For anyone that isn’t familiar with our story and is reading this blog for the first time, there are a lot of posts to read that detail our journey (I’m sure you have some time on your hands now). In a nutshell, my wife Becky and I sold our house, cars and worldly belongings, and along with our children ( aged 9 and 10 at the time), donned backpacks and left Cape Town with one way tickets to Borneo and no plan. We headed into the big wide world seeking adventure and to open our children’s eyes.
Before we get into the meat of this blog regarding coping with your family in close confines, there needs to be some context and a scene set for our story.
Setting the scene
Fast forward, traversing a thousand places and stories, to month number 16 of our travels. What we believed was a serendipitous meeting with an American lady, led us to our final ‘gig’ before returning to the confines of perceived normality and integrating back into regular society. The way this gig was sold to us, seemed like the perfect ending to a life changing journey and offered some time to reflect and prepare for what lay ahead. We were to dog sit 4 pooches whilst living in a house in a remote village, Cano Negro, in the wetlands of Costa Rica close to the Nicaraguan border.
We were told that there were so many opportunities for us in the village. There was a football pitch close to our house and I could run some soccer clinics. The kids would be able to attend the local school which would really accelerate their Spanish. Becky could also teach English at the local school. On paper it seemed perfect.
The spec didn’t quite fit reality or the picture that we had all painted in our minds. In fact the reality was very far removed from the ideal we had envisaged. For starters the house wasn’t a house! In fact it was one of the most dilapidated places we had stayed in during our entire 16 months on the road. I can’t even begin to describe it (check out blog:http://straightouttasuburbia.net/56-digging-a-grave-cockroaches-a-blind-dog-and-a-long-way-from-anywhere/) .
Essentially it was a cabin, rife with mosquitos, the mattresses were more akin to bricks with a plastic covering. Several resident toads hopped about inside. There was one plug point in the cabin and extension leads were needed for everything else. Naturally there was no air conditioning and the cabin was like an oven, so it was essential to have noisy fans on constantly to avoid us melting. We did one mammoth shopping trip prior to arriving, having been told that the local shop only had basics, and the nearest town with anything substantial was a good hour away on a pretty inhospitable dirt road. After arriving I instantly knew we’d need more alcohol!!
My immediate reaction (expletives excluded) was that we couldn’t hack this…..7 weeks… you had to be out of your mind?! My wife, being the amazing rational and caring person that she is, stated that we had made a commitment to help someone, and we had to follow it through. None of the opportunities that were spoken about materialized, so we were essentially holed up in a grubby cabin for the duration.
Within our first week we were a dog down (6 ft under type of down!), and things were comically bad. Resolutely we soldiered through and can look back at it cognisant that it is possible to ameliorate situations.
So with this experience I’d like to offer a few tips on how to survive being in tight confines with your family in testing conditions. Obviously everyone’s circumstances are varied but you just have to adapt accordingly.
It’s good to have some sort of framework for a routine, especially with children. Chores, exercise, schoolwork were key pillars that we based our day around, Then as ‘rewards’ there were fun things like films, board games and food!.
In our situation we had to constantly clean, as we shared our cabin with 3 dogs not to mention toads and numerous other insects from cockroaches to termites. Assign certain chores to every household member – washing up, dishwasher unpacking, cleaning surfaces, cutting the grass, raking leaves, cleaning windows. It may sound daft, but take your time and try to be mindful when doing these chores, you’ll be amazed how therapeutic they can be! For the children – No chores, no screen time…simple.
There are so many resources online. Have some form of structure / timetable. We did schoolwork with our children in the mornings. Sit with them, and read through their task and offer help rather than just blindly giving them something.
Try and unleash the creative streak in your kids ( they all have one, but it’s probably been eroded by the blue light from screens)
One exercise we gave our kids was giving them 20 random words and getting them to write a short story using all of them. Try and make the words as obscure and silly as possible. It was a winner with our two.
For me exercise is an integral part of my make up. Wherever we were in the world, however hot, cold or crowded I managed to do something most days.
In Cano Negro it was always hot, and there was only one dusty road in and out of the ‘pueblito’ which was unforgiving on my glass ankles, so I only managed a couple of runs.
My saving grace was a resistance band and a skipping rope. Then added to these were push ups, lunges, burpees and planks. You don’t need a gym to keep fit. There are so many resources online, so no excuses.
Make it an integral part of your day, preferably in the morning and then you’ve got some endorphins to run on for a while.
Being quite a self deprecating family certainly helped us through some tough times. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Yes, admittedly what we are currently faced with is unprecedented and no laughing matter, but as parents we need to carry on and pull our kids through this troubled time. If you’re confined for a while, do something silly with your hair, mix things up a bit. For us, we had days when things were so bad, Becky and I had to laugh at our plight to avoid crying.
Due to being in the hot humid wetlands, we needed to shower at least 3 times a day. Just freshening up and smelling decent for a while is actually quite a morale booster. Even though you’re not going out, have a squirt of some perfume/cologne
Social media and the internet connects us with friends, family and the outside world and of course it is very important. But do yourselves a favour and power down your devices for a few hours a day, and lose that itch to keep checking. You’ll be amazed how calming it is!
8) Board games
Get back to basics and dig out some board games. Rather than fight with your kids over their screen time, why not fight over who owns property on Park Lane on the Monopoly board! In our 7 weeks, we had a tile rummy championship, that culminated in quite a tense last few days. The winner won our last slab of chocolate.
9) Cooking / Baking
We weren’t really spoilt for choice when it came to food, and pretty much survived on a basic of ‘arroz y frijoles’ – rice and kidney beans, and whatever vegetables and meat we could muster up. There was no kitchen, just two electric hobs and a rice cooker. Ingenious Becky figured out how to bake bread in the rice cooker, and no word of a lie it was the best freshly baked bread I’ve ever had. As one of the ‘carrots’ to dangle for the kids , we had fresh bread every morning once school work was done.
Get back in the kitchen, pull out those cookbooks you got for Christmas 4 years ago and havent touched.
Fortunately our kids enjoy cooking so we organised a cook off. We gave them each 10-15 of the same items each – spices, carbs, veggies, meat and then they each had an hour each in the kitchen and had to present and explain their culinary masterpieces to us.
Not being one of my strong points due to my ADD, I struggle to read. Being faced with time on my hands I actually managed to focus and get through some pretty deep books. Set some time in the house when there is no music, gadgets are packed away and everyone pulls out a book.
11) Make stuff
Arm the kids with a glue gun, nails and some tools and set them free on some junk in the garage or house. Don’t worry about the mess, you’ve got time to clean up!
Look around, notice things that you normally take for granted. Slow everything down and take some deep breaths. This is your new reality. Be conscious of what you’re doing and take time to really be mindful of things. This might sound a bit too zen for some of you but feel the sensations of what you’re doing – the water in the shower, the sun on your face. Taste the food you’re eating rather than shoveling it down. Believe me it makes a difference.
Best of luck. There are people in worse situations than we are, so take a look around at what you have and be thankful. You’ll get through this. We did, and came out stronger for it.