We talk to four local families about life since March. They share everything from evolving sibling dynamics and canceled trips to creative celebrations.

Lots of Laughs With the Lawlis Family

Meet the Lawlis family: Dr. C. Brent, chief clinical officer of Alleviant Health Centers, and Madina, founder of City of Hearts, are raising 6-year-old Ariella, 5-year-old Rose and 3-year-old Florence.

Our cover family had a lot of fun checking out turtles and other wildlife as we scouted locations on the beautiful Heifer International campus for their shoot. This sweet family has nothing but love for Little Rock and each other — and we loved hearing more about what they’ve been up to for the past few months.

Have you had to cancel any trips or parties?

Rose turned 5 on March 24 and we had to cancel “The Fanciest Birthday Par-Tea” for our little Fancy Nancy love. On Rose’s day, Daddy performed miracles and surprised her and her sisters with shiny new bicycles! We spent the day at Two Rivers Park riding bicycles and having a birthday picnic. It may not have been what we had originally planned, instead it was even better.

How did you balance working from home and virtual school?

We have been homeschooling for over three years, so we were fortunate to feel prepared for many of the challenges that were presented during this uncertain time. While most of our schooling did not get interrupted, all of the activities that our children love did.

After a few weeks of what felt like survival mode, we surrendered to our new rhythm and found a routine that helps us thrive. We focus on a love of lifelong learning so this has given us educational opportunities to challenge our minds even if only from our backyard.

My loving and attentive husband invested in an elliptical for me to keep my endorphins flowing which has been life-changing, to be honest. We are all feeling so much right now. Taking a few minutes each day to have my time with the Lord and pour into myself so that I can pour into my amazing husband and precious children from a full cup has made all of the difference.

Have you found any helpful language to talk to your kids about the pandemic?

We think it is important to communicate honestly with our children because they understand more than one might think. A book from the library about Florence Nightingale sparked their interest in medicine last year so discussing this incredible woman and how she changed the world has been not only educational, but empowering.

We also focus on supporting and strengthening our immune systems through playing out in the sunshine and getting plenty of vitamin C, exercise, proper nutrition and lots and lots of giggles!

What’s your biggest hope (and fear) for the coming school year?

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

Our biggest hope for this coming school year is to be encouraged and continue to try to find joy amidst the sorrow, peace amidst the chaos and gratitude amidst the uncertainty.

The present really is a gift. I learned this with the birth of our darling daughters, then with the passing away of my precious mother in 2017 and again a week ago with the burial of my sweet grandmother. We found that having a creative outlet to help me see the beauty through the difficult times became a source of therapy for me, and that is how our lifestyle blog City of Hearts was born.

Mario Kart with the Smith Family

Meet the Smith family: April, a teacher at Maumelle High; soon-to-be second grader Harrison; and Matthew, a UCA grant administrator.

“I’m seven!” Harrison Smith enthusiastically stated before he nailed each picture with his sweet smile. The Smith family’s profile offers a snapshot of their pandemic lifestyle — from Mario Kart nights and virtual summer camp to all the travel they’ve put on hold. One trip they didn’t have to postpone? A grab-and-go visit to Hurts Donut after the shoot.

What is your favorite Little Rock place to visit?

We like to visit the Museum of Discovery. We have a family membership which makes it very easy to pop in for a short visit whenever we are close by. Harrison loves building things and the hands-on activities in the Tinkering Studio.

What is Harrison’s favorite local restaurant? And what’s your date night pick?

Harrison's favorite place is Chick-fil-A, mainly for the ice cream. Us parents enjoy Buenos Aires Grill and Cafe in the River Market, and we like to order a mixed grill and variety of empanadas.

What is the most interesting way you’ve spent family time during quarantine?

We’ve been having Mario Kart family game nights. Harrison likes to think he is the best, but April doesn't go easy on him. “Just one more race" tends to happen quite often.

What’s the first thing you’ll do as a family when restrictions ease?

We would like to travel to see extended family. We have family all over from Little Rock to Hot Springs and Dallas, Texas, to Duluth, Minnesota. We had wanted to visit Minnesota for the first time this summer, but those plans had to change.

Have you had to cancel any trips or parties?

We have had to postpone our trip to Seoul, South Korea to visit Harrison's foster family twice. We still have tentative plans to try again in November if travel conditions return to normal. Our backup plan trip to see Harrison's uncle in Minnesota had to be pushed back as well. Our annual summer trip to Tulsa, Oklahoma for Harrison to attend Korean Heritage Camp turned to a virtual experience at home.

Have you found any helpful language to talk to Harrison about the pandemic?

We are open and honest with him and any questions he may have. Harrison has had several questions about geography. He hears on the news about where cases are happening and is very interested in knowing where those places are compared to Arkansas. We did speak with him about him being Asian and some people being unkind to Asian people during this time but thankfully, we are surrounded by loving family and educated friends so he has not run into any issues. April also made Harrison a Star Wars mask that he is very proud to show off.

Gardening with the McBryde Family

Meet the McBryde family: Ganelle owns her own strategic consulting company, the Giovanna Group and James is a CPA through Simmons Bank. Their kids are Miller, 10, and Bronx, 4.

Newlyweds Ganelle and James shared their smiles and new family with us. We loved hearing all about their favorite spots in Little Rock and their favorite quarantine pastimes.

What are your favorite Little Rock places to visit?

We love SoMa, because it's kid friendly, has a great farmer's market and the kind of nighttime vibe we enjoy. South Main also turns right into the downtown Creative Corridor. We could hang out down there on a Saturday or Sunday, hit the Museum of Discovery – all pre-pandemic. James and I are both co-parents, so we have a big circle of people we’re trying to keep healthy. We’ve been pretty strict on our quarantine efforts.

What is your kids’ favorite local restaurant? If you can leave the kids at home, what would you pick?

The kids love Dugan’s. Miller loves the chicken nachos. Bronx is a big mac and cheese plus fruit cup fan. James and I miss veal picatta and a quiet booth at Bruno’s Little Italy.

What is the most interesting way you’ve spent family time during quarantine?

We have a home garden that everyone helps with. We've gone through several jars of homemade pickles, and while it wasn't the best year for tomatoes, we managed to get some homemade salsa in the mix. James made jalapeno hot sauce, and I'm looking forward to the tabasco peppers turning red so I can try the same.

How have you enjoyed taking a pause?

Ha! Is there a pause button that we somehow missed? Neither of us have slowed down at work. James made a pretty easy transition to working from home full time. Adding homeschool took some adjustment, but I was already running my small business from home before the pandemic. We've honestly just been thankful for our health, our work and for each other.

Have you had to cancel any trips or parties?

Only our wedding celebration and honeymoon that was scheduled for June. No bigs. We got married anyway and rescheduled the celebration for the end of 2021.

What’s your biggest hope (and fear) for the coming school year?

We hope that teachers, administrators, children, parents and guardians stay safe and well. We fear our community won’t make the uncomfortable decisions necessary to put those people’s health and safety first.

Have you found any helpful language to talk to your kids about the pandemic?

I’ve always found that honesty is the best policy – the G-rated version – but the truth. I thought of making sure the kids can’t hear the news when we listen to it, but the fact is they are growing up in the middle of a global pandemic. That’s once every few lifetimes type stuff, and they’re more familiar than we had to be with hearing about people being sick and passing away. Miller has always been mindful of washing his hands, which has been helpful. I don’t know how Bronx’s hands would ever stay clean without hand sanitizer.

New Dynamics with the Thomas Family

Meet the Thomas Family: 9-year-old Jack, 3-year-old twins Madeline and Meredith and parents Ashly and Jason — who both work at Baptist Health.

“I think this is the first time we’ve all been dressed up and out of the house since March,” Ashly said during our shoot. Sounds about right for family life in 2020. We’re glad the Thomas family dressed up so we could share their sweet session. For their profile, we took a deep dive into evolving sibling dynamics, virtual school survival and a way to make milestones special.

What is your favorite Little Rock place to visit?

My 3-year-old twin girls love the Little Rock Zoo. My 9-year-old son enjoys climbing Pinnacle Mountain. We all enjoy walking downtown by the river and across the bridges.

What is your kids’ favorite local restaurant? What’s your date night pick?

My son’s absolute favorite is Purple Cow. When my husband and I are looking for a low key date night, we almost always end up at Iriana’s Pizza. We also enjoy Heights Taco & Tamale Co. and Red Door.

What is the silliest thing your kids have fought about?

Two words: door locks. The twins are constantly locking doors in the house and locking each other out of their bedroom. Then big brother locks them out of his room. Sometimes it turns into a big scream fest. We are currently on the hunt for lockless interior door knobs!

How have sibling dynamics changed?

Sibling dynamics have changed drastically since quarantine began. Our son went to school Monday through Friday, and his sisters loved taking him to school and welcoming him home. The school day was a good break for everyone and gave all the kids some space. There’s definitely been an uptick in the fighting. On the other hand, I’ve been able to witness their bond grow, so that’s been fun.

Have you had to cancel any trips or parties?

Our twin’s third birthday was March 17, right after everything shut down. We celebrated them at home, just the five of us. We let them light their candle and blow it out as much as they wanted, which made for the best party ever in their book!

How did you balance working from home and virtual school?

My husband transitioned to working from home on March 16. That has honestly been one of our bigger challenges. We don’t have the best layout of space for him to spread out and be undisturbed. It takes lots of creativity to keep the kids entertained and away from daddy, especially when they know he’s at the house.

As far as virtual school last spring, it went … OK. Keeping the twins away from Jack so he could concentrate was hard. I felt like I was constantly trying to split myself into three separate people to get everything done and meet everyone’s needs. It was pure survival mode there for a while! But we settled into a rhythm that worked and really enjoy being home together.