There’s a good reason the Schalk family is leaping around the driveway, duct-taping carbonated beverages to the garage door and raiding one another’s closets.
In a household already prone to shenanigans, Nancy and Dana Schalk and their two teenage daughters, Lauren and Natalie, are proof positive that laughter is effective family-bonding — and goes a long way to brighten moods at a time when the pandemic has so many people feeling disconnected and worried.
It also helps explain how the even-keeled Dana has become the unlikely break-out star in a string of self-quarantine antics, which have been chronicled in pictures and videos on Nancy’s Facebook page for amused family and relatives over the past four weeks.
In addition to myriad social media-inspired challenges, the family decided to serve up a series of theme-night dinners, in which three Schalk family members would come to the table dressed, coiffed and/or outfitted in various guises of the remaining member of the family.
It started with a “Natalie” theme night in early April. Lauren and her mother earned points with poses that captured Natalie’s cheerleader spirit, but Dana stole the show by gamely squeezing his torso into his daughter’s half-shirt and pairing it with his own worn jeans that he’d rolled into fashionable cuffs at the bottom. Despite the stomach exposure, he offered up a camera-ready smile and pressed one hand jauntily to his hip.
“To see Dana in a crop top …,” Nancy Schalk said. “He’s a calm, one-level person. He’s kind of like our stabilizer, because we are all nuts. He’s just like, ‘Oh, my God, what are we doing now?’”
Up to the challenges
Most of the ideas for challenges come from Natalie, 17, a junior at Bishop Guertin High School in Nashua, and Lauren, 19, a freshman at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass. Both are at home due to the pandemic. Nancy, a dental hygienist with Crown Dental Family Dentistry in Nashua, began social-distancing measures March 13, and has been making the most of all the family time.
In TikTok-inspired challenges, Nancy mastered a solo dance, and the family created a time-lapse video of miniaturized versions of Nancy and the kids seemingly jumping one by one into Dana’s outstretched palm outside their house. It’s not as easy as it seems. The green screen in the app’s background can be tricky. If any body parts of the leaping figures are not centered in the frame, various extremities disappear. On any given take, someone’s head, arm or leg was blipping out of the picture.
“I must have jumped on that hand 20 times,” Nancy Schalk said of hurling herself in the air outside their house. “I was getting mad. It was pretty funny.”
Sometimes there are prop malfunctions as well. One viral challenge they accepted involved duct taping open beer (for the parents) and soda cans (for the teenagers) onto an automatic garage door. When a bystander hits the button to trigger the door to rise, players position themselves underneath the patched-up cans and attempt to guzzle the stream from overhead.
But a word of caution: carbonated drinks are hard to gulp down, plus they tend to spray everywhere — but that’s kind of the point. Also, while Schalk’s quick reflexes saved her from getting conked, would-be participants should watch out for cans that don’t stay affixed to the garage door and plummet toward the head.
While Dana is still working in the office at Fidelity Investments in Merrimack, the rest of the family is at home during the day. “We’re thinking of fun things to do — to try to do stuff as a family and make it fun,” Schalk said. “There may be a few eye rolls, but the majority of ideas come from the girls.”
First up was a craft project that had each painting a large arrow and marking it with the name of a favorite place and how many miles away it is. (Picture the kind of multi-colored crossroads display you’d see in a place like Key West.)
“We had just redecorated our dining room into a travel-themed pub, so we made signs,” Schalk said. She chose Zurich, Switzerland (3,738 miles), and Lauren chose the Greek island of Santorini (4,883 miles).
“Natalie doesn’t like to travel. She’s my home body, so she wrote ‘Home’ with zero miles to get there,” Schalk said.
Dana chose a Wall Drug (1,538 miles) in South Dakota, where his side of the family has ties.
“It’s a funny place on the way to Mount Rushmore, driving west,” Shalk said. “You continually see these signs for one of those roadside attractions, a drug store but with tons of stuff. It’s super cheesy, with an ice cream store and restaurant. About a hundred miles before you get to it, the signs: ‘Coming up on your right.’ ‘Don’t miss Wall Drug.’ ‘10 more miles.’ ‘5 more miles.’ ‘You’re almost there …’”
In keeping with the pub theme, another art project has the family transforming the surface of its ping-pong table into a mural of sorts. Each of the four Schalks are painting a corner of the table top to reflect four iconic bands, along with renderings of types of international and domestic beer all along the edges.
Meanwhile, this past Friday was Nancy Night in the Schalk household. Just hours before the main event, Schalk confided to NHWeekend that she had no idea what to expect.
“I don’t know what they have in mind. I just keep thinking, ‘What are they going to do for me, because I’m a mom. I wear mom clothes. I don’t have a sport that I play. But they’ll just raid my closet,” she said.
But it turns out there were some gems in there.
Dana turned up in a dirndl — the traditional German outfit that one might see beer maids wearing at Oktoberfest celebrations, only in this family it has to do with their annual Schalktoberfest tradition — along with a long blond wig and braided headband.
Natalie wore her mom’s favorite pajamas, along with a stuffed animal hat of a night bird (“It’s the warmest”) and slippers. Lauren was in full dentist hygienist mode in her mom’s dental uniform and a face mask and hoisting a jug of hand sanitizer.
“Dana’s a really good sport, and I have kids that love to have fun,” Schalk said of trying to pass on by example the notion that silliness is a character trait that can be handed on from generation to generation.
Just because they’ve run out of family members to lampoon at dinner doesn’t mean they are out of ideas. They’re currently in talks about next week’s challenge, and there are rumors that the Netflix binge-watch phenomenon that is the bizarre documentary series “The Tiger King” just may rear its mulleted head at next week’s family dinner. Schalk plans to be the bicycle-riding animal rights activist Carole Baskin and Schalk will be the incarcerated king, Joe Maldonado.
And there’s also a music video in the works.