Making the most of pandemic togetherness

by Steven Felschundneff |

The pandemic has been a challenge for everyone, but perhaps it has been the hardest on parents and children. Amid all the challenges, one Claremont family is making the best of the unfortunate situation by focusing on the one thing they have an ample supply of: togetherness.

Candace and Joe Garcia have lived in Claremont for 13 years and have three children, eight-year-old twins Jonas and Olive, and four-year-old Rhemi. Before the pandemic, they were a very social family with visits to Big Bear for the snow and trips to San Diego. The Garcias both have large extended families and hosted backyard parties twice a month, the first Sunday for her family, and the last for his.

“In the beginning, I felt like we knew of people who knew of people who got [the virus]—now we know people who have had it, and unfortunately passed away. So we have been pretty careful since December. We just wanted to be on the safe side, so we did our own thing, steering clear of friends and family gatherings,” Ms. Garcia said.

They also were involved both in the community and with Chaparral Elementary School where the twins are in second grade. But last March when everything shut down, so did the Garcia family’s social life. They tried to have play dates for the kids in a “bubble,” but with the city first closing parks then reopening them again, only to close one more time, that stopped.

“They have a couple friends they FaceTime with occasionally, but that is pretty much it. We have been quarantining since Christmastime,” Ms. Garcia said. “So they have not really seen their friends in a long time and that is hard.”

Because the couple have three children, they have built in playmates, which is something that makes the Garcias feel fortunate.

“I feel like their relationships have gotten better, especially with my eight-year-olds. I feel like they have really become closer, and play together without as much arguing as siblings tend to do,” Ms. Garcia said.

To replace the time the family once spent going out, they have focused on activities at home. Ms. Garcia has taught the twins about gardening and composting and how to care for the family’s chickens.

She has implemented lessons about home economics, including how to hand write a letter and mail it, and basic sewing skills to fix a hole in a stuffed animal. Ms. Garcia has her four-year-old help make popsicles or Jello, and help move the clothes from the washer to the dryer.

“There are a lot of things that you need to know that you can’t learn in school. So let’s start working on some of those things,” she said.

Ms. Garcia is very social herself, so it is challenging not be able to get together with family or friends, going to the club to work out or getting her nails done.

Mr. Garcia has his own automotive dent removal business so he has the flexibility to provide his wife, who is a stay at home mom, with a child-free day every Tuesday.

“It allows me to get out and about by myself and have my time to do what I need. And it gives me a break, too, from that everyday monotony of being the mom, being the teacher, and being the entertainment and the chef, trying to be everything all the time.” Ms. Garcia said.

The biggest challenge in keeping the children happy and mentally healthy has been limiting their amount of screen time, while also allowing the two older children to keep doing the things they enjoy. They are on Zoom with their teachers from 8:45 a.m. to noon on school days and then immediately afterward they want to start playing their favorite video games, which is what they love. It’s been a learning experience for both mom and kids.

“I want to teach my kids these life lessons, or I want to get them outside in the fresh air. To play nice with their siblings. But what really makes them happy is doing what they want to do, so I have struggled with that. Trying to make them feel fulfilled and complete and keeping them emotionally stable during this. It is challenging. You start feeling guilty for allowing them too much [screen] time. It’s hard emotionally for all of us.”

Ms. Garcia is a little bit leery about the coronavirus vaccine just because it is new, and she is protective of her children and concerned about any adverse effects it might cause. But she also acknowledges that all of the vaccines that are required for them to go to school were once new.

“I just have to trust. I feel that eventually we will probably move toward the school requiring them to be vaccinated before they can go to school,” she said.

Ms. Garcia is also a bit hesitant about the eventual day when her children will return to in-person instruction at Chaparral. She did say that all the interactions she has had with school officials so far give her the confidence that they will handle reopening with care and utmost caution.

“I just have to trust that they are going to keep everybody as safe as possible. I am definitely going to be watching, checking things out, and making sure they are as safe as they can be. But at the same time, I feel it is important enough that my children have that social interaction and that in-person learning.”

The twins want to go back to school, but they want to go return to school the way it was before the shutdown. The Garcias have not shared too much with them about the new way of going back to school—how they are going to be social distancing, wearing masks and possibly being separated by Plexiglas, with only a handful of kids in the classroom.

“That is concerning, helping them navigate through the emotions of going through that once they do return. In an eight-year-old’s mind, they are going back to the way it was before. Free play, free-for-all recess, lunchtime with their friends sitting next to them on the bench. All these things they were doing before the pandemic,” Ms. Garcia said.

She says there are two major positives that have come out of this year at home—first, the couple has learned to hone in on the childrens’

individual emotional needs and be sensitive to one needing more space while another may need more affection. Second, the kids are a lot more

independent than the parents had previously

acknowledged. For example, the twins have completely taken over their own school schedule, printing out lessons and completing questionnaires without guidance.

“I feel like it helped them grow and be able to work more independently, and as a parent I had to step back and allow that and try not to be helicopter mom, but that is challenging for me,” Ms. Garcia said.

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