"Working from home while parenting and educating children? This is new territory."
My two younger daughters are jumping on our couch. It’s not my preferred activity, but it’s early April in Boston, it’s cold and raining outside, and I’m supposed to be writing something. I have no idea what I’m going to write, so I let them jump. It’s exercise, right?
As they jump, they’re playing pretend.
“There were bad guys at my house on Friday!” Harper says. She’s 4 — 4 1/2 as she’d quickly note.
“Did they ruin pizza and movie night?” asks Simone. She’s 6.
These days, Friday pizza and movie night is about the only part of our family’s routine that hasn’t changed.
A month ago, my family’s days were pretty similar: my husband Marcus, the director of technology at an independent school here, left in the mornings with our 17-year-old, Jordyn, who is a junior at the same school. A short time later, backpacks and likely some waffles for them to munch in hand, I’d load Simone and Harper into my car for the ride to their school, where they’re in kindergarten and pre-K.
At the end of each weekday, gathered at our dinner table, we’d invite each of the girls to tell us three things about their day, which invariably lead to Harper giving us a detailed recollection of her pre-K day or offshoot discussions on whatever Jordyn learned in history. They’re at great schools, with experienced, engaged teachers.
Key word: experienced.
The old routine is gone
Now, in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic that’s keeping most families at home, every day is a juggling act. Simone has to be on Zoom first, for morning meetings with her teachers and classmates. Jordyn’s first class could start a short time later, depending on her schedule, so she’ll slow-walk downstairs, laptop and headphones in hand, unicorn slippers on her feet.
Harper gets on Zoom a short time later for her morning meeting, which is mostly a social time to connect to teachers and classmates.
There’s a break for pre-recorded writing or math lessons, or time to go on a short hunt through our living area searching for things that start with the letter S, the pre-K letter of the week.
Then Simone has to be back online for a live lesson, and Jordyn heads to a quieter room because somehow she’s still having chorus practice, no small feat given the lag time that can come with Zoom. Worksheets are printed for Harper: trace and learn to write “S”, draw a line from each capital letter to its lowercase counterpart. Blank writing sheets for Simone’s instructional writing assignment; she decides to explain “How to clean your dog if it doesn’t like water, in 5 steps.”
All the while Marcus is at our desk alternating between two computer monitors as he makes sure the faculty and students of his school have what they need in terms of technology, running meetings and answering emails.
I’m trying to make sure everyone’s on schedule, checking Twitter and news sites to look for possible column ideas. Oh, and there’s also snack time and lunch and our dog Coco constantly underfoot, because she loves that after spending a lot of time alone her people are home.
It’s quiet by 2 p.m. and I can turn my attention (almost) fully to writing, but those six hours are a lot.
Every parent has new reality
You’re probably experiencing the same, with schools and school districts all over the country closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s a new, sometimes overwhelming, reality that in many ways has offered a vast new arena of common ground for bold-name folks like professional athletes and über-accomplished television producers and the rest of us.
“Been homeschooling a 6-year old and 8-year old for one hour and 11 minutes. Teachers deserve to make a billion dollars a year. Or a week,” Shonda Rhimes tweeted last month. Rhimes is the creator of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal,” among other beloved shows.
New Orleans Pelicans guard J.J. Redick and his wife have two sons, aged 5 and 3, and quickly discovered that he and his wife’s grand plan to teach the boys a new language during this time probably isn’t going to happen.
“Instead, we are trying to get to the end of every day, have a glass of wine and go to sleep,” Redick told ESPN recently.
Parents usually fall into one of three categories: working full-time, part-time or staying at home. Working from home while parenting and educating children? This is new territory.
It’s not easy.
"Working, parenting and and teaching are three different jobs that cannot be done at the same time. It’s not hard because you are doing it wrong. It’s hard because it’s too much. Do the best you can." - Dr. Emily W. King
Marcus and I are extraordinarily fortunate that we’re both still collecting paychecks and able to work from home, so we don’t have that added stress. And it’s helpful that we’ve both been sports coaches for years and have some experience teaching, though with older kids.
But this is our reality for at least five more weeks: Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has mandated that schools are closed until May 4, though it’s possible it’s longer. Some states have already said their school year is done. So we’ll continue making the best of this new life, the one where “Just Dance 2020” passes for gym class, where our teenager takes her engineering class online, learning to use a soldering iron from a distance and I quietly hope she doesn’t burn a hole in her desk.
I saw a note on Instagram a week ago, from child and family psychologist Dr. Emily W. King, that I’ve been thinking about often. Dr. King reminds the reader that “working, parenting and and teaching are three different jobs that cannot be done at the same time. It’s not hard because you are doing it wrong. It’s hard because it’s too much. Do the best you can.”
We are, and I hope you are too. If you and your kids don’t get out of your pajamas some days, they probably won’t think it’s anything but great. And if they end up watching a lot of TV because you have to work, well, a lot of us did when we were young and turned out OK.
Time for some “Just Dance” — it’s my exercise too.
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