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Tales from the Covid-19 Shutdown

Apr. 20, 2020

“Star Blazer Zero is ready for lift off!”

“Mooooom, I’m hungry!”

“She took my bug catcher! It’s MINE!”

“Will you play ‘Come Here Go Away’ with us?”

The sounds of the COVID-19 shutdown for some houses probably include Zoom meetings, awkward laughter, favorite music, maybe some adult TV-shows playing on binge. Or maybe news streaming on NPR? In my house, we have a 2 year old, a 6 year old, 2 cats, and 2 grown ups who need to work remotely. In my life before, I never worked at home because I just can’t focus on work when I am being my best (or even my barely acceptable-est) parent self. So asking me to work at home in a 900 sq. ft. ranch-style house where our home office doubles as our living room… is a big ask.

A typical morning, now that I have been working at home and my daughters don’t go to school (or dance, ice skating, taekwondo, swimming, or nature preschool) officially since Mar. 16 and (unofficially because of two sick kids the week before it all happened since Mar. 9)–starts at 6am. That’s not dissimilar to our old life, but the rhythms of the morning have changed. 

Between 4 and 6 my toddler wakes up for the day and needs a diaper change, then she nurses. Then I get her going with some kind of activity and put the dishes away from the night before and maybe start coffee or feed the cats. Then my older daughter wanders out of her room for a cuddle and Sesame Street or Bluey babysit my kids while I make them breakfast. Then I make myself breakfast and my toddler filches the food from my plate when I get up to get coffee. After everyone has eaten, the girls go play (fight) while I clear the table and counters and sometimes handwash the dishes (we don’t have a dishwasher). Sometimes I am called to help someone clean themselves up, help them get dressed, etc. 

cat helping to teach onlineOnce we are fed, dressed, and the kitchen is neutral if not clean, usually around 8am, I set the girls down at a table with packets of “writing” activities that are appropriate for each one and “we” get to work. Since today is Monday, I gave my toddler some tracing/drawing and my 6 yr old some reading to do, and I started composing announcements to my classes with their “to-do” lists for the week with due dates and tips. 

At 8:05 I was interrupted to help the girls share. At 8:07 I was interrupted again because my back was to the girls and I realized my 2 year old was more or less successfully climbing the ceiling-high bookshelf to get to a puzzle we made from a cereal box last week. At 8:30 the girls wandered off to play hide and seek together and I had to chase them out of my closet where I discovered that one of them had accidentally broken a teacup I had stored in there. At 9:00 I set my kindergartener down to take her through the google slide show her teacher sent with “remote learning” activities and she dissolved into tears (it’s hard to process missing your friends and this giant disruption in your routine–I get it) and after limping through an online one hundred puzzle that was way too easy for her, we gave up on homeschool for the day around 9:30.

Around 10 I finished composing and sending my 3 announcements after helping find a pink kitten for a toy that births kittens, adjudicating a dispute over a bug catcher, wiping some marker drawings off of my front windows, and cleaning up my coffee, which my toddler spilled all over my books and purse. 

At 11 I made myself a sandwich that I still haven’t finished at 1pm, and sent the girls out to play in the backyard. I graded the final unit forum posts/discussions and unit exams for my mythology class (which was online anyway, before this all began, small mercies) and responded to students who needed help and feedback on their essays. I have had feline help and toddler help in these 2 hours, but my husband and my older child seem to be occupied with saws and paint in the garage building a puppet theater out of some cardboard sheets I brought home on Mar. 17 and we haven’t gotten around to using yet.

Playing while online teachingMy refilled coffee is cold and I have 2.5 sets of rough drafts to comment on, and I also need to figure out how to access some Policy Council files that are stored on my office desktop and needed to be sent on to the President’s office after our last Policy Council meeting… Later I have Zoom conferences with four students and a department meeting. I’m sure to be interrupted during at least one of these by kids and pets, but today I’ll hope for the relatively quiet intruder who jumps on the bed in her underwear behind me and hits me with pillows instead of the screaming, sad one who needs me to pause video and mute sound and give her a kiss and a cuddle. I’ll respond to more student emails as I stand next to my kids’ bunk beds at 8pm and hold hands with the clingy one while she falls asleep. I’ll keep working on my new summer class after the kids are asleep, then I’ll do dishes and sweep the floors and clean the litter box and get the recycling ready to go out. 

Tomorrow will be much the same, except I also get to manage my kindergartener’s class Google Hangout at 11:00. For now, I think I’ll clear my mind outside by washing the windows.

2 Responses to Tales from the Covid-19 Shutdown

  1. Avatar
    Jason Slade April 23, 2020 at 3:18 PM #

    Sarah, I understand. 100%!!! As I type this, I hear twin 4-year olds jumping off the top bunk into a pillow. It is supposed to be nap time!!!! I am getting really good at hitting mute during a Zoom, yelling under my breath to restore order, and unmuting without any participants noticing. It is a skill!

    Hang in there! I know exactly where you are coming from!

    • Avatar
      Sarah Wangler April 28, 2020 at 2:18 PM #

      Yikes, I don’t envy you all with that crew! My kids jump off the bunk beds too–I’m always glad I went with the really short ikea model! I turn off video liberally during Zoom! Solidarity!

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