By Connie Pillsbury

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” attributed to Plato, is the go phrase for describing how North County families this past year have transformed their homes into the center of the universe rather than a place to gather and be restored between outside activities, work, and school.

And this shift has not been easy. It has been hard, hard, to make your home space work as the core destination for every family member. Your kids used to go to school, to sports, to lessons, to friend’s houses, to youth groups, and Disneyland. Now your home is acting as the school, the sports, the lessons, the friends, youth group and Disneyland. That is hard. Daunting, actually.

The ‘necessity’ has forced the ‘invention,’ the pivot, the shift in the meaning of the words home and family. For some, this shutdown has been a shipwreck. For others, there are stories and signs that local families are surviving this forced necessity and even thriving through the challenges.

Local salon owner Katie McNamara and husband Joel Dunbar provide an encouraging example of creating a whole new version of ‘life at home’ for their two young daughters here in Atascadero. She explains, “Since March, we expanded our fence line for more play room, built raised beds for gardening, separated dogs from the garden with new fencing, added a bunny area with a pen, and a chicken coop for new chickens.

Basically, we turned our yard into a farm! And we added a sun deck to have outdoor movie nights. We missed traveling this year with our girls, but we created a beautiful home experience in our backyard, memories we would have never made without the shutdown.”

Another example is my neighbor, a former high school teacher, who withdrew her three children from the school district to homeschool them. She transformed her formerly decorated living room into a schoolroom/activity room where ongoing projects don’t need to be picked up or put away. Replacing the sofa, coffee table, and nice art pieces to now a permanent Lego table, a craft table, and large dry erase boards on the walls, easels, individual desks, and supplies. I see the recent artwork creations of her kids taped to the front windows.

One of parent’s biggest challenges this year has been how to keep your kids physically active and outdoors. You parents all know intrinsically that kids were not created to sit in front of a screen all day. In response, the best selling outdoor items last year were trampolines, bikes, and scooters, with swimming pools and family dogs as new additions at many homes.

But there are plenty of ways to get outdoors here without spending money. One young family made it a project to visit every park in the county, keeping track of what they like best about each park, with the goal of choosing “The Park of the Year” for a big party when this is over. Another family is doing weekly ‘Pier Picnics’ at our five local piers.

And how about the great stories of grandparent participation through various media? Timbersmith John Vial recorded stories along with his banjo playing to send to his grandchildren in Alaska. I’ve heard from other grandmas who teach ‘In the Kitchen with Granny’ on Zoom and one who gives grandchildren piano lessons on FaceTime.

We have all really missed live music. This has motivated creating music at home. One family got “Folk Songs of the United States” California States series school songbooks from AbeBooks.com for about $6.00 and has spent the shutdown singing through every song in the book!

On a more serious level, there is the challenge of creating a positive atmosphere in your home during a time of universal angst. In each of our personal worlds, we have a ‘sphere of concern’ and ‘sphere of influence’, as explained by a psychologist friend. Sphere of concern is general national and world events out of your control, while sphere of influence is the area of your life in which you actually have the ability to direct energy, focus, and control. As parents, your sphere of influence is the family within your home and perhaps a few others. This is where you truly make a difference. Many of you have said that turning off the news and concentrating on just your sphere of influence has helped create a healthier mindset for you and your children.

Philosophically, this is a rare moment in time to teach your children those things you want them to know, things they won’t learn in school: values, faith, courage, tenacity, and bravery. Teach your children what you know to be good, right, and true. And within your sphere of influence, you can start each day with the Flag salute, a song, or whatever else you think of to lift spirits. Keep going! Hats off to each one of you for your inventive solutions thus far!

Getting through this together, Atascadero