The joys and unenjoys of working from home with kids
Welcome back to Distributing Joy, the podcast where we talk about the joys and un-enjoys of working from home. I’m your host Richard, a low rent knock-off of an NPR commentator.
In today’s episode we’ll be hearing from several different parents about their experiences working from home with their kids. Instead of a back-and-forth interview with each, you’ll hear their interviews as short stories that cover some of the funniest and most interesting moments they’ve tackled while handling two jobs during the pandemic as both parents and work-from-homers.
But before we dive into that, it would be impossible to write / record this opening without acknowledging the protests that have spread around the US and the world following the horrific murder of George Floyd. A murder that occurred at the hands of armed police officers, whose jobs are to protect and serve but who too often fail to do either for the black community.
First, let me say, unequivocally, that Black Lives Matter. Mattering is the bare minimum.
Second, I think it’s important — not just in this moment, but from now on — for white people, and especially white men like myself, to continually acknowledge the utterly unearned privilege we greatly benefit from. A privilege born out of the darkness that is white supremacy.
I grew up very poor. In a trailer park. My mom had me when she was 15.
I have still benefited from a ludicrous amount of unearned privilege thanks solely to being a white man.
As a white man, I get to be seen as the default by the other white men who have held on so tightly to positions of power. This has made it easier for me to get jobs and gain opportunities to advance my career simply because in the eyes of the people with power, I fit the part.
My mom never had to sit me down and tell me I needed to be careful around the police. No employees or security have ever suspiciously followed me around a grocery store or shopping center. Random people don’t angrily question whether or not I belong in a particular neighborhood or in the hotel where I’m staying.
I never have to be worried that I’ll be accused of “fitting the description” when a cop car drives by. I haven’t had to face the humiliation and violation of policies that singled me out for being stopped and frisked or pulled over because I looked quote, unquote “suspicious”.
The point is, my life is made easier in ways that I can plainly see and in ways that I can barely hope to realize, and it’s important to call that out and to notice it and to fight to ensure I do not apply this same conscious and unconscious bias that has benefitted me to others. This cycle has to be broken.
One small way I hope to help do this is providing resources at the beginning of every podcast for the foreseeable future (aka forever) that might help break this cycle. This might be a book to read. Or a non-profit to donate to.
For today’s podcast, I’d like to recommend the book Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
This is a book I read several years ago and it had a real impact on me. It’s an impassioned letter to Coates’ teenage son, counseling him on the history of American violence against the black body and his extreme vulnerability to wrongful arrest, police violence, and disproportionate incarceration.
And if you’re thinking to yourself, “That very last sentence you said seemed more thoughtful and well crafted than you normally are, Richard” it’s because it’s from David Remnick’s review of Between the World and Me in the New Yorker.
Shortcut is taking concrete actions internally, as well, completely separate from anything I say on this podcast. See this blog post to learn more about those actions.
But now let’s move to the topic of today’s podcast. Today we’re hearing from several parents about their experiences working from home with their kids. A reminder that you can continue reading the transcript below or listen to the podcast using the app of your choice: iTunes, Breaker, Stitcher, or virtually any other service.
Bridget Barrot, VP of Customer Experience at Shortcut
She balances her work as VP with a little project she has going with her husband that involves raising their eight and four year old sons, and their nine month old daughter. Which sounds like an awful lot of work.
Yes, it's rough. They're all different ages, too, so obviously they're all into very different things. My oldest one has school work that he has to get done, my middle child is still in preschool, so it's more about finding things to keep him busy all day. Then my little one is still so little, she just wants to be held all the time. Between all of that and having a full-time job, my husband having a full-time job, it is a lot to juggle.
In the beginning, I think we were extremely well-intentioned as far as how we we’re going to figure out our working schedules. When we realized that our kids would be home with us, we put together a whole schedule for the week, we made sure that they had their schoolwork planned, and my husband and I would look through our schedules. We made sure that we didn't have any overlapping calls, so that way one of us would always be off to help with the kids.
It seemed like it was going to be, I don't want to say easy, but it seemed like we were going to make it work and the first day, we actually sat down and tried to do it. My oldest, he rushed through his entire workday of school in probably 11 minutes. We had planned for the nine-month-old to sort of take a nap between 9:00 and 11:00, and that's when we were going to get a big chunk of our work done, but she decided she didn't want a nap that day.
My husband's 9:00 call that was supposed to be over at 9:30, ran late, and we were just completely overwhelmed. I think it was like 37 minutes into day one and our entire schedule went out the window. I was sweating, I was overwhelmed, I had a baby in a carrier while I was trying to take work calls. My four-year-old, I was feeding him his like seventh snack of the day by 2:00 PM. My eight-year-old just to keep him busy, he was playing Roblox all day long. I think he played like six or seven hours of Roblox that first day. We just had to do what worked for us, and I think that for those first couple of weeks, like I said, it was super overwhelming and I felt really defeated because I would go on to Facebook and Instagram, and I'd look at all of my friends that had kids and they were doing arts and crafts and science experiments and I felt like I was failing.
After a while, I just kind of picked myself back up and I recognized that this isn't going to be a week or two and we need to figure out a schedule that works for us. For us, that meant letting my kids do pretty much what they wanted to do all day, and I had one stipulation that for our mental health, every day at the end of the day, we're all going to get together and we're going to take a walk. That was literally my only stipulation and they even sort of kicked and screamed about that.
As you can imagine, it was in March and I live in Connecticut and it was about 30 degrees, so getting the entire family bundled up and outside for a walk, was a tall task but we did it and once we got out the door, the kids were riding their bikes and climbing trees and jumping in puddles. It just felt really good and we had this same walking path that we kind of walked on every day. One day, we showed up and we saw this painted rock on the ground and it said, "Be happy," with a picture of a P on it.
As we kept walking around our walking trail, we just saw more and more rocks and we saw a Peppa Pig and another one that had a picture of a heart on it and said, "You rock," and my kids got really excited about it. Every day we'd go back on that same walking path and by the end, I think there were about 35 or 40 different painted rocks all along the trails, and it made us really happy. Just those small things. We later found out that there was a family that had painted them all and hid them along the walking trail to bring some smiles to the community, and it worked. For my kids, one of the things that we decided we were going to add to our list and hoped to get around to is, we want to make our own rocks, and we also want to hide them on those walking trails to bring some joy to other people.
One of the things that I think was really upsetting for my kids is after we got through that first month, and we were coming into the Easter holiday, like Easter for them signifies time with family and Easter egg hunts. Leading up to that, I think they were starting to get a little bit bummed and a little bit saddened by everything that was going on and knowing that they weren't going to be able to spend Easter with their family, it was a little bit of a wake-up call. My sister actually, she's a school psychologist, and she deals with a lot of kids.
She also recognized that this is going to be a particularly challenging time, especially for the kids that I think are struggling the most. She came up with this idea that she was just going to dress up in a bunny costume, which my mom just happened to have on hand, and get in the back of a pickup truck. We're going to drive around the neighborhood and wave to all the kids and just bring a little bit of a smile to their face. It just started off as an idea and we told my family about it. By the end of the week, we had 20 cars that were signed up and ready to do this. We spent the week leading up to that moment just decorating the cars, and I was like, "Perfect, this is art class for my kids," and we painted signs and that next Saturday, it was like this gorgeous day and we all met in a parking lot in my mom's neighborhood and my sister had actually put it on Facebook that we were doing this and the turnout was unbelievable.
We ended up having a police escort. We drove through the neighborhood. There were parents and kids sitting on their lawn in beach chairs. We drove through and the parents had tears in their eyes and the kids were like jumping up and down and waving at the Easter Bunny. It was a really emotional moment for me because it was-- I was also overwhelmed that I couldn't give my kids the Easter that I wanted to give them, but I also recognized that we are giving them new memories and a really special moment that they would remember for a very long time.
Mike Clarke, Director of Engineering at Treasury Prime and Vita Clarke, Customer Success Manager at Marqeta
Mike and Vita both work in Fintech. They also have a quick, mischievous daughter who is nearly two years old. What’s that like, working in the same industry from the same house while your almost toddler runs wild? Let’s have them tell us all about that.
Mike: In a perfect world, we had talked about this. We had a great plan. The plan was going to be that we find a way to split the day, one of us will be on Nora duty, one of us will be working and then we'll just switch and find that right balance. Now, the reality of it has not been the case. I think there's so many-- Vita has phone calls that come up with short notice urgent, critical issues that come up. I also have things that come up unexpectedly. As parents our hope was to find the right balance that one of us could always be on. I think the reality is, I'll be holding Nora or will be trying to hold on to Nora while on a phone call with a video turned off trying to keep her occupied.
I'll be honest, we've probably gone too far on the-- Sometimes Nora gets into trouble. We do our best to keep our eyes on her and try to also stay engaged at work. A couple weeks into the pandemic, we were in one of these moments where Vita had a fire going on at work, I had a customer that I was talking to and so, Nora, I'm trying to keep two eyes on her but she snuck away. I feel like as a couple, as parents, we have to find time for ourselves as well. Nora found some fragrant massage oil that we keep in the bedroom for personal moments and things like that.
Nora found this and decided to run all over the house with the cap off and essentially dumped it all over the first floor of our house and then started running around. Then slipped and fell because it's now very slippery in the house. All it takes is 30 seconds and then it's literally chaos ensues. It was a trying moment. We had to clean up. Nora doesn't know any better. She's just always exploring. Every day is an adventure for her. We've not had any similar situations since but it can be tough. It can be tough to keep an eye on her.
Vita: I'm not doing it here. Yet here we are.
Mike: She simply said, "Make sure you share that story."
Vita: I did not say that. She loves to get into all the drawers as Mike talked about, but not just in the bedroom also in the living room. She'll find CDs and random things that we have stored away that we don't really use anymore and she'll try to figure out ways to use them. One of her new things is that she'll find our old Xbox games and she'll grab the CDs and she will try to put them inside of the Xbox. She can actually now turn it on and navigate around with the controls, even though I'm sure she's just like mashing buttons, but somehow she can get to what she's trying to do, which is maybe watch a random YouTube video of Sesame Street and stuff like that.
She's learned and picked up these random little things that she understands, "if I push this button, this thing will work in this way maybe" and like "I know that I can get my music through this app", or it's really interesting to see how much she's grown and developed and learned in this time as well because we definitely lose that when she's at daycare nine hours a day or whatever it is while we're at work in more normal times. Of course.
I'm sure a lot of parents would frown upon this story because of all the folks that are anti screen time and whatnot, but we're just trying to find creative ways to keep her busy too. I do think she's learned a lot of things. I don't know if because we've put in a special effort to teach her new things or if she's just picking things up from us as the day goes on and we're trying to work but also play with her and do stuff. I've definitely noticed she's gotten a lot more words in her vocabulary. She will pick something up and seems to understand what to do with it a lot better than she did before. I think part of it is that she sees us doing those things throughout the day and so she wants to figure it out too and understand how things work. I don't know, that's how I feel about it.
Mike: I think it's a lot of personal attention that she might not have at daycare. We play with bubbles. She likes to go outside. She likes to go outside a lot more than I like to go outside. She's very curious. Obviously she's a genius, so it's amazing.
Vita: She's a brilliant child.
Mike: It's amazing how much she's able to learn from all the Sesame Street videos that we've shown her. I'm sure other parents are in the same boat, but it's just, we had goals about screen time that have gone out the window.
Vita: Yes. It just doesn't even matter anymore. I don't know that it's all that negative.
Mike: She's great at singing.
Vita: She's great at singing. She loves music.
Mike: She loves Elmo's song and Cocomelon. That's the other thing. This is actually a paid advertisement for Cocomelon. If you haven't checked it out, it's great and you'll hear it in your sleep. It's great.
Vita: It's a YouTube channel where they'll take all the nursery rhymes, all those little songs that we grew up with, but they make these videos around them like Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star or Old McDonald, but it's using these little characters that show up in all the music videos and so this family and a bunch of animals doing all these different dances and songs and stuff.
Mike: Hundreds of millions of page views, hundreds of millions of page views.
Vita: You should look up their Wikipedia page. They make a ton of money, they're based in So-Cal.
Mike: I think it helps to have activities that we can do with Nora that are not in the house. It's a way to disconnect just by getting out of the house and things like that. We went and picked cherries in Brentwood a week ago. That was a pandemic friendly, socially distant activity that was outdoors and checked off all the boxes. Those are sorts of things that I don't know that we would have thought to do if we weren't so desperate to get out of the house. That's worked well.
Vita: Yes, and going on a lot of hikes, too. We walk around the neighborhood or every evening, or at least on the days where it's not like scorching hot in the East Bay. We definitely try to get some fresh air and take a good hour to just fully disconnect from all the digital devices and have some quality time with Nora too.
Mike: My parents live in Florida and she is in love with the duck, the inflatable duck that lives in their pool. It's not a meme, I guess you might say that whenever we call my folks, they have to go and show Nora the duck. I think that that's a special treat as a little wrinkle to just talking about what's new in the week. It's nice because I don't know what I would be talking about with my parents if Nora wasn't on screen, because you only talk about how busy you are with work week in and week out without getting a little dry. I think she really enjoys seeing poppy and granny.
Vita: They read books to her sometimes too. They try to do those little activities that you might only get in person over zoom. That's nice.
Erin Dame, Senior Technical Content Strategist at Coda.io
Erin also has two toddlers. Twin toddlers in fact. This sounds very stressful to me, a person who sometimes considers it stressful that his cat meows too loudly. Maybe Erin will tell us otherwise. Or maybe she’ll tell us about how difficult it is for toddlers to do ballet classes via Zoom. Let’s find out.
The twins are three and a half, which especially makes for an interesting time right now. They have definitely shaped my expectations of work. Even before working from home, I had expectations of work like I had to leave at 4:00 because I have to be at daycare pickup in Oakland at 5:00, or some days I would have to work from home because they have doctor's appointments or whatever. Basically as soon as they were born, they superseded work, which I think is probably the same for a lot of people. Fortunately I've been in companies that are generous enough to meet those expectations, and right now is no different, thankfully.
I feel like we're extremely blessed, not only at their age that they're fairly independent and they can do things themselves, but that they have each other. Like any brother and sister, twins or not. One second, they love each other, and one second, they hate each other, cannot stand the sight of each other. We are in a phase with our son especially of, "She looked at me", or even, "The dog looked at me." This morning, I swear, he was crying because the dog looked at his pancake. I think we're all just a little on-edge because of that, but yes, thankfully they play well together and with each other's toys. Whether it's Barbies or Legos or Hot Wheels, they're both very cooperative about that.
Having twins is a challenge from day one. You're pretty much overwhelmed even before they get here. While I was still pregnant, you're already overwhelmed just at the idea of having two children. Fortunately we don't have anything to compare it to because they're our only kids, so we have just always dealt with it and always tried to roll with the punches. Yes, this hasn't been a lot different, but I would say the hardest part is that we are all cooped up because we're used to being a family on the go. Every weekend, we had a very suburban routine of going to the grocery store and swim lessons and ballet lessons and going hiking, and we were never home. The hardest part isn't the fact that they're here, it's that we can't go anywhere. We can't even go to Target. We can't go to the grocery store. We can't go to our favorite hiking spot. We are in the house or around the neighborhood. It's been a lot of walks, a lot of FaceTiming family or FaceTiming their friends from daycare where we still did ballet lessons that were virtual, which were a complete disaster, by the way.
There's something about going to a physical location that puts the kids in a mindset, but having the Zoom ballet classes, they literally just stood there like zombies and watched the other people. That's how all the kids were. It would be a Zoom class of five kids and they would all just be standing there, with their faces so close, just watching the teacher the entire time. It's hilarious.
I have a son and a daughter, and my daughter, Margo, was the one that was initially very interested in ballet, but our class is actually ballet gymnastics, so we thought that Riker would also be interested in that. We started going in January, I think. One thing that already works against it is that it's Sunday mornings. The class is at 9:00 AM. Thankfully there's a donut place right down the street. We would go to ballet and then we would get donuts, and that was a thing. If anything, they could just look forward to the donuts.
When the pandemic hit, we still actually went to ballet because the classes were quite small, and then before they decided to go to the Zoom. Then when they decided to go to Zoom, they kept the same class time, which is, again, Monday or Sunday at 9:00 AM, but unfortunately for us, our schedules had gotten later and later. The kids had been staying up later and later. Just the fact that we are now having to get them up super early, already made them zombies in general, but just the ballet class, wasn't, I would say, engaging enough. Because they're little kids. They're not doing actual ballet. It's like, "Okay, jump over this dot, or pretend you're holding a beach ball in your arms." It's like ballet basics, but again for like a three-year-old, so it's already basic.
Then for the Zoom, you can tell the teacher was really trying, and she must have a roommate and she has two dogs, so a few of the classes were out on her balcony, and her dog was barking at people off the balcony in the background, which is hilarious. Then that devolves into the kids just watching the dogs and not watching her. Or she tries to get the other kids to interact, then mute and unmute people and be like, "What's your favorite toy?" Or we're pretending to be a butterfly. "What color are your butterfly wings?"
There's just frozen silence from every kid, and then you could hear the parents in the background being like, "What is your favorite color? What color are your butterfly wings?" Just trying anything. Oh my goodness, it became the most frustrating thing for me. Maybe not Adam so much, but for me, on Sunday mornings, to try to goad our kids into participating in this ballet class that I had paid for that I was just like, "We're not doing it. We're not doing this anymore." It became so incredibly frustrating. I'm sure it was frustrating for her too.
Another funny thing is that at the end of every ballet class, she would give you a piece of paper to color, and she would still, after the Zoom classes, she would send us a coloring picture in our emails as if we were going to print. Who has a printer? We don't have printers and we're not going to Kinko's to print this. The kids would be like, "Where's my coloring thing. Where's my coloring page." It's not happening. Needless to say, we haven't gone for the last two classes because we're over it. Maybe if it was a little bit older, it would have been different, or if they had taken the class longer and were more into it, because I've seen other people that have very successful Zoom classes, but not us.
Andrew Childs, co-founder and Chief Design Officer at Shortcut
Andrew also has a son, who is four years old. Raising a four year old while working from home is, as we’ve already heard from some of the interviews (and as we could all probably just go ahead and assume regardless) is not all that easy. What if, also, that four year old had major allergies that kept him from being able to just sit around all day eating chicken nuggets like I’m pretty sure I did when I was four (and also when I was 34)?
My wife Darla and I made this person which is crazy and pretty cool. It's been quite a project.
He's got all kinds of crazy food allergies, and so that's been-- It's been really interesting and crazy to have a kid that has crazy food allergies. You start exploring the world of food in ways that you never imagined you would. I feel like most people actually just have normal-- You're either going to eat pizza, or there's hotdogs. There's so many types of food that are taken for granted. We've learned a lot about how to make a burger that doesn't have any of the stuff that he's allergic to. We've done it. We did it.
My wife has always had an experimental streak in terms of food, and I've always been very happy to be the guinea pig. There was a period where she was trying out raw food. I don't know if you've ever heard of raw food. I think that might still be a thing. We had this dehydrator, this $300 plastic box. You just turn it on for like a week and then out comes this completely different thing. Completely different substance than what you put in. That was an experiment that did not succeed, but we learned a lot. Through failure, you learn, but she's used that experimental streak to-- We've learned a lot about all kinds of different ingredients and foods that approximate pizza or burgers or so.
There's very specific brands and very specific items that-- We built up a pretty good list. He can eat soy now and oats. That actually opened up a whole big world of food that he can have. The problem was that a lot of the options out there either don't taste good, or he just doesn't like it. On top of having all these food allergies, he's very picky, as any four-year-old has a right to. We have specific stores and specific brands and specific items that we find. That part of it's been fine.
I think we have to be extra super-duper careful about making sure that we're not taking any risks right now given what's going on. Not to take this in a [laughs] super serious direction, but we don't want to end up in a situation where we have to go to the ER during a pandemic if we can avoid it. It's been fine. Darla has actually gotten really good at making gluten free, like allergy free bread. We made chocolate brownies yesterday, and they were really good for the first half hour while they were still warm. In a lot of cases, it's really about eating it while it's still hot [laughs].
One of the main ingredients was sweet potato in it. Today, we just had some, and it tasted like sweet potato that'd been sitting out for two days.
This is not a normal work from home experience. It pains me to think that people are experiencing working from home for the first time during a pandemic and thinking like this is what it's like because it's clearly not, especially for parents. We've got good days and bad days. There are days where Elliott will wake up, and he'll say, "I'm going to do good listening today". I'd say half of the time he says that, and then from there, there's a 50% chance that he actually will. If you take those two together, that's actually a 25% chance that he's going to actually do good listening. It's a complete crapshoot.
Sometimes he'll say, "I'm not going to do good listening today". He's just letting you know. I kind of appreciate it because then I can just get ready for it like, "Oh, today is going to be one of those days". Some days are great. He's listening. He's not throwing out most of his food. He's actually doing what we're asking him to do. It's wonderful. I will say my wife Darla is doing an amazing job with homeschooling. She's not a professional homeschooler, but having tried myself to do some of this work myself, within a half an hour you want to just explode.
It seems like every school is making it up as they go because they're all-- I'm assuming it's just complete chaos within the school system right now, so each school is deciding what they want. A friend of ours has a four-year-old who has to sit in front of the computer, in front of a Zoom call for two, three hours a day. Can you imagine a four-year-old sitting in front a computer not turning it off or not immediately closing the window or closing the computer or just walking away? He doesn't have to do that. Elliot doesn't have to do that. They have basically one FaceTime a week with his teacher who-- His teacher has two kids of her own, so most of the phone call with his teacher is her yelling at her kids for good reason. They're yelling. They're doing all kinds of crazy stuff in the background. It's funny because it's a lot of YouTube. Instead of sitting down to read a book with the teacher, it's sit down with this random stranger on YouTube who's going to read you a book. The sound's always different, and the lighting is bad. It's just this random person's kind of bizarre tone of voice. Each time it's totally just-- You have no idea what you're going to get when you open up this YouTube video that you're just showing to your kid.
There's a guy who has a character named Blippi, for example, and Blippi is-- There's a very interesting story actually behind Blippi. There's a Buzzfeed article about him. He used to be this kind of shock comedian, like gross-out comedian. He pivoted to children's programming, as one does. He's talking about garbage trucks. He's showing off all the garbage truck safety features and going into a sanitation site where they separate recycling material.
He's wearing bright neon green suspenders and bright neon green glasses and is doing all these crazy dance moves and everything. It's the most grating experience, but to a four-year-old it's like crack. It's the most amazing thing that they've ever seen. There's just so much of that on YouTube.
Every week, it's like how can we engage and get him interested in being curious about the world and art and science and all of that, math. Because a lot of it really is just repetition and memorizing letters and numbers and words and sounds. Do you remember having to write your name?
We try to get through that and just offer incentives throughout the day, but it's hard. They're moments, particularly hard, stressful tense moments, heated moments. My wife will just say half-jokingly serenity now, and then Elliott has his version which is schramenmity now. Neither of those actually work, but it is still fun to say schramenmity now I think.
Rudan Zhang, Director of Digital Marketing at Shortcut
Rudan Zhang has a two year old daughter who once almost spoke to me during a meeting I was having with her mom, but then thought better of it and found something more interesting to do. I’d recommend finding something more interesting to do as a solid choice for almost anyone who is about to listen to me say something. Lucky for you, we’re about to switch away from me to Rudan, who will tell us about her experiences working from home with her two year old.
I would say, here's hoping to this being a temporary situation. This is very different from the normal remote working with a child, for parents to be working remotely from home experience. You probably do hear from everyone else the same story of simply juggling two full-time jobs between two adults. We're lucky in that we only have one child. Granted, as a toddler who just turned two and who's not verbal and can't take orders or command rationally and needs a lot of attention, however, it's just still the same experience as every other pair of working parents, where, you all of a sudden have the responsibilities of keeping up with work as well as keeping up with the full-time demand of a child.
Also, just everyone being home together, there's a lot more chores to be completed, a lot more home-related tasks to be done, especially as your child is causing a trail of destruction constantly in an apartment. I should add that we live in a, basically, semi-urban area in an apartment right near New York City. That also means that we don't have outdoor space to chase the child out into readily. Everything mostly happens inside at home, everyone cooped up together. That's been the main challenge, juggling and also just the space constraint.
I feel like we're probably lucky compared with many people in that we both worked in the tech industry, in companies that are used to having remote employees. My husband's job is actually 100% remote, even in normal times. We have a decent setup, but then mainly it's just struggling with each other's meetings schedule, as well as you need quiet time to concentrate and actually get things done. We essentially look at each other's calendars each day, block off all of each other's meetings. Also, block off quiet working time from each other's calendar. If you look at my Google calendar right now, there are chunks of time where you could see meeting titles. There are also chunks of times where it just says busy.
I block it off as just a different color code on my own calendar, so I know it's my husband's meeting. Then, that's my childcare segments. Everything is very much like the workday, to be honest, the collective workday is much longer now. Basically, you blend the workload of childcare and the workload of work together to form one continuous workday. There's much less compartmentalization in terms of how your day spans out versus before.
Before, working hours, it was childcare time, during working hours is purely working hours. Then, afterwards, it was childcare time again. Now, it's just a continuum, switching back and forth between the two streams. Somehow we have a system down, but it definitely has not been easy.
We luckily have a door that closes between the office space and the rest of the apartment. Nevertheless, they're French doors, they're see-through. It does happen that my daughter comes by and sees me sitting at a desk, and just has a craving for my attention. Probably, I'd say maybe twice a day or so. Actually, it's been seen by a lot of colleagues on video calls that they see a toddler pressing her nose against the French door glass trying to look in. It is what it is. This is an extraordinary time, so all the co-workers understand that this will happen. My husband, very quickly, is generally a panic-stricken whisker away. Again, that's seen on camera by colleagues as well and vice versa. I would add that we try our best to get our child to go down for a long nap during the day so that the two of us can both get work done. That's actually a very crucial element to us, being able to be both performing our jobs at more or less the same level of productivity. If she's older and doesn't nap, I think that would very much multiply the challenge of juggling a full-day together.
After lunch every day, one of us is just inevitably walking somewhere with her in the stroller. Actually, my husband is doing that right now. I can hear him forcing her into her stroller. Then, we'll walk around the neighborhood until she falls asleep and then hurry back. We actually just park her in the foyer of our apartment where it's really dark. She just sleeps in the stroller for two hours. On days with bad weather, we've no options but to go up and down the hallway in our apartment building. The funny thing is you do see other parents doing the same thing once in a while, just taking laps up and down the hall until your child is asleep in the stroller so you can get back and get two hours worth of work done.
One of the hardest segments of our lives, even harder than having a newborn during those hectic months. Simply it's just, there's some level of psychological guilt every parent feels when you juggle and you're doing your best and there's a matter of the quality of the parent's life, too, that in normal times we take for granted. During those times, you're not taking care of yourself as well as you like. It'd be lying to say that you're doing a hundred percent of your normal productivity level and/or performance level at work. I'm just being honest. We do our best to reach as close to a normal level of productivity as possible, but it is what it is.
A person can only do so much. Then, with regards to your kid's development, we're not really able to give her any educational stimulus as schools can do systematically. I think the frustration, a lot of times, aside from just purely dealing with the moment, it's also psychological, emotional, feeling drained and exhausted from it all. As I said, hopefully, it's a temporary situation. I'm sure when the pandemic is over, people will no longer take for granted a lot of the small pleasures and the smallest senses of well-being scattered throughout the day when your child is peacefully playing with playmates in daycare or school and, then, you're able to get work done 100% and able to go out and grab a coffee when you want to. Here's hoping that day comes sooner rather than later.
Our building used to have a common room where one of us could retreat to two if we need to, but that has since been closed due to social distancing requirements, so we just share a standing desk, a desk that goes up and down which, again, that's one of my daughter's favorite toys now. She loves pressing the button on our standing desks to make it go up and down during unexpected moments during the meetings.
It is magical for a two-year-old, such a large piece of equipment that yields to her action, to her command. She also loves my headphones, obviously.
I don't think she quite understands the mouthpiece. I would say electronic devices and screens have figured more prominently in our lives since this whole remote working with child scenario began because we, all three, I'd say 80, 90% of the time, each day are facing some screen. My husband and I, most likely, we're looking at our laptops while it's your shift to work, or you're looking at your phone while you're doing childcare duty, trying to stay on top of things in case someone is slacking you. Then, my daughter is generally looking at a tablet or watching cartoons on TV. Everybody is just on a screen all the time.
I also asked each interviewee what they’re most looking forward to once things get back to normal, or at least back to normal enough to regularly go outside the house without as much fear of catching or spreading the virus.
Here’s what Bridget said:
For me, I am most looking forward to spending time with friends and family. We've been lucky enough that I've had some interaction with my mom who lives close, but I think this moment puts things in perspective, and you don't need fancy vacations or to go out to nice restaurants, or whatever it is that I think I probably put a little bit too much importance on before. The most important thing is spending time with family and friends regardless of where that is, and I can't wait to have more of those moments.
Mike and Vita:
Vita: For me, I think it is all of the activities that we used to be able to do with Nora in terms of going to the park or taking her to her music classes, or taking her to this little gymboree gym. I feel like I didn't appreciate those things as much until they were taken away and I think that having those programs and those options available again would be really valuable and just super helpful with keeping a toddler happy and active and not-- I don't want to say losing our minds, but sometimes it is hard on the weekends when you can't even just go to the playground. Those things I feel like I'll be really happy to have back, and obviously having the option to go to some of our favorite restaurants and being able to see friends and family more regularly. Of course those are all things that I'll be really happy about once we can again.
Mike: That's a lot, but I was going to say, I miss Bart, just that commute, popping in those air pods, getting a good 30, 40 minutes to myself. It'll be the simple things, Richard, that's what I think I'm looking forward to and traveling. We missed out on a number of trips already this year. I don't know, we're due now for some extravaganza next year and the year after when everything's cleared up.
I don't know if you've heard of this game called Animal Crossing, but it's one of my favorite games ever. I bought the special edition switch, and I had pre-ordered the game and everything. It was coming out on a Friday, I think. It was March 19th, which was the Friday after the Sheltering Place started. I had planned on taking the day off of work, and it was an all-day couch fest with snacks and Animal Crossing. Just a me day. That didn't happen because, like I said, then Sheltering Place happened, and then the kids are home. Even though I've still gotten to play a lot, I still want to take a day off. I want to reclaim that day and have more than two hours to myself. I want to be able to take a shower without someone coming in and being like, "Are you taking a shower? Can I also get in the shower? Can I bring a toy into the shower, or can I just stand outside the shower and watch you take a shower or will you let me let the dog into the shower?"
I'm looking forward to some self-care, but I'm also looking forward to stuff that I don't know when it's going to happen. I want to go back to the store, I want to go to the movies, I want to go have brunch. I want to do things that seem so normal that I guess maybe I took for granted. Like I said, I don't know when that will happen, but I look forward to it whenever it does.
Obviously, it's going to be nice to be able to see people again in person and for Eliot to be getting more in person interaction because I think the Zoom version of that that we're doing right now isn't really that great. It's the best we can do, but it's so nice to be able to hang out with people in person, especially for him.
For Eliot, he can be standoffish. He's a lot like me in a lot of ways because he'll-- The way it was described was in his playgroup before pre-K, it was a lot of quietly judging the room, quietly criticizing and not really engaging. I was like, "Oh no, that's me. That's 100% my genes and my DNA". It's who I am as a person, and I gave that to him. Isn't that amazing?
He needs to be around kids his age. We talk a lot about what we're going to do and where we're going to go when things open up again, like the Natural History Museum in Manhattan, go to the planetarium. Just being able to go to playground honestly will be nice. It's so sad to see playgrounds locked up right now.
To be able to, obviously, send my daughter back to her school safely without having to worry too much about the safety aspect of it. Then, resume our normal daily routine of getting her to school. My husband and I used to stop at our favorite coffee shop in the area on the way back and just grab a coffee and come back and work in peace and have an apartment that's not destroyed. Also, just the fact that everyone can have their own space, yet again, that suits their all needs, instead of being all mixed together and juggling so many things. That morning coffee on our way back from daycare drop-off is probably the thing that's holding me together right now.