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Keeping the family busy, and finding silver linings where we can

Tim and Holly West playing Ticket to Ride at home in Carlisle.
Tim and Holly West playing Ticket to Ride at home in Carlisle.Handout

On my weekly beat as a features correspondent, I preview public events such as theater performances, concerts, lectures, and art openings.

So with every single public event on every single calendar canceled for the foreseeable future, I faced a problem.

“Why don’t you write about alternatives to going out in public?” my editor suggested.

That should be easy for me, a natural introvert. One could argue I’ve organized my life around not having to go out in public. I’m a writer and I work from home. I’m a runner, because it’s the most solitary sport. My idea of a perfect vacation is one in which I can spend every day taking long walks, drinking coffee, and reading.

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But in the case of mandatory self-isolation, there’s a wrinkle. I have my whole family to think about – not just myself. How do I keep everyone gainfully busy while at home together day after day, week after week?

We’re finding out, one day at a time. “Ticket to Ride” is currently our favorite board game. It’s almost impossible to explain to a first-time player, but once you get started it makes sense, as you trade cards in order to build railroad tracks connecting major cities across the continent of your choice. While my children strategize and scheme, I tend to just gaze at the city names and remember travels from my pre-parenting days. Lucerne. Edinburgh. Venice. Of course, mostly what I did in each place was take long walks and drink coffee, but oh, the scenery!

My teenager takes responsibility for our household soundtrack on days at home, and that gives me some much-needed exposure to new music: Khalid, Bazzi, Still Woozy. I play innocent when I catch her glancing at me sideways trying to gauge whether I caught the bad words.

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And not even the public health guidelines forbid us from taking long walks. My daughter tells me that April of 2020 will forever be known among her generation as “the month every kid in America went for a daily walk with their mom.”

Mostly, of course, we try to stay healthy, and we do what little we can to take care of other people. We check in by phone on the grandparents and drop homemade soup off on the doorstep for our older neighbors. We watch weekly church services online and e-mail our out-of-town family members.

Keeping everyone’s spirits up can be its own challenge. My high school senior had a minor meltdown as she enumerated the unique plight of the Class of 2020: They were missing out on their senior spring and, more importantly, they’d have to make college decisions without benefit of a single accepted-students visiting day.

“It’ll give you all something to bond over during freshman orientation,” I reassured her. “You can play ‘Two Truths and a Lie About What I Did in Quarantine’ and then compare notes about the best make-out song at everyone’s virtual teleconferenced prom.”

Well, that’s one thing we won’t have to worry about if the current public health crisis continues: prom night partying. Or graduation night driving. Silver linings, I remind myself.

And if we’re really lucky, a little boredom will be the worst effect of this bizarre time period we’re living through. “I’m so sorry you have to live through the age of coronavirus!” a high school friend burst out impulsively to her children. “Yeah, you got to live through all the cool ages,” they retorted. “Like the jazz age. And the Stone Age.” Well, perhaps that family’s period of seclusion can include a history lesson or two.

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Meanwhile, my family is waiting for me. There’s a Ticket to Ride game to play and a hike to take. And then maybe I’ll read a book and drink some coffee. We’re together and we’re healthy, and we’re keeping busy. It’s a strange situation, one we never imagined. But we’re learning, every day, how to make it work.

Nancy Shohet West can be reached at nancyswest@gmail.com.