Before March, Toni James and her family saw each other during holidays and on special occasions like birthdays and other milestone events.
Now the Havre de Grace family takes daily walks on a nearby trail. Her eldest son, Regginald Daniels, an assistant women’s basketball coach at Stevenson University, gives family members workout tips. And the entire family prepares meals together following a newly adopted vegetarian diet.
“I love having my sons at home with me,” says James, the owner of Katwalk Boutique, a retail store in Fells Point.“Seeing them brings up a lot of memories. We sit down and have dinner. It brings me a lot of joy.”
The James family has spent more time together than usual as the coronavirus pandemic forced many Maryland families to stay at home. Other Harford County families also started pursuing activities together, giving them a common goal and cementing a bond that may last for years.
Dr. Gina Basey, a licensed psychologist with a practice based in Bel Air, said families that share activities can benefit in a number of ways.
“What it can offer families is the ability to exercise a sense of control while things are out of control,” she says, adding that anything that creates that sense of control is important during stressful times.
Also, according to Basey, learning a new activity gives people a needed sense of accomplishment.
“If they can feel a sense of accomplishment and competence, that can certainly help with mental health,” she says.
James and her family started the daily walks after a week of being under one roof. She urged her youngest son Jason, a recent graduate of Hofstra University, to move back home from New York City — until things calmed down there. The city was the epicenter of the pandemic in the early months.
James and her family started the daily walks after a week of being under one roof. She urged her younger son, Jason, a recent graduate of Hofstra University, to move back home from New York City — until things calmed down there. The city was the epicenter of the pandemic in the early months.
“I told him to pack up his clothes that he needed and come here until everything was over,” she says. “We didn’t know it would be this long.”
Five days a week — depending on the weather —Toni James and her family walk about five miles along trails near their home.
“We laugh and talk,” she says. “Sometimes my son [Jason] will have a little radio. He likes having the music on.”
James says that the approach to a healthier lifestyle has paid off for the family. Jason has lost more than 10 pounds. Her husband, Justin, and her elder son, Regginald, have also lost weight.
“Everyone has lost a lot of weight. I haven’t lost anything,” James says with a laugh. “But I haven’t gained a pound.”
Basey warns that people should not set too high expectations when they share such activities. She recommends that families do one thing that will allow them to “connect” and to make sure it’s something they enjoy.
“Sometimes that is enough,” she says. “It is OK not to complete everything. Sometimes getting through the day is good enough.”
James recommends that families continue these togetherness activities even after things return to normal.
“People have to realize that this has changed people’s perspective about family,” James says.
Music is key for Hannon family
The Hannon family of Bel Air started learning to play the keyboard together during the first week that schools were closed due to the pandemic.
There was already a Casio keyboard in the home. Lily, 7, purchased it with birthday money last year.
“She wanted to learn [how to play it],” her mother, Christine, recalls. “She would sit down and play it a little. But we didn’t put time into it. She asked to take lessons, but she already does [so many other] things.”
During the shutdown, they had a lot of unexpected free time to fill, so the family decided to turn their attention to the keyboard.
Christine Hannon goes on YouTube to learn from tutorials and then she teaches her children what she learns. It’s a good way to break up the day, she says.
“I was looking for something that didn’t involve screens,” she explains. “The [computer] screens are great. They keep them in touch with their friends. But this is something we can all do together. This is something they can do together.”
Learning to play the keyboard was a way for the two Hannon children to meet in the middle. Conor, 10, likes sports, video games and everything physical. Lily enjoys crafting and anything creative.
“They both love music,” their mother says. “He loves to play songs from his iPad. And she liked to perform the music. Playing it together is a happy medium.”
Lily has noticed the difference that the stay-at-home order has made with her family’s relationships.
“We have more time to spend together — not just a few hours,” she says.
Conor, who usually prefers to listen to music by Post Malone and Michael Jackson, has gained a new appreciation for The Beatles through the keyboard lessons. The family is learning to play “Hey Jude.”
He adds: “It’s fun learning new things. I think it’s a good song. And it’s pretty catchy.”
Gardening bonds Ter Borg family
Bel Air-based jewelry designer Julie Ter Borg and her family switched their attention to gardening — fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers — during the pandemic.
The activity, which she does with her two daughters and mother, who lives next door, provides food and allows them be outside.
“We’re making a positive out of a negative situation. We’re home. We’re able to reinvigorate the garden that we have had,” she explains. “The other years we [started the garden] it became an overgrown mess because we didn’t take care of it. We would be able to pull a couple of tomatoes and zucchinis out. It was a sad weed jungle.”
They planed to fill this year’s garden, a 20-foot-by-20-foot stretch of land, with spinach, cantaloupe, strawberries, onions, turmeric, ginger, cabbage, beans and peppers.
“It’s very rewarding,” Ter Borg says. “I’m able to get a lot of inspiration being outside and in nature working with my girls. I have really enjoyed this time together and this slower pace.”
Ter Borg’s older daughter, 13-year-old Emerson, enjoys the finished product.
“I like eating the stuff that grows,” she says, adding that she is partial to peas. “I just grab them and eat them from the garden.”
Emerson said she also enjoys the logistics of planning a garden, while her sister, Abigail, 11, seems to relish the activity.
“I like planning out where everything goes,” she says. “Abi [Abigail] lifts all the manure. She mulches it. And does all the heavy lifting. She picks up all the stuff. She’s the strength. She has the muscle.”
The garden has been a “wonderful bonding experience,” Julie says.
“The toughest thing about this [pandemic] experience was that we didn’t want to feel stuck inside. Having this garden was a wonderful incentive to get us outside and enjoy nature,” she says. “Seeing the fruits of our labor will be amazing all summer long and in the fall.”
Emerson quickly points out that growing their own food will reduce the chances of catching COVID-19.
“Growing this garden is another way to not have us go to the grocery store. It will be a large part of our food source this summer. We’ll reduce our trips to the grocery store,” she says.
The Ter Borg women devote an hour each weekday to the garden. They spend up to five hours in the garden on weekends. On weekends, Ter Borg’s husband, David, an executive director at an elder living care center, joins them.
Before the pandemic, David was the one who would garden the most.
“That was his place of solace. He didn’t have a man cave,” Julie recalls. “And now the girls have taken it over.”
Ter Borg’s mother, Eve Jakum, has been an inspiration.
Jakum grows Swiss chard, carrots, cucumbers, zucchini and lettuce.
“It’s something that has been a hobby of mine that became something we became accustomed to having,” says Jakum, who is a retired teacher. “It’s a passion I have to watch things grown.”
Jakum says she gets joy watching her family in the garden.
“Watching the children in the garden are the greatest,” she says. “Some kids don’t get a chance to do stuff like this. That’s what we should be teaching children.”
The family says they planned to give their excess produce to their friends and neighbors. That is another valuable lesson, Jakum adds.
“We’re supposed to teach, that it is one thing to grow your own. But it’s another thing to share it,” she says.