I knew our daycare teachers didn’t have it easy before. But now, after just a few days at home non-stop with our twin boys, trying to maintain some semblance of a schedule and educational structure, I see just how hard it can be. Especially with both my wife and me trying to work throughout the day, it’s by no means easy. Where the boys were learning Spanish and starting to read words at school, we’re just trying to find a way not to ignore them when we’re both in meetings.
With the spread and impact of the Corona Virus, I’m working from home, so is my wife, and our boys are home from daycare until further notice. In the span of two days we went from normal schedules to all of us home for the foreseeable future. To be honest, I’m glad my company was one of the first ones to institute a work from home policy with my wife’s company following suit less than a week later. I was less thrilled with the boys’ daycare closing, but understand the need to keep kids and employees safe. In all, I agree the socially responsible and ethical thing for us all to do is limit time in public places and stay at home.
The reason I was hoping daycare would stay open is that with two three-and-a-half year olds at home, it’s impossible for both of us to get work done throughout the day. When they were newborns and infants, we actually could get things done during naps. Now, even though they do occupy themselves a bit more, it’s impossible to get into any type of flow while working because they are sure to interrupt us with something they need every five to ten minutes. I swear every time I get a full sentence in a document or email, someone needs me to help them fix a train, find some food, or comes running into the back of my video call, dancing to music only they can hear. It’s like the reporter guy on BBC when his kids run into the room while he’s reporting, but all day long.
Watching the trail of others on social media looking for ways to pass the time while practicing social distancing is astounding to me. We haven’t had a second to get even our minimal to do lists done, while others are looking for their fifth and beyond Netflix shows to binge or book suggestions. Meanwhile we’ve exhausted the stockpile of stickers and coloring books we thought we’d be throwing out when the boys went to college. All of our play dough is brown from being mixed together, and I’ve built every configuration of Duplo I can possibly imagine. And it’s the first week.
Its not all bad though. While we are barely scratching the surface of the suggested curriculum we received from school – it’ll be a miracle if we complete a single day’s list in an entire week – but we have succeeded in some areas. I was able to do some of their math work which included building towers out of blocks and measuring them – yeah they’re only in preschool after all. We also instituted their “centers” where they go into small groups with a specific activity like coloring, reading, painting, or doing puzzles, just like in school because it gives some structure. We haven’t dug into the other resources the school has provided yet like virtual tours, recordings of books to read, or the other more intensive activities because we have just been trying to make it hour by hour with each meeting and email to handle.
Part of this is self imposed and I fully accept that. We’re still unwilling to use screen time as a crutch to get some time. We may have relaxed our rules from zero time to a couple of episodes of “If you give a mouse a cookie”, but we’re still far from jumping into the entire back catalog of Sesame Street and Arthur. If things get really desperate, maybe we will, but I remain more terrified of iPad addicted grade schoolers than of kids popping up behind me on video conferences. Many would probably counsel me that this is the time for sacrifices. Yes, I agree, just not on screen time. I’ll sacrifice by letting them do water painting on a white rug while I take a call rather than let them melt in front of the TV.
A few things have helped make a difference though and maintain even a tiny minuscule semblance of sanity. My wife and I drew out our weekly schedule so we could see who was free when and plan around it. Anyone not on a call is responsible for the boys and may get through a few emails. We even split up the day with her taking the majority of calls in the morning since she works with Germany and me taking mostly the afternoon since I work more with Seattle (and late-rising software engineers). Even still, with two working adults trying to scrape together a productive day, it feels more like a weekend day with work jammed into it. This makes me a little worried about the long term effect of the home stay as days all blend together and the weekend becomes less distinct from the work week.
We are quickly learning which projects are most effective in taking time without requiring much help from us. Play dough is great if you can give up on your OCD tendencies and just let them deal with mixing some of each color together. It helps if you have a metric ton of off-brand dough from parties and other events. Water painting can be messy, but actually occupied them much longer than I expected, probably due to the novelty of it. Building Legos is good when they have ideas like trains, rocket ships, and houses. Trains however require too much help to set up a fun track, to fix every break that occurs when someone sits on a piece, and to help with each derailment due to trains of a dozen cars stuck together.
I know I can’t really complain about our current situation. We both have jobs that allow us to work from home pretty easily and the flexibility of a schedule that can mostly work around kids. We also have a home that allows us some space and seclusion as needed, and live in a rural enough spot to go out for walks and even for me to run miles in the woods without having to hop in the car. As the weather improves, we should be able to spend more time outside to break up the monotony a bit more. Still though, with the two of us working, it’s no cake walk and we have a lot of room for to grow in both providing an educational environment for the boys while actually getting our work done.
Let’s all just hope the social distancing is effective and things can return to some sense of normalcy in a short amount of time. The sooner we can get back to work and have the boys in school again, the better it’s going to be for everyone involved. And if that can happen before we need to dig into the free month trial of Disney+ and the entire Frozen backcatalog, even better. If we do need to do it just so mommy and daddy can get some work done, so be it. It’s a no judgment time right now anyway.