Working from home and monitoring your child’s schooling is mind-numbing, stressful, and also a beautiful opportunity.
It’s mid-morning on a weekday, and I’m sitting at the kitchen table, a place normally reserved for meals, with my laptop cracked open. My cell phone rings, and I plead my case with my coworker before I can pick up.
“I am sorry, I have to take this.”
He looks up and tells me he understands, even though it’s plainly obvious neither of us want to be in this situation. See, I don’t have a boss, and this is a coworker I never intended to bring into my daily work life. It’s my 7-year-old son, and he’s sitting adjacent from me at the kitchen table as we navigate life during the coronavirus era together.
As a freelance copywriter, I’m in the precarious situation of talking to a number of my clients on the phone and looking to ease them into more work during what is sure to be tough economic times for all involved. I’m having these phone conversations for large portions of my workday, giving them advice on what might be the best type of content for their customers at this specific point in time.
All of this requires time and attention, two commodities that I’m currently short on. Luckily, in the midst of this freelancing free for all, my clients seem to be fairly understanding about one of their vendors conducting business with their child sitting next to them.
When the situation unfolded and the states went on lockdown, no one really knew what to expect. Our governor shut down the Illinois school system for two weeks. We all likely knew the situation wouldn’t change much in that window. It extended to the end of April, and now to the end of the school year. The State Board of Education decided that we’d move on to a distance learning program, requiring elementary students to do a certain amount of at-home learning during our unexpected COVID-19 hiatus.
While this is a monumental task for working families everywhere, it’s a sentiment I understand. Two months off school will cause a significant jolt to these kids’ long-term prospects as teachers look to catch them up in the near future. Children could very likely pay a developmental price for a situation that no one asked for and is completely outside our control.
So, here my son and I are, sharing the kitchen table while my wife works. She is an infusion nurse at our local hospital. She is not currently treating virus patients, but theoretically, that could change at any moment – depending on numbers and need.
Daycare is an unaffordable risk in a pandemic. While we love our regular daycare provider, we’ve chosen to keep our son home under these circumstances. Our family’s health is only as strong as the most recent exposures, and I don’t want to be responsible for a decision that unintentionally gets a nurse sick in these conditions. We also don’t want to be responsible for giving his grandparents so much as a runny nose right now. So, I’m home with my coworker for an undetermined number of weeks.
In the past, when we’ve kept my son home when he’s sick, I’d park him in front of the television so that I could continue to work. A one-day stint in front of the television and the damage is minimized while I am afforded the opportunity to keep working. But when the allotted time at home is indefinite, the television is not an option.
My wife drew up a COVID-19 schedule, and lucky for us, Jamie absolutely loves to follow it. Instead of his favorite television show playing on an endless loop, he’s reading, writing, and practicing his multiplication tables. And he’s doing all this while sitting right next to me as I work. If I forget something that he’s supposed to be doing, he reminds me. I hope he keeps up this appetite for learning.
I consider myself lucky in another regard as well. Jamie is 7. If I need to make an unexpected phone call, I can negotiate some form of truce. If I ask him not to interrupt, for the most part, he won’t. That wouldn’t have been possible just a few short years ago.
I’ve worked at home since 2009, and I’m quite accustomed to having the house to myself during this time. So, it’s only natural that when the universe gives me an unexpected coworker, we butt heads. And while both of us have let our frustrations with the situation show to a significant degree at times, I’m also choosing to view this unprecedented situation as an opportunity.
I’m his dad. I always knew I’d be available as a resource, and there to help him learn. But I never imagined playing a formative role in his education the way that I do in our current reality. I never imagined spending this much time with him. It’s a blessing to be there as he continues to learn and expand his mind.
Our current situation popped up out of nowhere, and it is far from ideal. But it’s a time that I hope both of us can look back upon with positive memories. Maybe he’ll remember more family dinners, and the large amount of time he and I spent together. Maybe he’ll remember regular Nerf gun fights before lunch, and being able to read his book uninterrupted into the afternoon.
For all the chaos swirling around us, spending this much time with my young son is one definite positive of this whole thing and it makes me incredibly happy.