 20 years ago and playing them with my family (check out “The Mullet Song” to hear my wife and I performing our romantic masterpiece).

And the girls are working on music that interests them. Our oldest did a (an?) ukulele arrangement of “All is Found” from Frozen 2 that was beautiful and a bit haunting. And our middle one got her guitar and did a great job on “How Great Is Our God”, better than I would have guessed given that she only got the guitar for Christmas. Our youngest has worked out some of her songs from piano lessons. All of them are working for a purpose within confined time and space and we are seeing their creative expression thrive.

I want to add that our Sessions have also been fun and unifying. It’s a pleasure to work hard together for a common purpose. We have a list of songs that the girls want to learn and are excited to figure out how to play. Trying our new melodies, working out harmonies, developing new instrumental parts—all for the sake of making beauty in a difficult time—has been a fun way to pass the time and a project that brings us together.

Creative freedom is our strategy. Singing and playing together has brought beauty and joy. It is good to sing a new song, as the Scriptures say. The Psalms often express new theological ideas, or new depth of feeling, or new expressions of old truths written from times of difficulty or pain or terror. All of Taylor Swift’s best work comes after a breakup. For the Christian, Christ reveals Himself to us in the middle of pain and suffering because that’s the nature of our God: a God who gives for the sinner, the poor, the struggling, and the oppressed, expanding His Kingdom of love and grace through sacrifice.

This is our reality: isolation, staying put in limited space, serving others by staying home. All of us are reaching our limits. But our limits just might be the places where we discover new expressions of beauty and joy. So: whether it’s in music with your family or Zoom meetings with colleagues; whether it’s backyard science projects or care for your at-risk neighbor; whether in pajama pants and no makeup or dressed for the camera, I pray that you will be blessed with creative freedom and unifying joy in this time of limiting isolation.

Josh Cramer

About Josh Cramer

Josh Cramer is a pastor at Cole Community Church and father of three school age girls attending school in the West Ada School District.

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