May 2021

The New Normal

By Jeanette Prather

Grandmother and grandfather together with their granddaughters dancing on the bed.

“These are the best of times!” announced Julie Horner, editor of the SLV Post.

At first glance you might be thinking that Horner was referring to some obscure, off-the-cuff situation, but she was simply referencing the “here and now.” She was mentioning how good things have spawned from the bizarre year-plus our society is coming out of. And she’s not alone, especially among the parents locally who’ve become masters at thinking outside of the metaphoric parenting box. “Creative parenting,” we can call this.

“Our weekends used to be really full of events, birthday parties, etc.,” said Felton mom, Sarah Marie Shane-Vasquez. “During the pandemic we’ve started going on family hikes every Saturday and Sunday morning. It’s a great way to move around, see some beautiful local spots, and spend quality time together.”

This seems to be another common thread strung among busy parents during the pandemic; time. Time to slow down and do the simpler things (another perk that Horner raved about). “This has been our pandemic experience too, except my kid is 6 so we sleep in and go for midday hikes,” agreed Heidi Olson, a Santa Cruz parent.
“Since quarantine began, I introduced my children to my own passion for hiking and spent the last year building up their stamina,” said mother-of-two from Watsonville, Maritza Pozzi-Loyola. “My youngest is four and he walked the entire [Yosemite eight-mile] hike with no complaints or carrying. I’ve seen his self-confidence soar in the last year. My daughter, who’s 9, can now read park maps and learned how to use a compass. I’m thankful for this last year we’ve had together on the trails and the many lessons my children have learned along the way.”

It’s definitely not all bad, and the more people share their shut-down recreational activities, the more appreciative we seem to become of the time spent and new-found routines. “We hike or go on nature walks practically every day, but I also have had my toddler join me in my art studio,” said Soquel mom, Daria Salus. “We have seven hedgehogs, five cats, five bunnies, and more! No way would I have made this many if it wasn’t a pandemic!”

“My girls and I kayak from the upper harbor into the ocean two to four days per week, and we are going to continue with that, especially since summer is on its way,” added Santa Cruz mom, AnnaMarie Aspesi Ritter. “We visit a different pump track every day!” added another local mom, Ashleigh Williams.

“Family picnics just about anywhere outdoors!” said Santa Cruz mom, Maria Cecilia Eastman.

Outdoors, in almost any capacity, is certainly a local preference with an old pastime of “taking drives” making a comeback. “We drive up to the pie shop on Highway 1, once a week, and explore beaches on the way,” said Shell Mc Neal, a mom from Santa Cruz. “Cruising Highway 1 and finding a picnic spot with epic views,” agreed another mom from Santa Cruz, Allyssa Jensen. “Beach bonfires! It’s my favorite evening outing.”

“Driving to see Christmas lights almost every evening in December,” said Jenna Whaley Coura, from Felton. “[I also had a] grown-up routine change of going on evening walks in the neighborhood with an audiobook after the kiddo is in bed (rotate days with spouse so somebody is always at home with the kiddo) and BBQ/grill several days per week eating on the outdoor picnic table most meals (weather permitting).”

“Lots of drives up the coast on the weekends when our local beaches were too crowded,” said Amelia Cartwright Brown of Capitola. “In the beginning, LEGO-designing outside was fun. Sliding down sand hills on boogie boards. Picnics in the yard. Skateboarding the ramps bought for early pandemic. Plenty of ocean time.
“Friday night movies, too,” continued Brown. “I also do many meal bars, taco bar, cinnamon roll bar, veggie chili bar, hot nights salad bar like the Crow’s Nest. Art, painting, poetry etc. were so good for our souls.”

Like Brown, when the great outdoors weren’t available, parents turned to the great indoors instead. “Every Friday night we have a ‘party night theme’,” said Santa Cruzan, Kelly Mercer-Lebov. “The bar is really low, like sometimes the theme is a color; we only eat green things for dinner, wear green, etc. We’ve had paper airplane parties, letters of the alphabet, and we’ve celebrated my 3-year-old’s imaginary friend’s birthday.”

Friday night dance parties are a must! “Brief dance parties in the living room with a strobe light,” added Sara Ellen of Santa Cruz. “Also, trying exotic new-to-us foods, like star fruit or gooseberries.”

“We have Fun Fridays!” said Jennifer Balint, a Santa Cruz mother of two. “We rotate who gets to choose take-out every Friday, then we watch a family movie with popcorn and treats. It’s been a great way to support our favorite restaurants, try new places, and it gives us something to look forward to every week, which helps ease the monotonous COVID days.”

Crafting and cooking were a must for many families during quarantine, and certainly helped in keeping parents sane. “My husband (who hasn’t spent much time in the kitchen in our 15-year marriage) decided to start making biscuits last spring!” said Scotts Valley mom, Heather Bragg Troxell. “Now he gets up and makes them every Sunday morning for our family!”

“When I make dinner now all screens go off and everyone has to help,” said Nicole Watson, of Santa Cruz. “Chopping veggies, making dessert, and setting the table. It’s been great!”

Concentrated family time is another big one. We were all stuck in tight quarters with the same people, and so of course we made the best of it. “We live with our in-laws and the baby gets grandma time each morning with little moments throughout the day since she works from home,” said Seaside parent, Camille Rocha. “I’m going to really miss it when she has to go back to work.”

“Multiple weekly nature outings eeeeeverywhere,” said Melanie Munir, Santa Cruz mom. “Also, our backyard game is ON POINT now; bubbles, water balloons, chalk, sprinkler, poppers (like on July 4th), dirt pit, mini soccer goal… we got really creative [and] lots of muffin baking!”

“All of what [Munir] did, plus art projects, LEGOs, and critter hunting!” included Denise Ann Bascom, of Santa Cruz. “Going to continue it all!”

Family walks, picnics, and exercise, oh my! All the mentioned time-together activities born from the pandemic will continue to stand the test of time. “We started walking around our neighborhood every day,” said Jamie Lynn Onakoya, of Santa Cruz. “When we get to an intersection, I ask my son ‘left, right or straight,’ and he chooses which way we go! It’s like choose-your-own-adventure and that way we get to see new things and explore more of the neighborhood.”

Whatever you and your family did at home (or up the coast, or at a pump track, or in nature…) during this unique time in our history, our kids will remember and cherish for the rest of their lives. On that note, it’s wonderful to hear parents say that they intend to continue these fantastic, low-maintenance bonding activities post-pandemic. It’s our time to live our best lives!

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