Just Two Days Into Working at Home With Kids Because of Coronavirus, How Will We All Survive?

There is no question the threat of COVID-19 is serious, but as a parent I’m already wondering, what do I do when the slime supplies run out?

Photos: Christi Young

My home office is now in the kitchen. My view is a messy bulletin board, oven and counters I need to clean.

Editor’s Note: Wednesday, March 18, the state Department of Education announced that public schools will remain closed until April 7. 

As more workplaces, schools and family facilities close down to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we know how you’re dealing with the challenges of all that home time. Send us your tips, personal thoughts and funny stories and photos to info@honolulufamily.com or tag us @honolulufamily on Instagram and Facebook.

I’m luckier than a lot of full-time working parents. Since joining the HONOLULU Magazine team, I have been allowed to occasionally work from home for years. I even have a “home office” desk set up in a sunlit spot that can be rolled away when the workday is done.

I had never done it with my children. Sure, there were a few days when they were sick, and therefore tired and content to read books and watch movies. But when our management team decided that we should work from home to minimize risks of COVID-19 infiltrating our team, I thought I was prepared.

I wasn’t.

Less than 24 hours in—after trying to write an article through a sea of handwritten sticky notes that periodically popped up on my ever-shrinking computer screen (my daughter’s solution to “not talking to mommy for a while”) and attempting a teleconference call as a wriggly preschooler clambered into my lap, waving a sharp-edged LEGO car just millimeters from my corneas—I realized I was in trouble.

Day one started on a promising note. I was racing my kids through the daily “eat breakfast, why isn’t your hair brushed, where are your shoes, stop playing and get your bag” drill when my 9-year-old started coughing. She had been a little congested since Friday, so normally she would still be headed to spring break camp with a few cough drops in her pocket. (Yes, I’ve just outed myself as one of those parents.) But with the threat of coronavirus, I just couldn’t do it.

She was sequestered to the couch while I took her sister to preschool. Then I alerted my team, made breakfast, gave her the remote control and her iPad and sat down at my laptop. For the next few hours, I emailed, wrote COVID-19 updates for honolulufamily.com and honolulumagazine.com, and juggled phone calls, text messages and chats as the office prepared to close for a few weeks. I did remember to get lunch ready and allowed her to attempt to virtually link up with her equally stranded cousin for a video game, an epic fail that just resulted in both of them comically yelling at their own TV screens about how the other didn’t understand.

One big bonus of working at home is lunch breaks, which I don’t usually take, with an always entertaining buddy.

By the time my husband and youngest came home (just moments before the LEGO car incident), I looked at my 9-year-old’s glazed eyes and headset-tousled hair and realized we couldn’t survive like this. Not for two weeks. Not to mention, even kids can only have so much screen time before they get bored.

Day two, I declared no-tech day. I gave her the big sell the night before. Let’s dig into those science and arts and crafts kits that have been sitting around since your birthday! What about all those amazing books on your bookshelves! You can cook your own eggs for breakfast! On a weekday!

That had its own challenges. Now, there were complicated instructions to follow, containers she couldn’t open, multiple dreaded “oops!” declarations and things she inexplicably couldn’t find. (Did you look UNDER that?) Each activity lasted about half an hour and ended with whatever she had been working on strewn about the room.

To be fair, I didn’t help the situation. Usually I don’t really begin work until I walk into our Downtown Honolulu office. Without that physical cue, I started emailing as soon as I was dressed for the day and didn’t stop. Now that everyone was working remotely, texts, emails, chats and phone calls were flying fast and furious, and I found myself attempting to multitask to a ridiculous degree. Suddenly, it was 12:30 p.m. and we hadn’t even begun preparing lunch.

And there was the guilt. This was my second full day with my little girl who was growing up too fast and I was ignoring her. No games. No crafts together. I even briskly turned down the request to poke the color-changing slime swimming in a beaker of water.

Our first try at a schedule. We’ll see if this works.

Something had to change. At lunch, we finally made a schedule together. I explained that mommy was at home but had to work a full day, so even though we were sitting in the same room, I needed time to focus. For her, we penciled in chores, reading time, an hour to explore online lessons, snack breaks, activities and even a little bit of tech time. But I promised we would eat breakfast and lunch together and that work would end at 5:30 every night, much earlier than when I’m in the office. I realized those breaks are just as much for me as for her. I needed to create boundaries between work and life in this new setting and there was no better reason than enjoying some extra time with my little girl.

We’ll see if it works. If not, I’m going to have her Google solutions for families working from home, turn it into a diorama and have her balance it on a bridge she constructs completely out of dried pasta from the pantry. That should get me through my next conference call. And if preschool shuts down and my 4-year-old joins the fray, please keep me in your thoughts.

How are you handling working from home? Do you have any tips for other parents? Email us at info@honolulufamily.com.