Games, walks and family bonding: Local families say crisis is building domestic church

Beth Smith and her children work on a jigsaw puzzle at their Independence Township home. The younger kids, who attend Everest Collegiate High School and Academy, and Smith’s college-age children have been home from school, which has given the family new opportunities for bonding. (Courtesy photos)

As college students move home, parents work remotely and kids take classes online, families find rare opportunity for togetherness

INDEPENDENCE TOWNSHIP — From family game nights to friendly bets on the weather, local families are finding ways to cope and build the “domestic church” during this time of home confinement.

Beth Smith of Independence Township has enjoyed having four of her children home with her. Her college-age son is now taking his classes from Central Michigan University online, and her college-age daughter, who is studying nursing, is doing the same. Her two younger high school-age daughters who attend Everest Collegiate High School and Academy started online classes this week. 

“It’s actually been good,” Smith said. “The kids are really bonding. It’s not a negative at our house. It’s kind of nice. I’m really glad I have four of them here. We’ve been getting creative, cleaning out the freezer; the girls have been baking. They were binge-watching Jeopardy and shouting out answers and laughing. They are doing a lot of fun stuff.”

Her family took part in Pope Francis’ worldwide rosary on March 19, St. Joseph’s Day. And she said they are regularly going to Mass “on the couch with EWTN.”

“I have my holy water. I sprinkle it on their fingers so they can bless themselves and try to make it as normal as possible,” Smith said. “We really are living Lent.”

The family also has been coping with changed wedding plans for her older son Sean, who was set to marry his fiancée on April 25 at St. Mary of Hills Parish in Rochester Hills. But they decided to postpone until June.

“They had to make a decision because so many people are changing their wedding dates, and people who have weddings now are taking up upcoming dates at all the places,” Smith said. “Unfortunately there weren’t many dates left at their planned venue — the Fourth of July, Aug. 15 and Halloween.”

“But they don’t want to wait. If they can’t get married June 6 and have a big reception, they are going to get married with immediate family, and it’s just going to be simpler. But they will have an interesting story for their grandchildren.”

Another Catholic mother of four whose children range from ages 3 to 11, Rachel LaPointe said she is keeping her kids occupied as best she can. LaPointe’s family makes it a habit to have a regular family game night. 

Rachel LaPointe and her children play a board game together while staying home. (Courtesy photo)

“I think for us, the biggest thing is trying to throw in some fun while trying to keep things normal,” LaPointe said. “I’m really trying to be intentional about communication to avoid fights and keeping expectations low. The last few days have been a lot of playing outside, so we will see how it goes on rainy days.” 

She also likes to share with her friends on social media. On a recent post on Facebook, she writes: “So basically I let my kids do whatever today. I think it’s going to need to happen every third day for the sake of my sanity. Tomorrow though! We will be live streaming us doing painting together!”

Young adults such as Danielle Center are also making great use of social media. Prior to the COVID-19 emergency, Center had shared regularly about her trip overseas, walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage (The Way of St. James in Spain). Now, from her home in Metro Detroit, she continues to reach out, asking her friends to answer random questions and share stories. 

She offers advice to those who need to keep their spirits up. “Where is God inviting you at this time?” she asked. “To more creative but meaningful interaction with friends? Time to rest? Pray? Hike in nature? Make art? Write the novel you’ve been meaning to write? Start practicing piano again? Take care of your health on every level — physical, mental, spiritual and emotional.”

When the CEO of Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan is not working, Paul Propson and his wife try to make life as normal as they can for their children. On a recent Sunday, the family participated in Mass livestreamed from his home parish, SS. Cyril and Methodius in Sterling Heights. They said the Mass responses aloud, sang hymns, and stood and knelt at appropriate times. During the Eucharistic celebration, they prayed the “Act of Spiritual Communion.” Propson added the family even dressed for Mass as they normally would, shoes included.

“That helped us participate well and understand that we are dressed for Jesus and not for other people,” Propson said.

Terri Nallamothu’s door is decorated in hearts and crosses in honor of health care workers. (Courtesy photo)
Sarah Luttinen holds the new puppy she adopted from the local animal shelter. (Courtesy photo)

Like Propson, others are trying to use their free time to do some good. Jeff Wilson and his fiancée, Sarah Luttinen, parishioners at St. John the Baptist Parish in Ypsilanti, are both working from home, and took the opportunity to foster a dog from their local animal shelter. Luttinen said the situation has left shelters with skeleton staffs, unable to care for all of the animals. 

Terri Nallamothu of Clarkston is trying to help her neighbors by babysitting. To entertain the kids, she said, “We are playing ‘bored’ games.” Nallamothu takes her charges on lots of walks outside and plays games like pickle ball. 

“We have done some coloring and other art projects,” Nallamothu said. “We decorated our door with hearts for health care workers, and crosses to end the coronavirus. And more prayers, for sure. I may also put up Christmas lights, too, like people are starting to do, to brighten people’s moods.” 

Sarah Luttinen, referenced above, is the author’s daughter.