How I’m Staying Connected During the COVID-19 Pandemic

We may all be alone, together, but there are plenty of creative ways to stay in touch with friends and family.

Line art of a father and child at a laptop computer

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There’s an inherent irony in the idea of all of us coming together to fight the coronavirus pandemic by staying apart. Despite the isolation of those who are now working from home or the kids who no longer attend school, many of us have experimented with new methods to stay connected with our family, friends, classmates, and co-workers. Here are a few ways my friends and family are making it work.

As a father of a six-year-old, my mental state during this whole thing can best be summed up by John Oliver’s description of his situation at home: “I’m drowning.”

John Oliver: How I’m Hosting “Last Week Tonight” In Isolation (uploaded to YouTube by The Late Show with Stephen Colbert)

A young child needs constant stimulation, which is taxing for a parent under normal circumstances. But now they no longer get to see their friends at school, or run around at the park, or have playdates with friends. A child’s sole source for stimulation is you, the parent. For us, this has been a near constant stream of the exact same question, “What should we do now?” Every day is spent coming up with activities to keep my daughter entertained or busy from the moment she wakes up to the moment she goes to sleep, which leaves very little time for anything else.

While the lion’s share of the day is taken up by homeschooling, that means those few hours her mom and I get every night between her bed time and our own is spent coming up with a lesson plan for the next day’s classes. At the start of all of this, many people pointed out that Shakespeare wrote King Lear during a quarantine. While I’m no expert on Shakespeare, I’m willing to venture a guess that he didn’t have a kindergartener at home.

Despite these new challenges, my daughter and I have managed to stay relatively well connected to the outside world. Her mom and I do most of the homeschooling while we’re hunkered down in Indiana. Her kindergarten teacher — 2,000 miles away in Los Angeles — checks in once a week with all the parents on Zoom. She also hosts three meetings a week on Zoom with smaller groups from the class. One would think kindergarteners on a conference call would be the set up for a bad joke, but they actually get through it remarkably well. Every call starts the same way: little children pop up one by one on the digital window, like an oversized version of The Brady Bunch, and each child says hi to every single other kid in the class. This adorable practice eats up about 10 minutes to start the call.

One day, my daughter’s teacher reminded each student that to help their parents, they must work on being independent. She asked them all to spend some time each day reading and writing by themselves. I don’t know if people still get apples as a gift to thank teachers, but if this lesson sticks in my daughter’s brain, I’m getting this teacher a bushel of them.

Tim Durham's daughter looks at a MacBook's screen
Zoom meetings cover everything from family gatherings to school assignments. All virtual, of course. (Courtesy Tim Durham)

The Los Angeles Unified School District has mandated that the teachers continue to take attendance, despite the schools physically closing. Our class does this by having the parents submit something from the day to show that the student was learning. We send photos and longer videos on Seesaw and shorter videos on Flipgrid. The teacher is not picky on what the “assignments” have to be. While she has abundant resources for us on a Google drive, she understands that we’re all working parents, and everyone has a unique situation. So, one day I uploaded a video of my daughter playing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on the piano. Her teacher replied with a video saying “Great job, I’m hoping to work on playing the piano, too!” It’s no substitute for a real face-to-face interaction, but it’s pretty good given the circumstances.

Tim Durham's daughter playing a piano
Children, while no longer at school, have to show that they are still learning. Tim’s daughter demonstrates her ability to play Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star on the piano. (Courtesy Tim Durham)

We’ve also found FaceTime — Apple’s video chat application — to be an invaluable tool. Whether it’s some quality time with a grandparent or a virtual video playdate with a friend or cousin, my daughter can’t get enough of the face-to-face interaction. One evening, while I made dinner, my daughter called her great grandmother for her birthday. After she sang “Happy Birthday” to her, they spent the better part of an hour just talking and catching up, leaving me plenty of time to make dinner and do a bit of work.

When the kids are asleep, the adult world can connect.  A new trend is Zoom happy hours.  Zoom is a video conferencing tool where you can virtually meet up with a group of friends on your computer or phone. This has all the conveniences of a conference call, with the social lubricant of whatever drink you happen to have on hand. At first, these were novelties for me, but now, I have five Zoom “hangs” scheduled each week.  The irony is it’s often with friends I had lost contact with over the years. On one I have on Tuesdays, it’s five participants in four cities and two countries. We remarked after the first one —which lasted a whopping six-and-a-half hours — that we should have been doing this for years.

Tim Durham and friends hold a virtual meeting over Zoom.
Virtual hangouts are a way to keep in touch with friends, even those whom you’ve haven’t seen in ages. (Courtesy Tim Durham)

Another night, the guys from podcast I produce, Off Track with Hinch and Rossi, were invited to join a streaming bourbon tasting by whiskycast.com. We were each mailed four small samples of bourbon and four tasting glasses. We logged on and had a conversation about the bourbon, while people all over the world watched and chimed in. I was able to try bourbon I would almost certainly never be able to find on my own, without having to get out of my pajamas.

Podcast held over Zoom
Tim and members of his podcast, Off Track with Hinch and Rossi, taste whiskey provided by whiskycast.com. (Courtesy Tim Durham)

I’ve also applied some other tricks I used to use in college. When my brother was stationed in Afghanistan, he and I would pick a movie to watch (we had mirrored hard drives with plenty of options), start the movie at the same time, and text each other throughout. This still works! Now my friends and I usually use Netflix, FaceTime or Zoom on a computer (using headphones so the audio doesn’t bleed), start the same movie at the same time, and just enjoy watching the film or TV show together.

There are countless other ways to stay connected in these unprecedented times, whether virtual comedy shows, a virtual museum, or even a virtual sporting event. Clearly, we humans have an insuppressible desire to stay connected and be social. Excuse me while I crack a beer, open Zoom, and catch up with some old friends.

Featured image: Shutterstock

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Comments

  1. Tim, it looks to me like you’ve got this under better control than you think you do. Technology has played a huge role here in giving you quality time with your friends, podcast ‘team’ and your daughter’s keeping up with her school work utilizing tech as well.

    Her teacher seems like a caring, understanding lady that realizes the value of independent time, reading and writing on her own, using her imagination to create something wonderful without the computer. She wisely knows this is hopefully when you’ll get some quiet time when you need your rest in these trying times.

    Your daughter appears to be musically inclined so you can expand on that more. She may be artistic too. You could get her an easel, and let her take it from there on creating whatever she likes. Another idea could be to have her ‘re-create’ some Post covers like the beautiful new horse one that just arrived today. This will get her bonding with animals and the magazine at the same time. In closing I have to say it would be hard to believe this beautiful child is anything but an angel almost all of the time, but could be wrong. When I was 5 or 6 in the kindergarten, my mother and I were in line at the grocery store and this nice lady behind us I was waving and smiling at said to my Mom, “He must be an angel” and I can still remember her looking right at me as she replied “Oh no he’s not!” Must’ve done something bad (enough) shortly before that.

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