As medical personnel and other essential workers continue on despite the risks to their health, families with kids are staying home, like my family has been doing for four weeks now. On this episode, I share my family’s experiences and some audio I created with my kids on this lighthearted episode of More Devotedly.
Doug: 1, 2, 3…
Kids: Welcome to More Devotedly!
Doug: This is Volume III, Episode two, Unicorn Tractor: Quarantine with Kids.
Doug: Confirmed cases of COVID-19 are continuing to rise, as are deaths from the disease. Hospitals continue to be pushed to the limit, and the workers still allowed or required to work, not just medical personnel, but grocery store workers and others, continue on despite risks to their own health.
For my family here in Portland, Oregon, this is our fourth week of social distancing. Being able to stay home is indeed a privilege, but it hasn’t always felt that way. As the fight against this disease rages on outside our home, I’m continuing to work from my home office, while my wife is managing the distance learning curriculum for our almost 7 year-old as Portland Public Schools are closed, all the while trying to keep our 5 year-old occupied.
Even those of us who liked the quiet at first are probably starting to get bored. But, for those of us quarantining with kids, bored isn’t part of the picture. On this episode, I wanted to share some audio that I made with my kids as a way of talking about how parent-artists are making their way through this crisis. If you’re hoping that we artist-parents have any magical solutions for you, I’m sorry to say that you’ll be disappointed. We’re struggling with this just like everyone else. But, on this episode, I wanted to put the struggle aside for a few minutes, and look at how the arts are a source of joy.
I’m really thankful for all of the creative patterns we had established with our kids before this pandemic started. We’ve kept a healthy supply of markers, crayons, colored pencils, watercolor paint, washable paint, paint sticks, scrap paper, scrap fabric, scissors, hot glue, cold glue, and a big tub of odds and ends like milk jug caps, odd buttons, and other things we saved from the trash can for art projects. We always thought that these projects could be an escape from homework and other life stressors, but we never knew that they would come in handy during a public health crisis.
Even though I’m mostly working the number of hours I normally would for my job, we’ve been making a lot of changes to our routine, trying to build in more time for distance learning, and more time for me to be with the kids so mom can take a break. It’s been helping some. During some of that dad time, I showed my son how to make a recording of himself playing my digital piano. He played a recording back for me and started telling me the story that he imagined as he heard his own music played back to him.
So you guys, I couldn’t resist. I recorded the music into my computer, then recorded him telling the story as he listened to the music through headphones.
It sounded like this.
Son: There’s a tractor, full of unicorns. It is traveling to the musical. It is so relaxing.
It is cool.
They reach a bee field. The unicorns get mad. That unicorns do not like bees.
It is really loud. There are lots of bees. Really loud, lots of bees. So many bees. The unicorns do not like it. Then there’s lots of bees. So many bees. And the tractor…
Then there’s lots of fireflies and the tractor goes on. Then they traveled back to another musical.
Then the bees crash into the tractor.
Doug: Do you want to say the end?
Son: And the unicorns are safe.
Doug: That was so…relaxing.
He made up both the music and the story in just about 5 minutes. He doesn’t usually do things quickly, so this was a big surprise to me. I wanted to ask him some questions about the story, and also about social distancing and the pandemic and everything else. So I did an interview with the artist.
I have some questions. I’m curious. Why did you want to fill up a tractor with unicorns in your story?
Son: Uh, I think it’s because my sister really, really, really, likes unicorns.
Doug: Do you think those are her favorite animals?
Son: Yes. She loves them.
Doug: What is a bee field?
Son: Uh, it’s, it’s like a field that, that’s full of beehives and flowers.
Doug: Okay. Why are musicals so relaxing? That’s my next question.
Son: It’s, it’s because they’re, they’re, they, they sound so good.
Doug: Good. Is there anything else that you want anyone else to know about that story?
Son: So, yes.
Doug: What do you want them to know about this story?
Son: Uh, I really want them to know about how I made the tractor and how I’m actually, how I made the fireflies.
Doug: So here I got him a pair of headphones and set him up on the digital piano. Okay. Now if you play, can you hear it?
Doug: Okay. Alright, so then show us how, how does the attractor music sound?
Son: Uh, it, it sounds kind of like how the tractor in Wisconsin sounds.
Doug: Oh, on, on grandpa’s farm in Wisconsin. Yes. Yeah. How about the fireflies? What do they sound like?
Son: And then you go all the way to the other one at the other side of the appliance.
Doug: How does that sound?
Son: And that’s what the fireflies sound like.
Doug: Yes. All right, cool. Anything else you want to tell people about your piece?
Son: I have written it because it’s pretty cool. Cool.
Doug: How do you feel about having to stay home all the time with the coronavirus going on?
Son: Pretty good because then I got to make this an add some… Oops. To add some voice to it.
Doug: Yeah. Cool. Well, I really liked the story too. I’m glad you made it.
Son: Yes, me too. It was really fun to make it cool.
Doug: All right. Want to say good bye?
Son: Good bye.
Doug: Ok, I’m biased of course, but that was cute, right? And yes, the story we heard just a minute ago was also cute, ridiculously so. But this quarantine business hasn’t been all cute. He said that he likes being home because he got to make that story, and he really means it. School has been tough for my son. He’s autistic, so even though he’s doing ok in school academically, the social skills that are required of a first grader are a huge challenge. Staying home with teacher mom is actually a relief.
The other challenging thing is that the stress of the situation with the outbreak comes out in unexpected ways. He’s broken out in tears at random times out of fear of the virus, and he’s drawn some pictures of germs and hospitals and coffins and giant arms with giant boxing gloves punching New York City that are a way for him to process a lot of scary information. Making stories and music has been a welcome distraction and stress reliever.
Now, just like with everything else, when my daughter sees her older brother do something, she wants to do it too. Here’s her story.
Daughter: Giants. Come out to fight the match, but the giant’s win. Next day the giants come out, the fairies, the fairies win instead. So it’s time for them to battle! Stars. It’s night now. Yeah… Constellations and stars. So good. I love this place best. Kinda like… Giants again. It’s morning. It’s very loud. Until the fairies won.
Doug: Is that the end?
Doug: And there you have it. I had some questions. I’m sure you do too.
Can you tell me about the giants? What are they like?
Daughter: They’re made out of boulders and rocks.
Doug: Oh, I see. But they have like faces and bodies and they’re really big. Are they mean? And then tell me about the fairies. What are the fairies like?
Daughter: Fairies are very tiny and as tiny as ants for the giants.
Doug: Are they nice fairies? Yeah. Yeah. Really nice fairies. And then what are the fairies do to the giants? How do they win?
Him: The fairies shoot fifty four gazillion bullets at the giant.
Doug: Oh my gosh. That’s a lot of bullets.
Him: And then rocks that made the giants fell apart and then giants were dead.
Doug: Oh my gosh. Okay enough with the softball questions. So Jane, how do you feel about being home so much? Because of the coronavirus?
Is it good? Is it bad? Is it neither good or bad? Is it boring? Do you miss your friends?
Daughter: It’s very bad.
Doug: Why is it very bad?
Daughter: Because it makes people very sick. yeah.
Doug: No, that’s true. I know. That’s why we have to be really careful and that’s why we’re staying home and so that hopefully people who could get hurt by the disease don’t, don’t catch it. I didn’t edit that part at all. When she’s in a good mood, she’ll answer questions right away usually, but it took a long time to get her to talk about the coronavirus quarantine has been hard for her too, probably harder than for my son.
When the schools closed here, it was just a few days before spring break was supposed to start. So now as the extended spring break is ending and my son’s school is starting at distance learning program officially this week, he has homework now, even though he doesn’t want to do it, she can’t help but to be insanely jealous that he has it at all.
She spends the time while he’s doing homework, looking over his shoulder, often giving her own answers to the questions to the best of her ability. If you want to hear what that sounds like, here’s a moment from his story as he was recording, she was standing right next to him, whispering her own footnotes to his story despite my attempts to keep her quiet
Him: as traveling to musical. It is so relaxing.
It is cool.
Doug: But she’ll recover. Here’s how she said goodbye. All right. You want to say bye bye.
Daughter: My name is Fafoofa.
Doug: Yes, this too shall pass. Fafoofa will rise like the Phoenix from the ashes, and, like a winged sparkle pony tracing rainbows across the sky, she will fly again.
Coming up next in Volume III is my interview with Margaret Bullock, who’s new book “New Deal Art in the Pacific Northwest” reveals how the federal government employed thousands of artists to work on a variety of projects in the northwest in an effort to guarantee work for Americans with arts backgrounds. She shares some amazing stories about how the government and the artistic community responded to a crisis somewhat similar to the one we’re facing now, the Great Depression. We talked about what was different in the 1930’s, and how despite the differences, there are important lessons to be learned.
Before I let you all go, I wanted to say that there’s a difficulty with talking to your kids about situations like this. It’s a hard balance to strike. You need to give them real information about what is happening and why it’s important. But you also have to shield them from the worst of the details, and any of the politics of the tragedy—like how poor the leadership we’re seeing from the Trump administration has been—are completely unnecessary for them to know.
But for me, as an artist with a podcast, asking them to talk about it in front of an audience has a lot of potential for problems. There can be an urge from adult artists with a particular agenda to ask children to participate in discussions that they really aren’t ready for. As they asked me to make stories with them, something we’ll probably continue to do even after this crisis is over, I felt it was important to let them talk about whatever they wanted. That’s why you were treated to unicorns, tractors, fairies and giants. That’s what they talk about all the time. And I mean all the time, you guys.
Asking them to say just a little bit about what they felt about the coronavirus outbreak felt ok to me, and to their mother as well, as long as we continue to let them show us what they are ready for, not leading them into giving answers that we want to hear. I hope that you enjoyed hearing their creative impulses and their perspective on this situation. If you have children, I hope you have the opportunity to take some time with them to process the events of this pandemic through the arts, or perhaps just to give them the gift of enjoying the arts just for their own sake. It’ll be good for you too.
I’m very thankful to all the people who made it possible for my family to stay safely at home, all the essential workers stocking the grocery store shelves, delivering the mail, picking up the garbage and recycling, and of course, treating the patients, whether they have the coronavirus or not. And thanks to my kids, who I haven’t named on this podcast or our social media channels for their privacy, and to my wife.
Thanks so much for listening. My name is Douglas Detrick, and I produced this episode with the help of my adequately cooperative children, right here in Portland, OR.
Son: Why’s it still making it?
Doug: It’s recording the sound of your voice.
Son: Whaaaat? Everybody be quiet.
Doug: If you like what you’re hearing from More Devotedly, it would help a lot for you to rate and review the show on whatever platform you listen. It helps other listeners find the show, and that’s good for everybody. And if you know someone who would like the show, please tell them about it. We’re on instagram, we’re on facebook, we’d love to see you there too, and my goodness, we also have an email list that you can join at our website, moredevotedly.com.
What you’re doing is beautiful. Can you do it more devotedly?