It’s all pandemic all the time around here. Try as we might to be normal right now, this is not normal. There are semblances of normal, such as our family breakfasts. There are unexpectedly wonderful things, such as my sister and her kids reading my kids a story over Skype. And there are weird things, such as not seeing the friends and neighbors I rely on, count on, depend on seeing every day.
We’re in a bizarre middle ground where incredible experiences are bubbling up, but they’re competing with serious existential dread. This is the third in my new (very much unplanned) series on life in the time of a global pandemic. My first post addressed immediate financial and health concerns, my second post discusses ways to help others, and today covers my family’s isolation schedule.
Since I have two little kids, I have to create routines and structure for them. And for my own mental and physical health, I have to follow routines and structures. So, we’re formulating a pandemic schedule. We’re figuring out what can get done during which hours and when the kids do actually, finally lose it, to put them in the bathtub (magic cure-all for whatever ails a toddler). I do not have all the answers. I actually have precious few answers. But that’s never stopped me before. Know that this is an imperfect reflection from an imperfect person.
We Probably Have A Long Isolation Ahead Of Us
At the forefront of my mind: we’re only on day nine of isolation. And I project and imagine and think that this isolation could last many more weeks, if not months. In light of that, I realized I have to implement a sustainable way for my family to get through this. We can’t let the kids watch TV and eat sugar all day every day (what I personally would like to do) because this might not be a short-term thing. I can’t stop showering and exercising and cleaning the house, because this very well might be our new normal for at least a few months.
For my sanity, for my husband’s sanity, for our children’s well-being, we are trying to formulate a system for how this quarantine plays out. It’s not like it’s cataclysmic for us to stay home. My husband and I are introverts, we love spending time with each other, and our kids are too young to grasp how weird it is that we’re not going anywhere or seeing anyone. We’re BEYOND fortunate to have a lot of land for the kids to play on, for the adults to hike in, and for us to be alone outside. So I don’t write this from a place of deficit, rather, I write it from the realization that I am awash in privilege and abundance. Everyone is impacted differently by this virus. Everyone has a different risk level, a different risk tolerance, and a different approach to this most unnatural time. I’ll share what we’re doing, with full cognizance that it might differ wildly from your reality right now.
Working From Home With Kids (WFH: more like WTF)
Folks keep asking how my husband and I work from home with our two kids and the answer is that, under normal circumstances, we don’t. Our four-year-old goes to preschool and our two-year-old goes to daycare. Since there’s no school or daycare right now, my husband and I are taking it one day at a time and constantly re-adjusting our schedules.
The best solution we have is to trade off on childcare duties. My husband watches the girls in the mornings and the evenings, and I take the middle of the day. That’s pretty much it, you guys: we trade off. Nothing magic or Waldorf-inspired, just good old fashioned division of labor.
We’re also making sure that each parent has dedicated time each day to exercise alone. The way this is playing out is that I go for a hike in the early afternoon while Littlewoods naps and Kidwoods watches television and Mr. Frugalwoods works. Then, he goes for a hike in the early evening and comes back inside to manage the bath and bedtime routine.
Making sure we each get outside alone to move our bodies is proving transformational for our outlook and mental health. I will say that we were already a routine-oriented family, pandemic or no pandemic. Given that, it’s been pretty natural for us to fall into a Coronavirus Construct. If you’re not normally a schedule person, this approach might not work for you. But I need something to tether me to reality and right now? A schedule is my jam.
Here’s the stuff we’re doing everyday:
- Eating healthy meals: we’re sticking with our normal, (mostly*) healthy diet to keep us on an even keel.
- Getting outside: I take the kids outside to play at least once a day, two or three times if it’s not too cold or rainy/snowy.
- Exercising: my husband and I each have time every day to exercise alone (either hiking outside or doing a yoga video inside).
- Talking to friends and family: texting, video chat, phone calls, and emails, it’s a virtual party around here. Mr. FW asked me to silence my phone because all the bings and dings were driving him crazy.
- Showering and getting dressed: I’m wearing earring right now, people. No one can see them, but I assure you they’re there. Getting up, showered and dressed does wonders for me every morning. I’m going nowhere, but I look good while doing it.
- Varying the kids’ activities: while our kids do a lot of independent, free play (which I love), we’re also looking for ways to incorporate novelty into the routine. I am definitely letting Kidwoods watch more television than normal, but I’m not letting her watch TV all day. I’m trying to allow for greater flexibility while maintaining normalcy. There have to be some rules around here, people.
*while supplies last, more cheese, wine and chocolate are involved than normal.
I want to spend some time on the kid activity thing since I struggle with what to do. I would like to be one of those parents with color-coded activity chart/plan-things, but I am not. I would like to say that I have a “homeschool agenda,” but homeschooling is something I have nightmares about on the regular, so we are winging it.
I’m jealous of my homeschooling friends and, in my negligence, I’m letting my kids lead. And sometimes, that leads to them eating popcorn off the floor. Keeping it real here, people, I have childcare for a reason.
Here are some activities that’ve been working for us so far (mind you, I wrote this ONE WEEK in, so I imagine my day 20 log is going to look different):
Yoga! A Frugalwoods reader suggested Cosmic Kids Yoga and it’s essentially the best thing that’s ever happened to me as a parent. The instructor is incredible and she tells a story while guiding kids through a yoga class. Kidwoods follows along really well and I do the classes with her. Littlewoods mostly screams, tries to climb on top of me, and then settles on doing downward dog for 10 minutes straight. Hey, you do you, Littlewoods.
Small organizing projects! This is more for me. I’m guiding the kids through organizing small areas of the house together. We did the craft shelf earlier this week and we’ll tackle their bookshelf next. This is a way for me to feel productive, to accomplish something and for the kids to start taking greater responsibility over their stuff. And also for them to jam crayons into each other’s faces and for the baby to pointedly rip her sister’s coloring book and for them to un-sort whatever I’ve just sorted. No worries, we have nothing but time, so we just sort again.
Longer than normal bath time! My girls love playing in the tub, so we’ve started putting them in there earlier in the evening so they can splash around and fight over bath toys for longer than our normal schedule allows. We did run out of hot water thanks to this the other day, but other than that, total win and the kids are cleaner than ever.
Cooking and baking together! This is excellent if you have a lot of time on your hands and are not goal-oriented. The girls helped me bake bread the other day and to clean up, Littlewoods licked spilled yeast off the countertop. The bread came out great (lopsided, edible), so I’d say it’s a win all around.
Having low expectations! I allow them to eat popcorn off the kitchen floor as they pretend to be cats. Nothing to see here, we’re obviously 100% fine and great.
Making weird foods! The kids are on a scrambled eggs kick (thank god our neighbor sells us eggs) and they’re on a quest to try out every different food coloring combination in said eggs. Here’s what I will say about that: do not, under any circumstances, attempt to mix red and blue food coloring in an effort to make purple eggs. Photo at right should tell you why.
Video chat story time! My sister and her kids read my kids a book over Skype the other day and Kidwoods sat with rapt attention while her aunt read her a story. I cannot believe we haven’t done this before. During the story time, Littlewoods knocked a cup of water over onto the floor. Then, as my sister and I attempted to talk to each other like human adults, Kidwoods climbed onto my shoulders, causing me to fall backwards with her still on my back. My sister helpfully took a photo.
Video chat sing-a-long! My in-laws also led a video chat story time for the girls and my mother-in-law read them books, followed by a singalong with my sister-in-law playing the piano and my father-in-law singing. It worked so well that we’ve put this on the schedule for three times a week. I, for my part, was able to put in a load of laundry, empty the dishwasher, and read the entirety of War and Peace while the kids were entertained by their aunt and grandparents.
Busting out the presents! You know how I buy toys, books, games, and art supplies from garage sales and then save them to gift to my kids (and their friends) for birthdays and Christmas? Oh yeah. You better believe I’m raiding that gift box right now. I’ll have to double down on garage sale shopping this summer to replenish the stash. I’m meting out one new toy/art supply per day, usually in the afternoon when everyone gets scream-y but it’s too early for mommy to start drinking.
Lots of art! It’s possible I will never get all the marker and crayon off our furniture, but I will have stacks of art to show for it.
Hanging In There With Low Expectations
As I write, I can hear my husband playing dress-up and dancing downstairs with our daughters. This is not their normal weekday morning routine and the girls are loving extra time with their daddy. I am not normally trying to work while the kids are screeching about the house in glee, but it means my daughters get to see me working and learn more about what I do for my job.
So no, this is not exactly an ideal or uplifting time, but it’s the time we have. This is the virus we were all dealt, this is the pandemic we will hopefully live through and I’m trying to find ways to embrace and enjoy this rare opportunity to be at home. Only at home.
I’m using technology for social interaction. I’ve had video chat dates with my girlfriends, phone dates with friends who live far away, and I’m recording podcasts for work (FYI: right now is a REALLY good time to invite me to be on your podcast 😉 😉 ).
Things I’m not doing: levying major expectations on myself or my kids. I’m not deluding myself that I’m going to create an incredible homeschool curriculum while they’re home.
They go to school for a reason and I’m at peace with the mediocre level of my teaching abilities (I tried to teach Kidwoods to count to 20 for about five months; she went to preschool and could count to 30 in a matter of days… ).
I’m not putting massive expectations on myself. I’m not envisioning this as a time when I need to be a magical fairy mom that I’m not. Heaping more requirements on myself right now isn’t helpful. I don’t need to have an ideal Montessori-inspired grow chart for each day.
I just need to keep my kids happy and fed. If anything, now’s the time for me to embrace simple family time: coloring together, going outside, eating meals as a family. If I keep it simple and have minimal expectations, we’re going to be fine. P.S. I’m trying to post on Instagram daily, so if you’re looking for photo evidence that you are not alone, join me there.