There are so many thinkpieces circulating about the impact of social distancing on parents who also have to work. Chloe Cooney’s piece for Motherly struck a chord with a lot of people on my timeline, particularly in her emphasis on how the current crisis is merely amplifying pre-existing problems:
It’s always been a farce to think about caretaking and family responsibilities as “personal life decisions” that get handled outside of work hours. From getting kids to pediatrician appointments to the onslaught of sick days when cold season hits to school closures and parent-teacher conferences. In my son’s first year of day care, I didn’t work a full week for months. Yet we just hide it better and make it work. And again, “making it work” is only true for those with the most privilege among us.
This current situation is almost prophetically designed to showcase the farce of our societal approach to separating work and family lives. We are expected to work from home full time. And care for our children full time. And we cannot have anyone outside our immediate household help. It can’t work and we all are suffering at the illusion that it does.
Despite all this analysis floating around, it’s clear that many of our colleagues still don’t quite get what it’s like to try to work at home with small children – as for instance a widely-derided blog post from a university account offering apparently sincere advice to find an activity your kids can do alone for 2-3 hours, and to make sure you take a zoom coffee break with a friend during the day (while presumably your kids are engaged in another wholesome solo activity). So I thought I would quickly write up what my husband and I did today – which, let it be noted, was a successful day with few tears from the four-year-old and most immediate work deadlines met for me and the spouse. Other days have been longer and harder. This is just an insight into the pace of the day.
Background: I work a 0.5 role at the University of Northampton as a lecturer in history. I also have a part time job as an online tutor for the University of Oxford’s Continuing Education department, and a part time job as an editorial fellow at History Workshop. My husband is a solicitor who specialises in construction law and deals heavily at the moment in social housing issues. We have a lovely, clever four year old child who hates playing by herself, and will only be left on her own if that means she can watch TV. So she’s getting more TV time than we would like right now. So be it!
6.35am: Kid (G) climbs into bed with us. Spouse (K) cuddles her briefly, then gets up, hops in the shower, goes downstairs, puts on a load of washing, has breakfast (I made overnight oats the night before), and starts work at 7.30am. I snuggle with kiddo til 7 and let her watch Cat in the Hat on my iPad while I doze until 8, because I’m tired.
8.00: G is, understandably, hungry. So we go downstairs. I make porridge for her and eat my overnight oats. There are some tears from G as the porridge is apparently “too milky”. We sort that out and she eats some blueberries too and I clear up. We go upstairs and play a treasure hunt she has devised, then play a board game, before I help her get dressed and brush her teeth.
9.30-10.30: I let her watch a documentary on baby animals in China while I have a shower, get dressed, answer emails and quickly check in on my students doing an online course for Oxford – the new course started this week so I am making sure I’ve spoken to all the students and also ensuring that they know how everything works.
10.30-12.00: G & I do school reading on the computer with ActiveLearning. She’s particularly amused by a book called Yak’s Pants and so I suggest that we design some pants of our own. So I print off templates and we design some fun patterns! Then we go to the kitchen so she can have a snack, after which I help her with a worksheet I found where we put dinosaurs into the correct carnivore/herbivore groups, cutting them out and gluing them into their categories. While she’s colouring the dinosaurs I hang out the washing, then fill her little watering can repeatedly so she can (very adorably) water the flowers. After that we play tag in the yard before I start making lunch.
12.10-1.30pm: I get things together for lunch – I make a feta and tomato pasta salad. I periodically check emails and send a couple of quick messages. K comes down and we eat lunch together. Then he goes back to work to finish up a few bits and G and I nip to the green on our estate where we have several scooter races – I run quite a few laps!
1.30pm: Come back home and the greengrocer arrives with a delivery. Get that unpacked, and read a dinosaur book to G while waiting for K to finish up. At 1.45 go upstairs to crack on with work.
1.45-4.45: three hours at last in front of the computer! I send several emails and make a chart to try to organise the many things I need to do in the next few weeks. It has 4 topic columns, 4 due date columns, and so far it contains 25 items, each of which will take between 1 hour and 16 hours to complete. Think about the this is fine meme for a few minutes. Get on with some of these tasks – I catch up on HWO emails, and post some new discussion threads for the Oxford course, and catch up with some admin for UoN.
4.45-6.00: Head downstairs and find that K has prepped food for dinner, phew. He and G played a lot outside, read a bunch of books and played a board game. K goes back to work. I play a couple of games with G – a torch light show and then dressing Barbies – and get her to come to the kitchen with me while I shove things in the oven and she makes a card for a friend’s birthday. That takes up a whole five minutes so after she spends a while saying but what should I dooooo I let her watch some TV. I get the kitchen tidied up a bit and stirfry a mound of vegetables. Then we all sit in the garden to eat dinner.
6.00-8.00: We have dinner, chat about our days, run through a few things that need doing and I bring in the now-dry laundry. K takes G upstairs to have a bath, and I help her brush her teeth. We read her bedtime stories, and then I lie in bed with her and we talk about lizards, as you do. At 7.20 I say it’s time to try to sleep, so I sit on the floor next to her and gently but repeatedly tell her to close her eyes. She keeps drifting off but every time I try to leave she wakes up in a panic. I get it, kiddo, all things considered, so I stay put. I eventually slither my way out at 8pm.
Now it’s 8.30, and I suppose I could carry on working now. But all day long my head has been full of noise, thinking constantly not only of what I’m doing in this particular moment but what I have to do next, and so instead I am going to have a bath.