Real-Life Stories of a Disabled Mom: Anatomy of a Summer Day

Posted by Kieran O'Brien Kern in Life After Paralysis on August 14, 2020 # COVID-19, Lifestyle

Towards the end of the school year, a small panic grew in me. What was I going to do with the kids with nothing official to do every day? I found home instruction to be extremely overwhelming and having to figure out how to entertain my kids for an hour, a day, or a week to be difficult, especially when there was no infrastructure to keep them engaged. I consulted a multitude of webinars and tools; the most realistic of them shared similar advice for a "Do It Yourself (DIY) Summer Day in a Lockdown/Social Distance," or let's just call it, a not so accessible situation.Kieran's daughter participating in summer activities at home

The consistent themes that I culled were: be empathetic to your kids and yourself, be a little organized, and my favorite is to be a little lazy. We were six weeks into the summer, and these themes were the basic framework I found that worked.

I learned quickly that daily outside time (in a controlled setting) was critical to both my daughters. My seven-year-old is a veteran of "Mommy Field Trips." We started going on those field trips when she was four and able to listen and follow directions with greater consistency. My toddler is still learning these skills, so our fresh air time is acquired on our screened-in porch.

I asked myself, "how do you make an indoor space attractive when the backyard is right in front of them?" The porch is where we keep the LEGO's. This location serves three purposes. One, it keeps the toys out of the main drag, maintaining accessibility throughout the house. Two, it gets the three of us playing together; this is key to my kids. When we have this playtime, they see me as more than "someone who just says no." Inside I have a little more freedom of movement to get us on the same level to play. Lastly, the layout of the porch makes independent clean up easier. The LEGO's live in a storage coffee table. The girls know that aside from a special creation, everything has to be put away before we transition to the next activity.

Transitions from activities go down smoother when a snack or drink is included. Since our outdoor time is usually pretty early to avoid the extreme heat, some cold seltzer with a splash of juice is often a fun and not too sugary way of getting them inside. Protip: Frozen blueberries make fun ice-cubes. While we cool off, we usually color, do a lo- mess craft or have storytime. If none of those options sound appealing, there's always a dance party in the kitchen using a kid-centric app on Prime like GoNoodle that has interactive games, meditation, craft ideas, and all-around wholesome silliness with a little learning.

When the kids chose a more independent activity, I try to squeeze in something productive for me; stretching, working, cleaning, or prepping food. I found a good deal on a Toddler subscription box for my budding mini engineer. The bonus was that the activities were a low mess, and she got her big sister involved for at least an hour or more of play at a time.

My oldest took part in a Zoom camp, which she attended for the last two years (in person). The caveat emptor knows the person who is leading the camp. My daughter's camp was run by a high energy dynamic woman who invested in each child. They were in small groups, and she brought the party right to our kitchen table for three days straight. This is no small feat when dealing with kids in her age group. She had three days of crafts and snacks waiting on our doorsteps from glow in the dark slime kits to canvas and paint. When they weren't crafting or snacking, they had scavenger hunts, played games, and interacted with each other.summer arts and crafts

The remainder of the day, we keep relatively loose. If I scheduled every second, they would revolt and send me to the time out spot. I keep a variety of colored paper, sketchbooks, coloring books, glue, pencils, crayons, makers, age-appropriate paint pens, and a giant jar of flair in our craft cupboard. Add those to any cardboard box or paper towel roll, and imagination is the limit.

In our regular summers, the library is a key destination for programming and exposure to new books. This summer, we're all participating in the summer reading programs through the library's app, which also includes fun missions for the kids. My kids and I pick out books on the library website in the afternoon/early evening, and the next day I pop over and pick them and a new craft up each week.

Virtual or face-to-face playdates have been a critical part of mental health for my oldest. We see friends virtually and have one school friend she sees in person. We also bubble with my best friend's family, whose kids are best friends with mine. Sometimes we play a game of pretend on Facetime or run through the sprinklers.

Speaking of sprinklers, not all of our activities are inside or quiet. We try to get outside one to two times a day with back up. Family walks get everyone moving, and we use every mode possible including, transport bikes, tricycles, roller-skates, and of course, wheelchairs. We are lucky enough to live on a river and, my husband and oldest daughter take our canoe out regularly.

I’m Kieran Bridget O’Brien Kern. Power is literally my middle name. When my husband and I became engaged, we agreed that parenthood was a two-person job. I am the primary caregiver to our children, but we all work as a team. From infancy onward, we have adapted and grown together. Every day there is a new challenge. Every new challenge is an opportunity to learn more about them and check out Kieran's Instagram @kierieo.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.