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Quarantine Video Games: How My Family Bonded Over Mario Kart

As COVID-19 lockdowns began, my kids were excited at the prospect of doing school work from home. Their fantasies revolved around staying in bed, not getting dressed, and eating whenever they liked.

I was less thrilled. Sure, I was happy that they would be safe. And, as someone who works from home anyway, I was spared the concern of many parents about how we would manage. I confess I didn’t mind a break from the hustle of shooing them out the door each morning for the school bus commute.

But the idea of having them home 24/7, without friends or after school activities, felt stifling. For them and for me.

Family Bonding During Quarantine

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that a pandemic doesn’t concern itself with the feelings of an individual. Where I live, on the east coast of Australia, school went from in-person to online with only one day’s notice in the last week of March. We were facing two weeks until school holidays and then an unforeseeable duration of school-from-home after that.

We tried to put our best foot forward, but it wasn’t long before I felt like I had preschool children again. My kids weren’t overly demanding, but there was always someone to check on, some tech problem to solve, or something else to add to my mental load. I found it nearly impossible to concentrate on my own work.

But it wasn’t all bad. We live near a beach that remained open because it’s usually uncrowded even at the busiest of times. I was impressed at how well my 14-year daughter took to her online schooling and how stoic she was about missing her beloved circus training. My son, being just six weeks into his high school career, struggled more.

It wasn’t long until each day started to feel like Groundhog Day. We were in serious need of structure to define our days and weeks. And then I got an idea on how to accomplish that.

Fun For the Whole Family

We may not have the school bus for the kids to catch for their commute to school, but we did have Mario Kart 8. My son had gotten a Nintendo Switch at Christmas and Mario Kart was the default game. Thanks to a panic-shopping trip early in the pandemic, we even had an extra set of controllers so all four of us could play at one time.

The kids had traded barreling out the door at 7:50 AM for the bus to simply moving from their bed to their desk. So I created a Mario Kart commute and we started firing up our engines and racing into the day.

What a hoot! I’ve always loved a driving game, but in my day it was more of a full-sized steering wheel in an arcade than on a tiny joystick. Our new commute became four races with every person for themselves. Then we would all head off to our respective desks, often accompanied by the sound of one kid accusing the other of robbing them of first place and me wondering if I’d ever win.

Knowing that we would ‘commute home’ at 3:00 PM before segueing into afternoon tea and some downtime gave us all some much needed incentive to get our work done. Our Mario Kart commute only lasted a few weeks because our kids were able to return to in-person school, but I’m going to take credit for coming up with a super-fun way to help structure our days at a time when life felt very uncertain.

Vivienne Pearson

Vivienne Pearson is a freelance writer, based near Byron Bay in Australia. Her writing lives at viviennepearson.com

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