After a mid-March spring break trip to Salt Lake City, Martha Martinez-Flores and her husband, Mike, decided to self-quarantine at their home in San Antonio’s Lone Star neighborhood south of downtown.
Perhaps their biggest challenge was what to do with the kids: Mara, a 13-year-old seventh-grader at Keystone School whose classes have continued online, and Mia, a 6-year-old first-grader at Bonham Academy.
Martinez-Flores, owner and creative director of MM Creative, decluttered her home office and handed the keys to her eldest daughter. Mara spends about five hours there every day on schoolwork and personal projects.
“My work has really dried up – I work with a lot of restaurants and arts organizations – so I just decluttered, cleared all my papers off the desk and gave her the room,” Martinez Flores said. “I wanted to give her a blank slate, a space where she can go and have some normalcy. So she has a box with all her binders and folders in it, and she’s organized all her materials on the desk.
“We told her, ‘That’s your space.’ She has a picture of her and her friends in there and a desk calendar. After breakfast, she says, ‘OK, bye, I’m going to my classroom,’ so it’s a little like going to school.”
Not to be left out, Mia has her own table in a hallway near the kitchen, next to a window, where she paints and draws and is hard at work on a project involving paper towel rolls.
“I taped two together and made binoculars,” Mia said. “I’m also thinking about making a family, drawing little bodies on them.”
As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to disrupt lives – schools and businesses closed, mandated stay-at-home orders – parents have to get creative about quarantine.
“To me, art is a form of expression,” Martinez-Flores said. “It’s a form of coping during this time, almost like therapy for my kids.”
Structure is key, said San Antonio child psychologist Jill Thurber. “Kids thrive off of structure,” she said. “It helps everybody live with the anxiety and nervousness. Of course, families are different and you have to be flexible as well, but a regular schedule of activities keeps kids’ bodies and brains engaged. And certainly creating a space in the home where kids can go and do their work, like they’re going in for a normal day, is important.”
Victoria Moreno-Herrera, a mother of three who lives in Alon Estates in North San Antonio, decided home economics – cooking, laundry, and the like – could be a family project.
“We want to teach our kids to be self-sufficient, but often there isn’t time to do that because everybody is so busy,” said Moreno-Herrera, whose children range in age from 7 to 12. “So we’ve decided to use this time to work on life skills, and it’s turned out to be a good opportunity.”
Moreno-Herrera and her 12-year-old son, Ilan, a seventh-grader with a heavy online schedule at Mount Sacred Heart School, decided to bake an apple pie.
“It was horrible,” she said. “We didn’t realize until we bit into it that we’d forgot to put the sugar in. Ilan has never had any interest in the kitchen – he can put a frozen waffle in the toaster – but the good thing is that we’re going to try again with the apple pie. He didn’t want to give up. It’s been interesting to see him take this on and get excited about it.”
Experts like Thurber say it’s important to schedule physical activities and to take frequent breaks. The Flores family, for example, takes two walks a day, and the girls swim in the backyard pool. Both girls are taking dance classes through the Woodlawn Theatre Academy via the Zoom videoconferencing app.
“I have a tap dance lesson tomorrow,” Mara Flores said. “I’m not sure how that’s going to work out, since tap shoes aren’t good for the floor. I’ll probably just wear regular shoes.”
Kristin Hefty, who founded the architecture firm Dado Group with her husband, Clay, is homebound in the Mahncke Park neighborhood with her three children: Della Rose, 6; Dottie, 3; and Parker, 9 months.
Life goes on, as Della Rose’s weekly piano lesson continues online through FaceTime, while the girls take ballet lessons on Zoom with the Ballet Conservatory of South Texas.
“I’ve heard several people say that they want to maintain a connection with their pre-quarantine life,” said Della Rose’s piano teacher, Paul Wilcox. “Parents want to keep their kids from being traumatized, and this is one more tool for doing that. The biggest problem is the lack of human contact, but I’ve found that with other extracurricular activities like sports shut down, students actually are practicing more. They put more time into music.”
And Hefty wants to start a family garden with the girls; she just needs a planter and some dirt. “I’m hoping I can find someone to deliver,” she said. She already has the seeds and soaker hose.
“Clay and I have been mulling what we can do with the girls – things we want to do, not just what we have to do,” Hefty said. “And a garden would get us outside with a project that we could all work on together. With all that’s going on, you have to get creative with work and with your kids’ extracurricular activities. It’s interesting that a lot of this technology existed before, but after this we’ll probably find a lot more uses for it.”
Hefty has ongoing Dado Group construction projects, but nobody’s walked in her door who wants to take this time to remodel or add on a room or two to their home.
“There’s uncertainty out there,” she said. “And you don’t want to be there when the kitchen is being remodeled. That’s no fun.”
For many families, quarantine can be a time to do things they’ve been putting off. The Flores family, including dad Mike, chancellor of the Alamo Colleges District, recently put together a 1,000-piece Pixar Artist’s Desk jigsaw puzzle.
“We just have all this time for working on things that we’ve had over in the corner, sort of like a wish list,” Martinez-Flores said. “And now we have the time to check items off that list. We take a lot of stuff for granted, so that’s a silver lining.”