In this new segment, Spence Families at Home, we bring you the stories of Spence-Chapin families as they navigate the COVID-19 crisis. If you would like to share your family’s story, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christine and Larry shared their experiences at home together with their three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Olivia.
Describe who is in your family.
We are Larry, Christine, our daughter Olivia, and our two cats, Daisy and Wallie.
What’s been the best surprise about spending so much time together as a family?
One of Larry’s favorite things has been going on a lot of mini excursions. We are being very safe, wearing face masks and gloves and staying away from other people. But we’ve been exploring new and remote nooks of the neighborhood and also other areas of the city as well.
One of Larry’s daily activities with Olivia has been using a neighbor’s bike downstairs. It has a basket in the front and a kid’s seat in the back. They’ve been going out for stretches at a time, for two-hour blocks, just riding around the neighborhood to get some fresh air. They mostly explore Greenpoint and whenever they see a really remote area that is safe and clear of people, they’ll pull over. He and Olivia sit around, run around and have a snack. He might bring the scooter so Olivia can scoot around. That’s their daddy-and-daughter activity.
In general, Christine has always spent a lot of time with Olivia. She is a teacher at Maple Street School, where Olivia also attends class. Together, every morning they wake up, get ready and commute to school on the subway. Christine drops Olivia off to her classroom and then goes onto her own classroom. Now, since school has been closed, they do many of the same activities, just at home. During the week (Mon. – Fri.), Christine teaches remotely and Olivia attends Zoom school in the mornings. In the afternoons, they play games, read, create art, make play dough, garden, cook and experiment with bread baking recipes.
As a family, we also like to go on excursions. We enjoy driving to the beach, finding a remote area to walk on the sand or just look at the ocean. For Easter Sunday, the three of us went to Prospect Park, hiked on all the remote paths and Olivia got to look for the Easter Bunny and find some Easter eggs.
What’s been the biggest challenge?
Having personal time and space! Also, juggling work, grad school (Christine is working on her Master’s in early childhood education) and day school and being confined to such tight quarters. Most people are having that problem in New York City. We are eight million plus people living here. So we would say the 24/7, just looking at each other and being in each other’s faces all day, every day. That’s exactly why we’ve gotten into the habit of taking these excursions so we can give each other space.
What’s the funniest thing Olivia did or said this week?
She’s a funny kid so there’s a lot! One milestone is that as of Monday she decided that she no longer wants to wear nighttime diapers. She was like, “You know what, I don’t want to wear a nighttime diaper anymore.” And that was it! She just graduated on her own. So that was a great milestone.
We also have these bristle blocks at home and Olivia took Christine’s headphones from her iPhone and put them in her ears and then put the plug into her bristle block. And now she has a bristle block cell phone. She’s obviously been exposed to her mom and dad working at home!
What’s your favorite spot to spend time alone in your house and how long do you typically get away with it?
In the afternoon, Olivia naps for about an hour and a half. That’s our own personal time to do what we need to do. She enjoys napping on our bed during this time and we’re both in the living room. After 8:00 PM, when Olivia goes to sleep in her room for the night, we are more or less in our bedroom. That’s the norm anyway for us. For Larry, his favorite spot is the bedroom when he has to work. He goes in there for Zoom meetings and Christine is with Olivia in the living room.
This week we left the city and are staying at a country house in New Paltz we’ve been renting for the past 7 to 8 years. It was a much-needed change of scenery, trading in the big city for some fresh country air. No masks and gloves needed here. Such a treat to go for morning hikes and explore the natural wonders with Olivia. We feel fortunate that we can share these experiences with her and make it part of her upbringing. She’s already “saved” 10 salamanders off the stone path and has a pocket full of acorns.
When you aren’t busy taking care of everyone else, what are you doing to take care of yourself?
Christine likes to take hot showers to unwind and relax! Before we came to New Paltz, she liked to sit outside on the balcony on warm sunny days, listen to music and color in her many adult coloring books by Millie Marotta. She also enjoyed working on her compact balcony garden, and planted some radishes, sunflowers and bok choy. Larry is a pretty regimented person so he’s always had a very strict routine and health and fitness is a big part of that.
He’s continued with his daily exercise. In the morning, when we were still in Brooklyn, he’d do runs when no one was outside. While running, he was also able to do recon missions in the neighborhood to see which stores and supermarkets were open, what the lines looked like at that time and whether it was crowded. He also saw which restaurants were open for take-out. So he was able to kill two birds with one stone doing that. He has an exercise routine with Olivia as well. They do a daddy-daughter workout. They do push-ups and squats and handstands. Olivia loves handstands.
What’s a piece of advice you have for other Spence families who are maybe going a little stir crazy at home?
We would say just try to maintain some kind of structure and daily routine. Really balancing work and play at the same time. Tag-teaming with your partners so you can both respect and give each other your personal space. And also mapping out activities for your day and having things to look forward to.
We’re looking for the silver lining in all of this and we feel like we have a lot of family time now and we’re never going to get this time back so let’s make the most out of it. As a family with an adoption background and as a Spence family, we might have a tendency to appreciate the situation a little more than other families. We know how difficult it was to get to where we are right now. We don’t take it for granted. Every minute that we get to spend together as a family and with our daughter is a blessing. Of course, we have those crazy times like everyone and Olivia can go a hundred miles an hour, but we always pull back and remind ourselves how much we wanted this and how fortunate we are to have it.