Dispatches from Northern Italy: How to Survive A Coronavirus Quarantine with Kids


Because of the coronavirus outbreak in northern Italy where I live, schools have been closed since February 23rd. As of March 9th, our town and region have been under quarantine and on lockdown, which means we are not allowed to leave our house unless for work, groceries or medical emergencies. As of now, these quarantine measures are scheduled to end on April 3rd but will be extended if needed.

I am not an epidemiologist, scientist nor physician, so I am not going to get into details about the coronaviruses or COVID-19. But I am a mom of a 3- and 6-year-old, and we are in the thick of it.

I want to let you know that if you find yourself in a similar situation in a few weeks, you’re going to get through it. But, I actually hate when people tell me I am going to get through it. Of course I am! I’m a mom, which means I’m a member of the strongest subgroup in the human race! So scratch that. Instead, I’ll tell you this: It’s going to be terrible. Sure you can do it, but it’s OK to feel like it’s truly the worst of times.

To be clear, I’ve always wanted to be a mom, I just never wanted to be a full-time stay at home mom nor did I ever want to home school my children. Now I am doing both in the most extreme way possible because of the quarantine.


That H in SAHM has hit me over the head so hard that I’m sort of just stumbling around trying not to fall over.

Don’t get me wrong, there have been days (more like 10-minute increments) when I’ve awarded myself an A+ in SAHMomming such as when we listened to Mozart while learning about Vincent van Gogh and then painting our own versions of The Starry Night.


But mostly I’m flailing between activities while trying not to lose my mind.

I feel like the parents out there who already homeschool their kids or are full-time stay at home parents by choice are the experts to look to for all the tips and tricks to keep your kids educated and stimulated. Not me. My advice today is more on how to emotionally survive a quarantine rather than what to actually do with your kids (Find some of those ideas here, here, here, and here.).

So that being said, if you also just googled sensory boxes for the first time after being a mom for nearly 7 years, and then texted your friends, aren’t sensory boxes the same as just playing in the junk drawer?  – I’m your girl. The rest of you probably know more than me, so please feel free to stop reading this.

How to Survive A Quarantine with Your Kids

Keep Reminding Yourself That You Have Nowhere To Be

Now that we live in Italy, our lifestyle has slowed down a bit, but I STILL feel like we are always rushing about. Part of this is my personality. I like to explore, and I’m definitely a doer. I also work from home, so I don’t like staying home when I don’t have to. But now I HAVE to.

It took me nearly a week of school and activities closures to truly grasp that we HAVE NOWHERE TO BE. Accepting this reality was a little horrifying but it also helped me slow down.

For instance, my kids ask for pancakes. Every. Single. Morning. My response is always, “we don’t have time” – sometimes because it’s true but mostly because I don’t want the extra cleanup. Now, though, I don’t have an excuse. I CAN make pancakes. I can make pancakes all the freakin’ live-long day. But instead of making them while frantically trying to get the kids ready for school and clean up, I make my kids sit there and watch me. Or help me (as much as I hate it when they “help” me in the kitchen). And afterward, I make them clean up with me. Which leads me to …

Cleaning Up and No More Idle Threats

The rake is really doing wonders here with the quinoa situation.

Parents always tell me to make my kids clean up after themselves. And I do this, I really do, but not perfectly. Usually, I tell my kids to clean up, and they sort of do. But then we have to be somewhere so I end up finishing the task. And honestly, there aren’t enough minutes in my lifetime to watch my 3-year-old clean up a pound of dried quinoa he was washing the floor with during the 3 minutes I left him alone

Now, though, we have time. WE HAVE ALL THE TIME (insert maniacal laughter as I paint my face with glue).

And in order to move on to the next activity, I make them clean up. And if they don’t? We don’t move on. Because again, we have ALL the time in the world.


Make a Schedule

My kids asked me to add “farting” to this. Twice.

Lots of moms told me to do this, and I think it’s a great idea. We rarely follow the schedule, but mentally, it helps me feel like my day has some sort of structure. I’m not the only one who needs structure. Being home for weeks and weeks from school is weird and disorientating for my kids, too.

Put the TV on Your Personal Pedestal

With my first kid, I was pretty militant about screen time. With my second kid, less so, but I still have pretty strict rules.

Now? Now is weird. It’s uncharted territory and there’s a lot of anxiety swirling around. If you’re in my situation, give yourself a break about screen time. Your mental health is more important than your kids watching an extra hour (or two) of screens. If you need a break so you can come back in thirty minutes and be a better parent, do it.

I will say this, though, my kids acting bratty and crabby directly correlates with how much TV they watch. So how do I balance it where my kids don’t become brain-dead crabby monsters and have too much TV but also I don’t become a brain-dead crabby monster by not letting them have TV?

I include TV time on my schedule. And then I push it back on the schedule as long as I can manage.

For me, it’s kinda like the same mind game people play when they write tasks they have already done on their to-do lists (please tell me you do this, too). Having “tv show” written on my schedule gives me a little lifeboat, knowing that I will have some time to decompress during the day.

For example, because my kids wake up so early, by about 11 a.m. I really need a break (like a full movie-length break). So I tell myself at 11, they will get TV.

But then the game begins. Can I make it past 11? Can I make it past 12? The TV is still coming, so I don’t have that deer in the headlights feeling that I will be playing Tickle Shark or Mama Hyena for the rest of my life, but the longer I can make it, means the more stuff we have done without TV. It’s a total mind game, but for me, it helps.

Take Turns With Your Partner and Forget About Family Time

My husband truly wants quality time with the kids when he gets home from work (currently he still has to work despite the quarantine). Usually, I am around, too, for “family time” or I’m doing something useful in the house like dishes. Now, though, I just let him do his thing with the kids, and I go and hide with a book and a glass of wine for a half hour. No one needs me there. And for my mental health, I don’t need to spend that time with them or cleaning.

As for weekends, or, if you and your spouse both become quarantined, take turns with the kids. Sure, you won’t see as much of each other. But this is a marathon, not a sprint. If you feel fresh, you will be a better parent and partner and vice versa.

Try Not To Be Fearful But Do Take The Quarantine Rules Seriously

In July, we move back to the US. I hate that my last four months in Italy are mostly going to be spent sitting in my house. But I hate this for Italy more.

Even if our family contracts the virus (which I think we probably will), we really aren’t at risk, and honestly, I’m less fearful of that. It’s all the nonnas and nonnos in the community who we are all working to protect.

As someone who has never been the best with rules or authority, I humbly implore you to act for the common good and think beyond yourselves if the U.S. enters into these types of quarantines and lockdowns. When I feel like I am truly losing my mind, I think about my beloved elderly neighbor across the street with respiratory problems.

We are keeping quarantine for her. And that’s more than enough reason to stay inside.

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Julie Cohen
Julie is a co-founder and contributor of Military Moms Blog. She also is a freelance writer and editor living in northern Italy where her husband is stationed in the Air Force. They have a little girl who spends most of her time (successfully) convincing her parents to buy more gelato, and a baby boy who they suspect already speaks better Italian than they do. Julie is the former food and wine editor of the San Antonio Express-News and former managing editor of Sauce Magazine in St. Louis, Missouri. which is where she calls home — but her dad was in the Army, so nowhere is technically home! She also has taught high school composition and British Literature, adult creative writing and college writing. Julie completed an MFA in nonfiction writing from Columbia University. In her free time, Julie enjoys running, reading and “studying” the varietals of Italy.


  1. Well said! My LO isn’t school-age yet so I’m used to staying in the house for a couple of days in a row. The scary/frustrating thing about this situation are the shut downs so if I did or not to go somewhere, we can’t! Here’s hoping things are better in April

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