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Pandemic Essentials: 11 Products Making Social Distancing Less Awful

Everything is awful. These products make things just a little bit better.

It’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel when the tunnel goes around unexpected curves. Such is life in the midst of a pandemic, when bad news follows good news and uncertainty hangs in the air like the punctuation of every sentence. We’re social-distancing, but others aren’t. We’re wearing masks, but others aren’t. We’re abstaining from putting bleach in our cocktails, but… well, you get the idea. But the one thing everyone is doing is trying to make the best of a bad situation. That’s doubly true for parents, who need all the help they can get. And, yes, sometimes material possessions can provide a meaningful assist.

What we collectively possess right now is time. We have time together — whether we want it or not — and our kids have time to themselves that they most assuredly do not want. The point isn’t to attack the time, much less kill it, but to reach reasonable compromises with the passing minutes and find enjoyment where possible. That’s where a bit of smart shopping can make a difference. Small pleasures change our relationship with time. They convince it to move with a bit more haste or to slow for passing pleasure. A little bit of indulgence can be, in the context of stress and anxiety, just what the epidemiologist ordered.

Here are the products that have made lockdown, quasi-lockdown, quarantine, peri-quarantine, and cautious socialization better for us and for our families. Indulgent? Sure, but smartly so.

The rules of croquet are bizarre and arcane and frankly, who gives a shit anyway? The point here is to whack the ball through hoops. Whacking balls is fun. Whacking balls when competing with five other people is even more fun. This beautiful wood croquet set, which includes hardwood mallets and stakes and nine steel wickets, is totally indestructible and will make a convert of anyone, whether they've seen 'Heathers' or not. It's the perfect way to pass the time on hot summer nights.

The humble snow cone is nothing more than shaved ice covered with flavored syrup. Yet to kids, they're the equivalent of omakase. This handy little machine creates real shaved ice, which you can use in slushies, snow cones, or adult cocktails. It cranks out enough ice for five cones in less than a minute. To use, you add ice cubes and syrups or juices. Then you scoop up the shaving into the paper cones, add your topping of choice, and you've just won quarantine.

What is pickleball, you ask? Why, it's an unholy yet insanely fun blend of tennis, badminton, and ping pong. Even the least-athletic member of your household will appreciate the lunacy of the fast-paced game. Especially with this set, which includes a 12-foot long net that's fully collapsible, as well as two paddles, two balls, and a carry case.

Your refrigerator hates you, attests one of the many memes mocking our pandemic-based obsession with food. Yet eating together is a grounding experience for adults and kids. That's where the Chef IQ pressure cooker comes in: It has a built-in scale, which doesn't sound like a big deal. But it's a very big deal, when you're putting three meals on the table, catering to picky eaters, and wanting one small, delicious, easy thing to dig into at the end of the day. No matter what you cook in it, the results are perfection.

Yes, you need a pump to clean it and yes, setting it up takes some effort. But your kids can have their own watery backyard paradise for a fraction of what an above-ground pool costs you. This 6-foot stock tank easily fits in your yard, and when public pools are closed (or simply not a smart option), it's the best bang for your summer buck. Plus, it plays well on Instagram.

Sliding through icy water is one of the great joys of summer. And here's what you need to set up this slide: A hose. And a yard. That's it. Ideal for kids 5-12, this slip n' slide is part, well, slide and part bowling alley. You inflate the pins and try to get them into the slots, all while very, very wet and very, very slippery.

Kick a ball. Kick the shit out of it. Slam it into a goal. Do it with your kids. Do it over and over and over again. And trust us, you'll feel the better for it. Galvanized steel ground stakes keep the nets in place, and it's a no-excuses way to get outside.

Daily walks are meditative and calming for adults. They're also boring as hell for kids, who are neither meditative nor calm. So stick them on a scooter, and even the most jaded gamer will quickly start cruising and swerving down sidewalks. Kids who swear they're so over the whole scooter thing are back to being hell on wheels. While keeping six feet apart from others, of course.

Libraries are mostly closed, yet kids still need to (and should) read. And adults finally have the time to dive into a book and immerse themselves for hours after bedtime. That's where the new Kindle comes in. Unlike its older siblings, this one doesn't have that annoying glitch that resets the page every time you turn it. If you've used one, you know what we mean. It's also easier on the eyes, and has a stellar 300 ppi flush-front Paperwhite display. This is all a fancy way of saying: Read a damn book. You finally have enough hours in the day to do so. And then, discuss over dinner.

Your kids are demanding chocolate ice cream, you say? Make 'em work for it with this culinary ball. You add ingredients in one end, rock salt and ice in the other. Kids roll and shake the ball for 20 minutes, and their desired flavor is ready. It's a win-win: Dessert for you, exercise for them. Or vice versa.

How do you elevate movie night when movie night is every night? You take it outdoors, that's what. This movie projector, which isn't the fanciest or most tricked-out one you can buy, does the job. Its battery lasts 2.5 hours, so it's portable, and it has a wireless connection that works with Android and Apple devices so you can stream as many HD Disney movies as your kids' desire.

Fatherly IQ
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