By REBECCA JONES
For Montclair Local
In the last few weeks remarkable changes have happened in American life. Schools have closed. Businesses have shuttered. Main Streets and highways are empty. The world as we know it has not ended, though it feels like that to many young adults, but it has come to a grinding halt.
Though the stay-at-home order was only recently mandated statewide, many Montclair residents have already been sheltering in place for many weeks now. Beyond concerns about their health and financial security is the newly emerging challenge of how to alleviate feelings of isolation and sheer boredom as, over time, these emotions can have negative health consequences of their own.
OLDER RESIDENTS COPE
Annette Weis, president of Aging in Montclair, said, “Social isolation is always an issue for seniors, so we’ve been trying to gear up. We have support groups meeting twice a month — Conversations on Aging, Caregiver Support, and Widows and Widowers — that we are continuing via teleconference.”
Adriana O’Toole, a long-time Montclair resident and real estate agent, said that the closing of restaurants has been especially difficult for older people who are no longer cooking for a family. “Cooking for one person is very boring, and restaurants are a gathering place for people,” O’Toole said. One way she has been passing the time is watching old Errol Flynn movies. “These are films from my parents’ generation, and there is some comfort in watching movies they used to watch,” she said.
The closing of the Montclair Public Library and the Park Street YMCA has been difficult for many as well, as these were community gathering places for people of all ages. Carolyn Lack, a long-time Montclair resident and nonagenarian, said what she’s missed most are the exercise classes she took at the Y. She was happy to receive the email they sent out last week with links to videos that have enabled her to keep exercising at home.
“I have not had a chance yet to be bored or feel isolated,” Lack said. “I have now found time to do household chores and paperwork that has been neglected. Since the garden is coming to life, I have a reason to go out and putter. My son-in-law did shopping for me today, so tomorrow I will be doing lots of cooking and then freezing packages for future meals. I’m looking forward to listening to the Met opera and other concerts that are now available online.”
For those without family close by to help with essentials like food and medicine, businesses like Kings and Stop & Shop are stepping up to provide delivery services and 60-and-older shopping times. Delivery service remains open, as well as the “contact-free” delivery option, but many have experienced delays and items have been out of stock with those services.
Friends and neighbors can do their part, too. The YMCA of Montclair suggested people “Adopt a Neighbor.” If you know of someone who is elderly and without family around, the Y wrote in an email message to members, “consider adopting them during this crisis. Shop for them either by going to the store or online, and have it sent directly to their home. Most pharmacies have delivery. If they are not getting their medication delivered, help your neighbor sign up. This may be a good time to get the contact information of your neighbor’s child or relative that lives out of state.”
YOUNGER RESIDENTS COPE
Social isolation is always an issue for older people, who more often live alone, but for young adults, many of whom are getting their first taste of freedom and independence, social distancing is a new and very difficult challenge.
High school senior John Colbert said, “Social distancing has definitely been frustrating, and I’m rather upset about the distance it’s put between me and my friends and the things I like to do, especially the things I was prepared to do over break, but I’m trying to put the situation in perspective and remember why we’re doing it, and how much harder I’m sure it is on people who are in real danger.”
Tik Tok, FaceTime, Snapchat, and Netflix Party are some of the apps that have been keeping kids connected with each other, along with video games, such as Fortnite, that allow players to meet virtually and play together.
“Maintaining social connections through video chats and phone calls can minimize feelings of isolation, so encourage opportunities for children to connect with their friends virtually,” adolescent psychiatrist Keri Wasser told the Local. “Help them set up structure and routine to their day. Set schedules that allow for schoolwork, family time, and fun. Embrace having an opportunity to play board games, eat family meals together, enjoy nature in your own backyard, read books, and make time for family activities that you ordinarily would not have time to do. “Modeling for children that we can get through an uncertain time with calmness and fortitude will help them to build strength and resilience.”
Though these are scary and uncertain times, there are some silver linings. “I worry for my business and other small businesses in town,” said Jen Snyder, owner of the Little Daisy Bake Shop on Valley Road, “but I’m trying to see a bright side. I’m thankful for this restful time to have the chance to spend more time with my family.”
One way the Snyder family keeps things positive and fun during dinner is by using “Family Time, 50 Conversation Starters” and “Family Talk, Questions to Get the Whole Family Talking.” Questions include: If you could have any superpower what would it be and why? What movie could you watch over and over again and not get sick of? If you could only listen to one band for the rest of your life, what would it be?
There are some great new board games out there, like Code Names, Coup, and Catan, as well as old favorites like Scrabble, Life, and Risk. If competitive gaming causes more conflict than fun, try Pandemic. It’s a collaborative and quite timely game in which players work together to stop the spread and find a cure for a pandemic.
Here are a few other suggestions for families struggling to entertain kids:
- Try out new recipes. Teach your kids how to cook their favorite meals and desserts, or have a family “Master Chef” competition. If you are well now, make and freeze meals for a time when you might not be feeling so well.
- Start a Family Film Club. Watch select films of a certain director, decade, or country.
- Get kids outside helping with yard work. It’s a great way to save money, absorb vitamin D, and relieve stress. Studies have shown that simply breathing in a microbe found in good soil boosts the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in our brain like an antidepressant.
- Get creative. Katie Eva of the local design and branding agency Brandsisters wrote spoof courses for her kids — “Love Your Laundry,” “Dabble With Dishes,” and “Sort Your Fort,” in which students can learn the basics of home fort construction.
- Take out an old-fashioned piece of paper and a pen. Write letters to old friends or start a self- quarantine journal. Who knows? It might be worth something to a publisher one day.
- Watch classic sports games. Show your kids the games that made you fall in love with the sport, like the 1986 World Series, game six, Red Sox vs. Mets. If you don’t have a streaming service, YouTube has clips of a large selection of games.
“Parents have an opportunity to connect differently with their kids during this enforced time together,” said psychotherapist Ilene Fishman. “Being more available is part of what’s different right now. It’s a perfect time to naturally encourage kids to share their feelings. Let us hope for something meaningful and unexpected, including a new kind of closeness, to emerge.”
It might help to remember, though we may feel alone right now, that we’re all in this together. And one thing is certain, eventually, life will return to normal again. Let’s hope we emerge from this pandemic stronger as families and communities, more grateful for each other and what we already have, less wasteful, and more willing to work together as a nation and a world to solve other equally threatening global problems.