Shopping and Social Distancing for a Bustling Domestic Church

For a happy Catholic family of 12, the new normal is nothing new, and it’s never been normal.

(photo: Alexas Photos/Pixabay/CC0)

Well, hello out there! How is the social distancing going?

I’m here in Colorado, with all of my kids now learning at home, along with my husband who is now working from home. As of this writing it’s snowing, which means we are all not only home but also indoors. I guess you could say I’ve learned a couple of things about myself so far, since all of the coronavirus quarantining in Denver began.

First, my normal trip to the grocery store for our family of twelve — two parents plus 10 children, four of whom are teenagers — is virtually indistinguishable from that of a panicky doomsday prepper. No, that’s not an exaggeration. Yes, we eat that much fruit. Yes, we always buy toilet paper and paper towels in bulk like this. Yes, we are the people regularly buying ginormous packs of spaghetti, beans, rice, tomato sauce, chicken broth and tortilla chips. Yes, I do buy six to eight loaves of bread at once and yes, I’m very sad to see that, for the first time ever, the store is all out of the bulk packages of Tillamook sliced cheese. Yes, I am stocking up on fish sticks and tilapia but only because they’re on sale, the store seems to have plenty, and we don’t eat meat on Fridays, ever, because we are Catholic. Hence all of the children. But I digress.

If I was a tad self-conscious about my trips to the store before, I’m all-out humiliated now because I look like I’m panic-buying — but I’m not.

In fact, I’m so adept at making bulk purchases that I might just make for a good consultant for newly-minted panic-buyers — if I had the time. Which I absolutely do not, because I’m now busy overseeing the at-home education of normally-classically-educated-at-school kids. Which is no joke. Riggs Grammar, anyone? I homeschooled my kids for years but friends, this is a whole other beast. (Who knew that phonograms have a million different potential markings, or all these different rules? Why is the interwebz offering free viewings of Broadway shows and doodles kids can do at lunch and livestreaming of lonely zoo animals and their equally lonely zookeepers when there is no time?)

The second thing I’ve discovered has to do with social distancing. Apparently, I’m an expert in that as well.

I thought it was kind of the norm, barring occasional activities at church or after-school sports, for families to just be home together. I’m seeing people on social media freaking out and not knowing what to do, and I’m over here thinking, huh. We’re not doing anything differently. We really are normally this boring. All of the time.

We’re eating dinner together. We’re shooting baskets in the driveway, jumping on the trampoline, practicing volleyball serves, praying the Rosary and reading books. During spring break, when we can break from all of the at-home schoolwork that is taking up most of our time right now, we’ll be doing all of that stuff plus hopefully also playing some board games and, weather permitting, family volleyball. I don’t love that my kids’ classical education is now being spent online, devoid of the dynamic lectures and seminars it normally includes, but I do so love having them home. I’m overwhelmed, but not because they’re here. It’s because we’re trying to navigate a brick-and-mortar classical education over the internet, which so far consists of scanning a lot of documents, answering math questions, and being confused on my part.

Thank goodness my husband is working from home to help with teenage IT issues and the math. Because I’m over here with the 1st-grader and her Riggs Grammar. And my baby. And my toddler. And did I mention my two daughters with special needs, who are also home? This. This is why we have no time for watching the musical Cats!

I share all of this with you as hopefully an encouragement. Because life is all upside down and crazy right now. Snack foods are disappearing out of the pantry at alarming rates, the baby’s predilection for ripping toilet paper has become pretty much equivalent to a national emergency, and there is no Tillamook cheese for our lunch sandwiches. There are all of these teenagers spread out around my house on Chromebooks that never seem to be charged. Their beleaguered father is trying to work. And the printer just won’t stop.

Also? The president of the United States of America has declared that our household of 12 is not in compliance with social distancing protocols. (There are moments when I couldn’t agree more, Mr. President! I rarely even use the bathroom without at least one visitor.) In some ways, like how my conspicuous style of grocery shopping is now being emulated by the masses, the social distance life resembles life-as-usual for an at-home mom to many. I have to be flexible, work on being patient, and seek to find the beauty in the mundane. Stuff just goes wrong, or I’ll think I have one thing figured out, and something will change. The day goes completely off-script, and we all have to adapt.

As usual, there is much for me to be grateful for. So far, we are healthy. We have food. My husband’s job is not currently affected by what is going on. We are together. Best of all, we can place our trust in a good and loving God who sees our sufferings and sacrifices, our joys and sorrows, when times are good and when there’s a global pandemic. We are taking the time to pray for small-business owners, for the sick and dying, and for the medically vulnerable. We are learning what it is to hunger for the Holy Eucharist, to not take Mass attendance or our faithful priests for granted. God is faithful. Always.

Of course our hearts go out to those facing the quite serious issues of poor health, loneliness and isolation, or unemployment right now. Not to mention the dread of the unknown, which is legitimately causing anxiety the world over. It is all heartbreaking, and if that’s you, know you’re in our nightly prayers. I’ve only wished to speak for myself and my family, who are navigating a somewhat-new normal which, as I mentioned before, is funnily enough in some ways not so new. Attempting to find the humor, joy and good in social distancing.

Maybe eventually we’ll become so efficient at it that we’ll have time to watch an online video.